The key achievement of the resistance is Iraq is not difficult to identify: by maintaining constant pressure on the US occupation forces, as well as those of the US’s allies, from the outset of the invasion to the present, the Iraqi mujahideen have totally disproved the US’s claims...
The key achievement of the resistance is Iraq is not difficult to identify: by maintaining constant pressure on the US occupation forces, as well as those of the US’s allies, from the outset of the invasion to the present, the Iraqi mujahideen have totally disproved the US’s claims that they coming as liberators who were welcomed by the Iraqi people. The resistance has had a number of other results too. The political pressure the resistance placed on the US was also responsible for the exposure of the false basis on which the US went to war, particularly the claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and connections with international terrorist organizations; it is not difficult to imagine the US getting away with its lies, had the Iraqis actually welcomed them and accepted their occupation as an reasonable price to pay to get rid of Saddam Hussain. Had that happened, all the political debates in Western countries that have exposed the sort of dirty tricks used by George W. Bush and his allies – Tony Blair of Britain and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, for example – to persuade their people to support the war might never have been exposed. The true nature of the neo-conservative Bush administration, which is quite likely to be voted out of office later this year, an impossible prospect just a year ago, might never have been revealed.
It is also likely that a comfortable success for the US in Iraq would have resulted in the same strategy being used against other Muslim states in the future. Saddam Hussain was demonised over a long period of time, with an image of his being a threat to US interests and regional and world peace, a harbourer of nuclear, chemical and other weapons of mass destruction, and a sponsor of terrorism being carefully cultivated in order to justify the inevitable attack on him. Of course, Saddam made it easy for the US by being the brutal dictator that he undoubtedly was, but no-one believes that the US was really worried about Saddam’s dictatorial and brutal nature; after all, it did not prevent the US from supporting him when it was convenient to do so.
Today, the US is continuing a similar strategy against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the only truly independent state in the Muslim world, and the only state genuinely committed to building a modern Islamic society and polity. As Crescent goes to press, UN inspectors are in Iran inspecting its nuclear facilities, and the US is accusing Iran of trying to intimidate and and manipulate them (rich accusations indeed, coming from the US). But the attacks are strangely muted; although some in the neo-con think-tanks may still hope to continue their Middle East expansionism if Bush is re-elected in November (a prospect which should not be ruled out, given the advantages that the incumbent always has in US elections), most Americans know that after the fiasco in Iraq, the US’s Middle East interests will have to be pursued in other, more sophisticated ways in future. Iran – and Syria, which was also targeted by the neo-cons because of its opposition to Israeli interests in the region – have good reason to be thankful for the resistance mounted by the Iraqis against an immensely powerful, well-equipped and ruthless enemy.
Nonetheless, the resistance – and Iraqis generally – face difficult political and strategic questions. The main one is, in the short term, for how long the military resistance needs to be maintained before a change of strategy is called for. There have been many in Iraq, including politicians and community leaders, who were ready to end resistance and begin working through the political structures established by the Americans a long time ago, on the grounds that it was more constructive to oppose the US’s interests and strategy politically than militarily. The achievements of the resistance in the last few months have confirmed the instincts of most Iraqis that it was too early to consider such a step, and the reputation of some leaders has been severely tarnished by their advocating it. It is not difficult to justify the position that, as long as the US is in charge, and US troops continue to occupy the country, military operations are justified and useful.
In the next few months, however, the US will increasingly turn responsibility for pursuing its agenda over to local proxies – many of them, particularly in junior positions, being well-meaning but misguided, rather than conscious agents of the US and enemies of the Iraqi people – and responsibility for security to local police and military forces. Already we are seeing the tragedy of young Iraqi Muslims being killed by resistance operations because they are misguided enough to accept jobs in the US-led security forces; some members of these forces have accused the US of deliberately putting Iraqis in the most difficult and dangerous positions without offering them the protection and assistance available to US troops. Gradually the situation will change to one of opposing not American occupiers and their allies, but an Iraqi government, albeit one which is beholden and subservient to the US. This is the situation that has long existed in many Muslim countries – Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others. The experience of Islamic movements in these countries is that purely military attempts to change the political systems tend to do more harm than good. The examples of Algeria and Egypt are before us, where Islamic movements found themselves engaged in extremely damaging wars that they could not win, and which served only to delegitimise their own cause, alienate them from the people they were trying to help, and justify the use of extremely brutal and repressive measures against them.
On the other hand, we have the example of Imam Khomeini and the strategy he followed for almost two decades before the Islamic Revolution, which was based on a steadfast political opposition to the Shah’s regime without ever compromising with or trying to work within his illegitimate system. In Egypt, the Islamic movement has recognised that military jihad, however justified, is not the wisest strategy to follow, and is reverting to a political strategy, although some would argue that it has failed to maintain an appropriate distance from the existing, illegitimate political order, and so has made unacceptable compromises with it. Be that as it may – it is a debate for another time and article – the fact is that these are the sorts of issues now facing the Islamic resistance movements in Iraq.
The challenge of fighting external enemies, as in Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya, and recently in Iraq, is very different from the challenge of opposing illegitimate political orders, supported and propped up by those same external enemies, in Muslim countries. This task the Islamic movement of Imam Khomeini faced in Iran, and Islamic movements in other Muslim countries still face. In Iraq, the resistance movements face a time of transition from one sort of struggle to the other.
The qualities required for the two are very different. For military struggle, the key requirements are commitment, physical courage and a willingness to face the hardships created by our enemies: qualities that the Muslims of Iraq have proved they have in as great a measure as Muslims in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya and anywhere in the world. The political struggle also requires these qualities, but others as well: patience, maturity, vision, political insight, organizational and management abilities, a spirit of co-operation and the ability to work with other Muslims who may be equally committed but have different approaches, the gift of communication, and an instinctive ability to recognise and avoid the plots and traps laid by our enemies. Also required are an understanding of Islam that transcends the narrow, sectarian, dogmatic understandings that have come to the fore in our years of decline and weakness.
Whether this sort of leadership is to be found in Iraq remains to be seen. For a few short days in April, as Sunnis and Shi’is came together in support and solidarity with the Sunni mujahideen in Falluja and the Shi’i uprising called by Muqtada al-Sadr, it appeared that the common enmity of the Americans might prove sufficient to bring Iraqi Muslims together and persuade their leaders to provide the understanding and maturity required for all parts of the community to work together in peace as well as in war. Very quickly, as the Muslims in Falluja were tricked into accepting the rule of the Falluja Brigade under a former Ba’athist general, and Muqtada al-Sadr proved unable to unite the hierarchy and community, this hope proved illusory. In truth there is no reason why the Iraqis, with their community deeply divided along so many major fault lines, and so long oppressed and repressed by Saddam Hussain, and with their institutions and networks largely destroyed or subverted, should prove any more mature and capable in this regard than Muslims elsewhere.
The likelihood is that the Iraqi Muslims will have to go through the same learning experience, of trial and error, and usually error again, that we have seen in other Muslim countries. The best we can hope for at present is that some of the mistakes that can be made, and have been made elsewhere, can be avoided, insha’Allah. With the divisions in the Shi’i community, and signs of anti-Shi’i sectarianism emerging in Falluja and the Sunni community, experiences and observations to date do not give one much hope.