Of Juntas, Storms, and Earthquakes-Natural and Man-Made
These are staggering natural disasters, hard even to take in, and yet it’s a reasonable question whether, in terms of damage, any of them measure up to the ongoing human-made (or rather Bush administration made) disaster in Iraq. Worse yet, unlike a natural disaster, the Iraqi catastrophe seems to be without end. No one can even guess when it might be said of that country that an era of reconstruction or rebuilding is about to begin. Instead, the damage only grows week by miserable week and yet, as has often been true in the last year,
Just this week, Iraqi troops moved into the vast, battered Shiite suburb of
The New York Times recently profiled a psychiatrist working with hopelessly antiquated equipment amid a tide of desperate, wounded humanity at Ibn Rushid, a psychiatric hospital in
Much scorn has rightly been poured on the junta in
Back in January 2005, considering the Indian Ocean tsunami, Rebecca Solnit wrote at this site: "You can say in some ways that what has happened in Iraq is a tsunami that swept ten thousand miles from the epicenter of an earthquake in Washington DC, an earthquake in policy and principle that has devastated countless lives and environments and cities far away…" But this has not exactly been a popular image in the American mainstream media; and so, in recent weeks, no one has even thought to connect our ongoing Iraqi disaster to the natural disasters in Asia, or the acts of the Burmese junta to those of our own leaders in relation to
And yet, as Michael Schwartz points out, Iraqi resistance to Bush’s desires and designs predictably continues. This sort of resistance has been with us at least since the Catholic peasants of
Schwartz, whose original and canny analyses of
River of Resistance
How the American Imperial Dream Foundered in
By Michael Schwartz
On February 15, 2003, ordinary citizens around the world poured into the streets to protest George W. Bush’s onrushing invasion of
The first glancing assessment of history branded this remarkable planetary protest a record-breaking failure, since the Bush administration, less than one month later, ordered
And it has since largely been forgotten, or perhaps better put, obliterated from official and media memory. Yet popular protest is more like a river than a storm; it keeps flowing into new areas, carrying pieces of its earlier life into other realms. We rarely know its consequences until many years afterward, when, if we’re lucky, we finally sort out its meandering path. Speaking for the protesters back in May 2003, only a month after
"We will likely never know, but it seems that the Bush administration decided against the ‘Shock and Awe’ saturation bombing of Baghdad because we made it clear that the cost in world opinion and civil unrest would be too high. We millions may have saved a few thousand or a few tens of thousand of lives. The global debate about the war delayed it for months, months that perhaps gave many Iraqis time to lay in stores, evacuate, brace for the onslaught."
Whatever history ultimately concludes about that unexpected moment of protest, once the war began, other forms of resistance arose — mainly in
The New American Century Goes Missing in Action
It’s hard now even to recall the original vision George W. Bush and his top officials had of how the conquest of
This vision is now, of course, long gone, largely thanks to unexpected and tenacious resistance of every sort within
Consider, for example, the myriad ways in which the Iraqi Sunnis resisted the occupation of their country from almost the moment the Bush administration’s intention to fully dismantle Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime became clear. The largely Sunni city of
In Falluja and elsewhere, these same militias soon became effective instruments for reducing, and — for a time — eliminating, the presence of the
Even the most successful of
Falluja itself was, of course, destroyed, with 70% of its buildings turned to rubble, and tens of thousands of its residents permanently displaced — an extreme sacrifice that had the unexpected effect of taking pressure off other Iraqi cities for a while. In fact, the ferocity of the resistance in the predominantly Sunni areas of Iraq forced the American military to wait almost four years before renewing their initial 2004 efforts to pacify the well-organized Sadrist-led resistance in the predominantly Shia areas of the country.
The Rebellion of the Oil Workers
In another arena entirely, consider the Bush administration’s dreams of harnessing Iraqi oil production to its foreign policy ambitions. The immediate goals, as American planners saw it, were to double prewar output and begin the process of transferring control of production from state ownership to foreign companies. Three major energy initiatives designed to accomplish these goals have so far been frustrated by resistance from virtually every segment of Iraqi society. Iraq’s well-organized oil workers played a key role in this by using their ability to bring production to a virtual stand-still in order to abort the transfer — only a few months after the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime — of the operation of the southern oil port of Basra to the management of then-Halliburton subsidiary KBR.
