Saturday, October 02, 2004

Who Are the Progressives in Iraq? The Left, the Right, and the Islamists

Foreign Policy in Focus has this very important briefing by Frank Smyth.

Many American leftists seem to know little about their Iraqi counterparts, since understanding the role of the Iraqi left requires a nuanced approach. Unfortunately the knee-jerk, anti-imperialist analysis of groups like International A.N.S.W.E.R. has wormed its way into several progressive outlets. Dispatches and columns in The Nation as well as reports and commentary on the independently syndicated radio program “Democracy Now” have all but ignored the role of Iraqi progressives while highlighting, if not championing, the various factions of the Iraqi-based resistance against the U.S.-led occupation without bothering to ask who these groups are and what they represent for Iraqis.

U.S. activists who demonstrated against the Iraq War made an invaluable contribution by letting the rest of the world know that millions of Americans opposed the U.S.-led invasion. But the enemy of one’s enemy is not necessarily one’s friend. To think otherwise is to embrace an Orwellian logic that makes anti-war Americans appear not only uninformed but also as cynical as the pro-war protagonists whom they oppose.

Yet, all of the organized groups among the Iraqi resistance are reactionary forces of one kind or another. The resistance around and between the cities of Falluja, Tikrit, and Baghdad in the so-called “Sunni triangle” is led by ex-Ba’athists who aspire to return the old minority-based dictatorship to power. As Juan Cole points out, Nasir A`if al-Ani, the Sunni delegate to the Iraqi National Council from the Iraqi Islamic Party, does not even recognize the Shi’a people as a majority in Iraq. (Not even the most recalcitrant Afrikaners in apartheid South Africa pretended that blacks were a minority.)

Others like The Nation’s Naomi Klein, meanwhile, seem to have naively fallen for the al-Mahdi militia that recently fought U.S. Marines in Najaf. The al-Mahdi militia is a loosely organized Shiite opposition group led by Muqtada al-Sadr. He is a young man who inherited his role after his father and two brothers were murdered by Saddam. Lacking either the maturity or training of a senior cleric, al-Sadr has tried to lure supporters from more-respected Shiite clerics by promoting militant enforcement of the most fundamental tenets of Shiite Islam, including the explicit repression of gays and women.

The third sizable element of resistance inside Iraq is composed of foreign Islamist members of al-Qaida, who, like both the Saudi royal family and Osama bin Laden, practice an even more extreme version of Islam, Wahaabism. This group’s recent victims may include two kidnapped Italian women who work for the Italian group A Bridge to Baghdad, which, like U.S. anti-war groups working in Iraq, is explicitly opposed to the U.S. occupation. The American anti-war group, Iraq Occupation Watch, seems to believe that members of the Iraqi resistance may be holding them, pointing out on its website that the abductors should recognize that the Italian women are anti-war activists. On the other hand, Democracy Now's Jeremy Scahill and The Nation's Naomi Klein have written in The Guardian that a Western intelligence-backed group may be behind the abductions, suggesting that the CIA or others seized the two women to try to discredit the Iraqi opposition.

The Iraqis favored by the Bush administration may be secular, but they are hardly more admirable people. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is an ex-Ba’athist who left the Ba’ath Party in the mid-1970s. Paul McGeough of the Sydney Morning Herald, reported that Allawi personally executed (with a handgun) six Iraqis in a Baghdad police station right before he became prime minister, though no proof of this crime has yet been forthcoming. Prime Minister Allawi’s democracy credentials are also not impressive. He has already banned the Qatar-based satellite TV network, al-Jazeera, and has imposed certain forms of martial law.

Neither the resistance groups cheered on by many on the American left nor the governing parties championed by the American right seem to reflect the views and aspirations of most Iraqi people, who seem to be hoping for the rise of groups independent of both Saddam’s reign and the increasingly dictatorial Allawi government. Possibilities include moderate Shiite groups and secular leftist ones, through whose leadership most Iraqis hope to find a way to empower themselves for the first time in their history.

* Smyth is a freelance journalist who has “embedded” with leftist guerrillas in El Salvador, Iraq, and Rwanda. He covered the 1991 uprisings against Saddam Hussein’s regime, and was later captured and held for two weeks inside Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. He wrote this policy report for Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org). His clips are posted at www.franksmyth.com.

Post a Comment