Iraq's Year of Blood
Iraq's Year of Blood
On June 28 -- two days ahead of schedule to try and avoid the ceremony being disrupted by resistance fighters --
At the beginning of May 2003, President Bush staged a triumphant scene, on board a
Gilbert Achcar: What is happening confirms what we were saying right at the beginning of the invasion of
In the first place, you need a much greater number of soldiers than are necessary for a simple military victory. But the Bush administration believed it could occupy
In the second place, you have to be dealing with a controllable population, that is to say a population that shows a certain degree of resignation, or even acquiescence to the occupation. But that's very far from being the case. The majority of the Iraqi population welcomed the American army with feelings that could be summed up as follows: "You overthrew Saddam Hussein, thanks. Now be on your way, we don't want you as an occupying power".
These feelings are the basis of the movement of opposition to the occupation, which is snowballing and is expressed almost daily by armed operations. In my opinion, however, that is not what is decisive. What is most important is the mass character of the rejection of the occupation, for example the gigantic demonstrations which took place during the confrontation between the proconsul Bremer and the "Grand Ayatollah" Sistani on the question of elections.
That's why the project of the Bush administration is failing and
How would you characterize the principal measures of economic policy imposed by the
On this level too we can see a first American defeat:
On the other hand, the
The project of the Bush administration wasn't, as is sometimes said, to purely and simply privatize Iraqi oil resources. It would be too difficult to get that accepted. Its objective was privatization in all but name, in the form of agreements allowing US oil companies to "co-exploit" Iraqi oil along with the state oil company. But today, the main worry of the
The Bush administration has fixed the date of June 30 for the "transfer" of sovereignty to the Iraqis. What does that mean?
It was last autumn that Bremer officially announced his plan for a so-called Iraqi government, consisting of people appointed by the occupying power or chosen by assemblies themselves appointed by the occupying power. The result was a confrontation, in which his main opponent was Sistani, the highest Shiite dignitary in
The "Grand Ayatollah" Sistani is an arrant reactionary on social issues, a medieval traditionalist. However in this battle he has come across as the person who is standing up to the proconsul Bremer. So an out and out reactionary has become the spokesman for his community and for a majority of the Iraqi population, in opposition to the plans of the occupying forces. In spite of the important differences between Sistani and Khomeini, in particular concerning their conception of the relations between political power and religious authorities, this situation has some points of resemblance with the role that Khomeini played in the struggle against the Shah. Every bit as reactionary on social issues or over women's rights, Khomeini became the main figure of the opposition to the Shah of Iran at the end of the 1970s, taking up at first the theme of democracy.
When in November 2003 Bremer wanted to force the hand of the Iraqis, Sistani took up the challenge and called demonstrations, which took on considerable scale and forced Bremer to back down.
The Bush administration then turned again to the United Nations, for mediation and to save face. The mediation led to the so-called promise to organize elections in January 2005. I say "so-called" because I don't believe that the
In this context, no one is being fooled by the date of June 30. The Iraqi government that is established will remain de facto appointed by the occupying powers: even if this government is formed through the intermediary of the UN, it is the
In fact, on June 30, the real transfer of power will take place not between Bremer and the new Iraqi "government", but between Bremer and the new
What are the lines of force of the political and social realignments underway in
The situation is difficult to decipher, with social and political forces that are in part allied, in part in competition or in opposition to each other: those who participate in the Interim Governing Council (IGC) set up by the Americans and those who are not involved in it; those who are defined on religious or ethnic bases; the divisions within the Shiite community; sectors of the Baath Party reintegrated by the American army in order to control Falluja...
The most important fracture is not between Shiites and Sunnis, but between Arabs and Kurds.
Today, the Kurds are the only section of the Iraqi population that approves of the occupation and believes that it is in its interest that it should continue. It is true that Iraqi Kurdistan has enjoyed, since the end of the first Gulf War in 1991, real autonomy and a very privileged status by comparison with the rest of
For the rest, the political landscape is fractured. There exists no hegemonic force, capable of governing the country.
For this reason, there is in my opinion a real perspective for a certain form of democracy in
The potential for a certain democratic life in
This has created a situation that is difficult to undo. You can't easily rebuild a state machine that you dissolved more than a year ago. We saw in Falluja that the attempt to fall back on a general of the former Republican Guards to stabilize the situation provoked such a furor that the American army had to partly retreat.
In this context, the only possibility of reconstructing an Iraqi state is to do it in a pluralist framework, at least in the first instance.
What is the importance of movements that have a democratic and social dimension and that are independent of the main religious or political forces?