This and other early acts of labor defiance turned back the initial assault on the Iraqi government-controlled system of oil production. Such acts also laid a foundation for successful efforts to prevent the passage of oil policies shaped in Washington that were designed to transfer control of energy exploration and production to foreign companies. In these efforts, the oil workers were joined by both Sunni and Shia resistance groups, local governments, and finally the new national parliament.
This same sort of resistance extended to the whole roster of neoliberal reforms sponsored by the U.S.-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). From the beginning of the occupation, for instance, there were protests against mass unemployment caused by the dismantling of the Baathist state and the shuttering of state-owned factories. Much of the armed resistance was a response to the occupation’s early violent suppression of these protests.
Even more significant were local efforts to replace the government services discontinued by the CPA. The same local quasi-governments that had nurtured the militias sought to sustain or replace Baathist social programs, often by siphoning off oil destined for export onto the black-market to pay for local services, and hoarding local resources such as electrical generation. The result would be the creation of virtual city-states wherever
The Sadrist movement and the Mahdi Army militia of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was probably the most successful — and most anti-occupation — of the Shia political parties-cum-militias that systematically sought to develop quasi-government organizations. They tried to meet, however minimally, some of the basic needs of their communities, supplying food baskets, housing services, and serving a host of other functions previously promised by the Baathist government, but forsworn by the U.S. occupation and the Iraqi government that the United States installed when "handing over" sovereignty in June 2004.
The American occupationaires expected that their plans for the rapid privatization and transformation of the state-driven economy would indeed generate resistance, but they were convinced that this would subside quickly once the new economy kicked into gear. Instead, as the occupation wore on, demands for relief grew more strident and insistent, while the country itself, in chaos and near collapse, became visible evidence of the failure of the Bush administration’s "free market" policies.
An Iraqi Agenda for Withdrawal
Occupation officials faced the same dilemma in the political realm. The original goal of the Bush administration was a stable, pro-Washington government, stripped of its economic and political dominance over Iraqi society, but a bastion of resistance to Iranian regional power. This vision, like its military and economic cousins, has long since disappeared under the weight of Iraqi resistance.
Take, for example, the two high profile Iraqi elections, celebrated in the mainstream American media as a unique Bush administration accomplishment in the otherwise relentlessly autocratic
The first election in January 2005 delivered a sizeable parliamentary majority voted in on platforms calling for strict timetables for a full
The second parliamentary election in December 2005 followed a similar pattern. This time, the backroom bargaining was only partially effective. The newly installed prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, reneged on his campaign promises by publicly supporting an ongoing American military presence, which caused deep fissures in the ruling coalition. After a year of unproductive negotiations, the 30 Sadrists in parliament, originally a key part of Maliki’s ruling coalition, withdrew from both that coalition and the cabinet in protest over the prime minister’s refusal to set a date for the end of the occupation. Subsequent parliamentary demands for a date certain for withdrawal were ignored by both the government and
By early 2008, with provincial elections looming in November, there was little doubt that the Sadrists would sweep to power in many predominantly Shia provinces, most critically
This use of military force to prevent electoral defeat was only one of many indications that the Iraqi government was feeling the pressure of public opinion. Another was the reluctance of Prime Minister Maliki to maintain an antagonistic stance toward
As the occupation wore on, the Bush administration found itself swimming against a tide of resistance of a previously unimaginable sort, and ever further from its goals. Today, cities and towns around the country are largely under the sway of Shia or Sunni militias which, even when trained or paid by the occupation, remain militantly opposed to the
The formal political leadership of
Iraqi resistance of every kind and on every level has, however, prevented this vision from becoming reality. Because of the Iraqis, the glorious sounding Global War on Terror has been transformed into an endless, hopeless actual war.
But the Iraqis have paid a terrible price for resisting. The invasion and the social and economic policies that accompanied it have destroyed
It is past time for the rest of the world to shoulder at least a small share of the burden of resistance. Just as the worldwide protests before the war were among the upstream sources of the Iraqi resistance-to-come, so now others, especially Americans, should resist the very idea that Iraq could ever become the headquarters for a permanent United States presence that would, in the words of Bush speechwriter David Frum, "put America more wholly in charge of the region than any power since the Ottomans, or maybe even the Romans." Unlike the Iraqis, after all, the citizens of the
Michael Schwartz, Professor of Sociology at
[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), which has just been thoroughly updated in a newly issued edition that deals with victory culture’s crash-and-burn sequel in Iraq.]
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