REPLY TO GILBERT ACHCAR
REPLY TO GILBERT ACHCAR
Thank you for your reply to my letter, which sheds some light on your original article ('On the Forthcoming Election in Iraq'), but leaves much else in obscurity. It is clear at least that the dismay your piece caused me was, in a sense, welcome to you, since it might be a therapeutic shock, helping you to educate 'sections of the Western anti-imperialist movement,' and in particular 'the antiwar movement in the
You accuse me (somewhat inconsistently, I have to say) of both inconsistency and of shifting my position under the influence of your analysis. The two charges are connected. The inconsistency is that, you claim, I say that it was OK to support elections in Iraq when the Iraqi masses were demanding them a year ago but not now that Bush, Blair, & Co are supporting them. Excuse me, but can you point out where I said this, either in my letter to you or elsewhere? The pathos you seek rhetorically to build up to expose the absurdity of the position you attribute me is a waste of words.
What I did in my letter was to criticize your assertion that the United States is currently seeking to undermine the elections, and to argue that Bush and Blair are now adamant that the elections should take place, so that they can confer some legitimacy on the client regime they are trying to construct. You implicitly concede this point, saying that 'Bush and Blair ... are now trying to make the most of the elections (with quite limited success ...).' (I'll come back to the reason for this 'quite limited success.')
You are quite right that it would be politically immature and indeed plain silly to oppose the elections just because of this shift in stance on the part of the imperialist political leadership. To repeat, nowhere do I say this. Indeed, I say that 'we have simply to accept that the Iraqi resistance remains divided over whether or not to participate in the elections,' the implication of which is that one should accept that, in principle, participation (on the basis of opposition to the occupation) is, like armed resistance, a legitimate political response to the present situation.
You take this position as evidence that your 'arguments have apparently had an impact on [my] ... views.' Despite my great respect for you, I'm afraid that in this case you have had no influence on me. The Iraqi elections have been a looming issue for months, long before you wrote your piece. You further accuse me of 'declaring the forthcoming elections "illegitimate,"' but you have not read my letter with sufficient care. What I deny is that 'the elections [will] produce a legitimate democratic regime in
As to whether the elections themselves will be a genuine expression of the Iraqi people's will, this is an open question. Robert Fisk is one of many to have pointed out that half the population of
You are very keen to discover (in my case imaginary) inconsistencies in others, yet your own position is hardly straightforward: 'I am not saying that the antiwar movement or the anti-imperialist left should support the elections ... and still less that we should support their outcome regardless of the circumstances. I am just saying that it is dead wrong for the movement and the left to condemn the elections in advance.' I won't engage in chop logic and make fun of this rather tortuous formulation, because I recognize that the situation in
Where I do get a little irritated is when, apropos of Zarqawi, you claim that I
'refrained from such an explicit condemnation [of the atrocities committed by Zarqawi's group] until such a vicious campaign was launched against your party and the antiwar coalition you have so effectively built and led in Britain, by some right-wingers in the trade-union movement who seized on the pretext of the atrocious torture and murder of Iraqi Communist Party member and trade unionist Hadi Salih.'
This assertion is both false and mischievous. The Stop the War Coalition is much broader, at every level from its national officers downwards, than the Socialist Workers Party (to which I belong). Rightly, as I pointed out in my earlier letter, the Coalition does not take a stand for or against the armed resistance and campaigns for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from
Nevertheless, the Stop the War Coalition, did, for example, together with the Muslim Association of Britain, issue a statement in September 2004 calling for the immediate release of the British hostage Kenneth Bigley, who was later killed by Zarqawi's group. The statement specifically states: 'It is not possible to condone the kidnapping, still less execution, of hostages.' In June 2004, Michael Berg, father of Zarqawi's first Western victim, travelled specially to
You know perfectly well the political context in which the row over Salih's murder has unfolded in
It was when the Stop the War Coalition criticized the IFTU for its role at the Labour Party conference and for its collaboration with the occupation that right-wing elements in some unions (notably the largest, UNISON, which has provided offices for the IFTU in its headquarters) launched an assault on the Coalition. This campaign has been fuelled by the disruption by some sectarian idiots of an ESF plenary where an IFTU representative had (mistakenly) been invited to speak, and now by Salih's murder.
Of course, the IFTU's collaborationist role doesn't for a moment justify torturing and killing Salih. But it is important to distinguish sharply between condemning atrocities such as this and supporting a 'union' whose 'Communist' leaders simultaneously benefit from Saddam's authoritarian trade-union law and acquiesce in the occupation's illegal attempt to remake Iraqi society along neo-liberal lines. And where were hypocrites like the British pro-war columnists Nick Cohen and Johann Hari who have waxed so indignant over Salih's killing when the US Marines were storming Falluja?
Of course you know all this, but the point is an important one -- Salih's assassination is being used to split one of the most important antiwar groups in the
In some ways, however, important though all these issues are, they are secondary to the main point, which is your ambivalent attitude towards the armed resistance to the occupation. You insist that you consider some attacks 'legitimate,' but in a footnote you say: 'I do believe the first Palestinian Intifada with its mass demonstrations and stone throwing was much more effective than the second than the second one with its resort to firearms and suicide attacks ... This does not mean that the armed actions in Iraq are ineffective; they are effective, much more so than in Palestine.'
Your position then seems to be that you would prefer it if Iraqis took part in peaceful mass demonstrations, but you acknowledge that armed struggle, though less preferable, is 'effective.' I think it's important to distinguish one's preferences from realities. I would prefer to see in Iraq the kind of mass movement that developed during the Revolution of 1958, whose history has been so magnificently reconstructed by your friend Hanna Batatu. Indeed, I would prefer mass strikes and workers' and peasants' councils (a little Utopian perhaps, given that unemployment is 70% plus) ... But the reality is that it is classical guerrilla warfare waged by a variety of political forces, most of them very far ideologically from the two of us, that has brought the occupation to its present plight. The elections -- wrested from the
This is why the Shia card is so important to them. The worst moment for Bush so far came in April last year, when Bremer foolishly launched an offensive on two fronts -- against Falluja in the Sunni Triangle and against the Sadrists in
This strategy has been facilitated by Sistani, the key figure in the Shia establishment. He used the Najaf crisis in August to sideline Sadr, his most important political rival among the Shi'ites. And he stood by while Falluja was flattened. I wonder why you don't respond to what I said about this in my earlier letter. I also wonder what you think about the apparent retreat by the electoral list endorsed by Sistani from demanding an American pull-out after the election. The Financial Times reports:
'The United Iraqi Alliance, bringing together the country's main Shia Islamist parties, also included a call for the negotiation of a withdrawal timetable.
'Although it was a top priority in the draft, the proposal has been "diluted," calling instead for building Iraqi capabilities to achieve "security independence," said Mouwaffak al-Rubbaie, national security adviser to the government and an Alliance candidate.'
In one sense, your claim that the
All the best,
1. 'UN Worried over Monitoring of Iraqi Elections,' Financial Times,
2. 'MAB and STW urge for immediate release of Kenneth Bigley,'
3. H. Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of
4. 'Election Hopefuls Pay Lip Service to Idea of US Troop Withdrawal,' Financial Times,