On this question there is enormous disappointment. One could be optimistic before the invasion:
We could have expected that this tradition, which kept roots inside the country, would rise from its ashes. But the Iraqi Communist Party, after having had a relatively correct attitude before the war -- it was opposed to Saddam Hussein, which goes without saying, but also to the war which was being prepared and to the United States' aim to dominate the country -- agreed to participate in the Interim Governing Council appointed by the occupiers. The Iraqi Communist Party thus pulled off the exploit of going from participating in the Baathist government, in the early 1970s, to participating in a council of collaborators of the American occupation. This has largely discredited the party and the Communist tradition.
There exist other forces that are more to the left, but they are not strong enough, given what is at stake in the country. As in
The Bush administration is confronted with major difficulties, on the ground as well as at the diplomatic level, as
The main difference on this subject, between Kerry and Bush, lies in Kerry's greater willingness to share out the cake, with
The Bush administration, on the other hand, persists in trying to modify the American presence without giving ground over control of
But nor does that mean that a Kerry type of solution has much more chance of squaring the circle: maintaining
In fact, if it comes to a process that is directly controlled by the UN Security Council, the pressure for free elections will be too strong to resist. And I can't really see how elections in
Having said that, there are many unknown quantities. It is a very unstable region, where changes can occur brutally. No one, for example, should count on the Syrian or Iranian regimes lasting forever. The situation is even becoming critical in the Saudi kingdom, which had however up to now been kept under close control.
In reality, the policies pursued so far by the
On the one hand, the scandal of the torture and brutal treatment inflicted by American soldiers in
On the other hand, in the
But aren't there any counter-tendencies?
In this very alarming situation, there are fortunately some small glimmers of hope. The world movement against neo-liberal globalization and against war is beginning to have an impact, very modest for the moment, in countries like
The new impact of the anti-globalization movement is a result of important changes: information circulates infinitely more than in the past in the
This new context can also favor the emergence of new left currents. To develop, these currents would need to concentrate on the questions on which the fundamentalists are by definition incapable of competing with them: social issues, women's rights, the denunciation of uncontrolled capitalism and its ravages on a world scale. Of course, any left worthy of the name must also oppose Western occupation and plans to dominate the region. But on this terrain it can't hope to defeat the fundamentalists, who very largely occupy the scene.
Since the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000, Israeli repression against the Palestinians has constantly increased. The construction of the wall is proceeding inexorably. The Bush administration has given the green light to the Sharon Plan, which closes the door to the Palestinian refugees and implies the annexation of a large part of the
The second Intifada has unfortunately been part and parcel of this regressive dynamic. It has been much less effective than the first one in the struggle against the Israeli occupation.
This flows from the fact that the Palestinians have in a way fallen into the trap of the militarization of the Intifada. I think that, quite deliberately, the Israeli side has encouraged this militarization of the conflict. This has enabled them to take extreme measures, on the pretext that it is no longer a question of controlling demonstrations, but of conducting a war -- the term is employed systematically on the Israeli side.
On the Palestinian side, this dynamic has led to a big drop in popular involvement. There is a striking difference between the mass character of the first Intifada and the second one. The direct involvement of women is an indicator: it was remarkable in the first Intifada; it is completely absent from the second.
This corresponds perfectly to the aims of someone like Ariel Sharon, who played a decisive role in the initial provocation in September 2000, and who subsequently rode on the crest of the wave of the situation that had been created, to win the elections of February 2001. Since then, he hasn't stopped throwing oil on the fire, because it is from this fire that he draws his own strength.
Today, the situation of the Palestinians is worse than it has ever been in the whole history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There has never been such suffering. These people are in the process of being completely strangled; a policy of creeping expulsion is de facto under way. The policy of the Israeli government is creating a situation that is so unbearable that it is forcing a growing number of Palestinians into exile. Those who remain, prisoners of this stranglehold, will subsequently be concentrated in a few enclaves placed under close surveillance.
This dynamic favors the extremes on both sides.
In this context, what is the implication of the
The criticisms that we could make of this initiative from the point of view of the rights of the Palestinians are obvious. But I wouldn't polarize the debate around that, because in the present situation, this initiative is stillborn: those who are behind it, on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, are completely marginalized.
If the political context were to change and a new space for this kind of initiative to open up, I would adopt the same attitude that I took in relation to the
1. The Nakba is the name given by the Palestinian people to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the forced exile of the majority of the Palestinian population that accompanied it.
This interview was originally carried out in May 2004 for La BrÃ¨che, journal of the Swiss Mouvement pour le Socialisme (MPS). The article was translated by