the Disillusioned kid: Iraqi Resistance Redux
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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Iraqi Resistance Redux

In various previous posts (notably here and here) I've tried to demolish the misapprehension that the groups who have taken up arms against US/UK forces are a coherent, homogenous block. I have argued that it is instead made up of various movements with little or no co-ordination between many of them. Amongst this array of forces one finds secular nationalists, Ba'athists, moderate Islamic nationalists and messianic Islamic extremists (epitomised by the figure of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi). While these groups have not always seen eye-to-eye, until now they seem largely to have ignored each other. Patrick Cockburn suggests, however, that nationalists are becoming increasingly antipathetic towards the excesses of the Islamic extremists:
Gunmen ordered 16 off-duty Iraqi soldiers out of a truck in Latafiya, south of Baghdad, at the weekend and killed them, but signs are growing that the slaughter of all Iraqis in the army or police, or civilians working for the government, is leading to divisions in the resistance.

The split is between Islamic fanatics, willing to killing anybody remotely connected with the government, and Iraqi nationalists who want to concentrate on attacking the 130,000 US troops in Iraq.

Posters threatening extreme resistance fighters have appeared on walls in Ramadi, a Sunni Muslim city on the Euphrates river west of Baghad.

Insurgents in the city say that resistance to the Americans is being discredited by the kidnapping and killing of civilians. "They have tarnished our image and used the jihad to make personal gains," Ahmed Hussein, an imam from a mosque in Ramadi, was quoted as saying.


The key to the effectiveness of the resistance is that it has swum in a sea of popular support or acquiescence. However, often after an attack on Iraqi police or army recruits, furious by-standers have said to me: "Why are they attacking our own people and not killing Americans?"

The extreme Islamic groups, typified by that led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, see themselves fighting a world full of "infidels", "apostates" and "crusaders" in which an Iraqi Shia or Christian was as worthy of death as a US soldier. When American troops allegedly damaged two mosques in Mosul, insurgents blew up two churches in the city in retaliation.

The Sunni sectarianism of the Salafi limited the nationalist appeal of the resistance and ensured that Shias supported the destruction of Fallujah by the US Marines last November.
Where this will lead remains to be seen.

The demonstration In Firdaus Square on Saturday by supporters of "renegade cleric" Moqtada al-Sadr demanding the withdrawal of foreign forces and that Saddam Hussein be put on trial, may have involved as many as 30,ooo people. Juan Cole notes, "If it were even half that, these would be the largest popular demonstrations in Iraq since 1958!" While this suggests an increasingly confident anti-occupation movement, the protest seems to have been almost exclusively Shia. Sunni groups organised their own protests. While there have been efforts to establish a non-sectarian anti-occupation movement in the form of the Iraqi National Foundation Congress (INFC) this does not seem to have generated much activity on the ground as yet.

As long as resistance to occupation remains divided along ethnic lines its effectiveness will be muted. The risk of civil war while massively overstated by those seeking to justify the occupation, will also be something which cannot be discounted.

(Kudos for the Cockburn article to Lenin.)

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