Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Anniversary Demonstrations Denounce U.S. Occupation

Protests were carried out in Iraq yesterday to mark the fourth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein, and of course, the fourth anniversary of the U.S. occupation. The demonstrations reflected the strange nature of the Iraq war, a war in which the "enemy" is essentially the people of Iraq, 82 percent of whom reject the presence of coalition forces in their country, according to a 2005 British MoD survey.

The largest of the demonstrations appears to have taken place in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, where hundreds of thousands protested the occupation.

As al-Jazeera reported today,

Hundreds of banners saying "Down with Bush, Down with America" were carried by protesters as Iraqi police and soldiers guarded checkpoints in and around Najaf and Kufa. Many people, draped in Iraqi flags, set US flags ablaze and some trampled on and struck US and Israeli flags painted on the ground with their shoes, an act considered one of the worst insults in Arab culture.

"In four years of occupation, our sons have been killed and women made widows," cried Ahmed al-Mayahie, 39, a Shia from the southern city of Basra.

"The occupier raised slogans saying Iraq is free, Iraq is liberated. What freedom? What liberation? There is nothing but destruction. We do not want their liberation and their presence. We tell them to get out of our land."

Falah Hassan Shanshil, an MP from al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc, said: "This crowd has come to reject the American occupation and demand its withdrawal."
Indeed, the people of Najaf have rejected the occupation and have been demanding U.S. withdrawal for years. The city has been a thorn in the side of the occupying forces despite the fact that it is overwhelmingly Shiite, and the Shiites gained the most from the fall of Saddam Hussein. In April of 2004, following the first anniversary of Hussein’s ouster, U.S. Marines were sent to Najaf to put down an uprising led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. As WSWS reported at the time,

American and coalition troops have checkpoints blocking all the main roads into the city. Leaflets are being distributed denouncing Sadr for the murder of a moderate Shia cleric at a Najaf mosque in April 2003. As many as 6,000 fighters loyal to Sadr are believed to be ready to resist any US attack. Local people are said to be stock-piling food, water and oil, and shop-keepers are piling sandbags around their stores, in anticipation of weeks of street-to-street fighting.

Colonel Dana Pritchard of the Third Brigade, First Infantry Division, summed up the mentality of the US forces. He told the Los Angeles Times at the beginning of the week: “My intent is to destroy Sadr’s militia, absolutely destroy it, and then to capture or kill Sadr. That’s our mission. We’re just waiting to be unleashed.”
The subsequent violence was captured on video and made available by the Najaf Project:

What yesterday’s mass demonstration, well, demonstrated, is that despite the resources the U.S. has spent in pacifying Najaf, the city is no more under U.S. control than it was three years ago. The mission of destroying Sadr’s militia also appears to have failed miserably. Rather than “absolutely destroy it,” as Col. Pritchard promised three years ago, instead it seems that the U.S.’s heavy-handed tactics have strengthened it.

Just over the weekend, the U.S. was engaged in heavy fighting against the militia, just outside of Baghdad, where a “surge” of U.S. troops is attempting to impose some level of security on the capital city.

As the BBC reported,

US and Iraqi troops have been engaged in a second day of fierce fighting with Shia militias they are trying to oust from the central city of Diwaniya.

The fighting is part of an operation to extend the recent security drive beyond Baghdad to other parts of the country.

Jets and tanks have been supporting ground troops in the offensive against militiamen loyal to radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The weekend was one of the costliest in terms of U.S. casualties for quite a while, with ten soldiers reported killed. But the violence may get even worse in the coming weeks. Some press reports noted that the Najaf demonstration and some of fiery rhetoric from al-Sadr may be an indication of a coming offensive against U.S. forces. As the Kansas City Star is reporting today,

There were ominous signs afterward that al-Sadr’s enormous Mahdi Army militia may be preparing for renewed violence in Baghdad.

Monday evening, as protesters returned in trucks and buses to Baghdad’s sprawling Shiite slum of Sadr City, a McClatchy Newspapers reporter saw men in several buses carrying pistols and AK-47s, a violation of new security laws. One man who identified himself as a Mahdi Army member bragged that weapons were being taken from Najaf to Baghdad hidden in truck beds. Najaf is about 100 miles south of Baghdad.

The rhetoric at the rally was menacing at times. “The occupation and the people connected to it will vanish,” the demonstration’s organizers said in a statement, “and Iraq will stay for Iraqis and the country for its sons.”

The deteriorating situation should not be a surprise to anyone who has even loosely followed the Iraq war for the past four years. Every single one of Bush’s promises of “turning the corner” has turned out to be empty, and every single development that was supposed to bring security to the country – whether elections, Saddam’s capture, Saddam’s execution, or the new surge – appears to have had the opposite effect.

As Bush’s Democratic opponents may blame a “failed strategy” for the mess, the reality may be instead that the situation simply reflects the nature of guerrilla war. In any war of attrition, the advantage is with the fighters who are indigenous to the country in which it’s being fought. This reality was explained by an Iraqi militia fighter in the earliest days of the insurgency. As Newsday quoted the guerrilla in July 2003,

"We have many more people and we’re a lot better organized than the Americans realize. We have been preparing for this for a long time, and we’re much more patient than the Americans. We have nowhere else to go."
That simple reality has not changed. The Iraqis have nowhere else to go, and as long as unwelcome occupiers remain in their country, they will continue to resist.

1 comment:

coco said...

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