[A-List] Najaf - The Ham Hand of Empire
sherrynstan at earthlink.net
Fri Aug 13 20:51:25 MDT 2004
Those they can't co-opt, they destroy
Najaf proves that the US will never allow democracy to flourish in Iraq
Saturday August 14, 2004
The US military offensive against Najaf is a dangerous and ill-judged
escalation, revealing the violent reality of an occupation that has
undergone only cosmetic change since the supposed handover of power to
an interim Iraqi administration in June.
For more than a week, an aggressive foreign power has addressed an
essentially domestic political question by means of tanks, helicopter
gunships and F16s.
There had been a ceasefire in place between the US forces and their main
opponents around Najaf, and mediation efforts had been effective in
The current violence in the vicinity of one of Islam's most sacred sites
appears to be a result of the failure of this mediation to co-opt
Moqtada al-Sadr and his movement into a national conference, which the
US had hoped would bestow a stamp of approval on the interim government.
The offensive is not - as claimed by the US-appointed interim government
and by the US military - an action against outlaws, nor is it an attempt
to establish security and the rule of law.
There is a great deal of random violence in occupied Iraq. Some of this
violence is of a purely criminal character and some is of a terrorist
nature with more or less vague political objectives - many of the
perpetrators are so shadowy as to invite a widespread belief that
outside powers are directly involved in fomenting chaos.
In the absence of a genuine accounting for past suffering and political
crimes and of a process of reconciliation, there is also violence
associated with score-settling by political groups.
Not least, of course, is the military violence of the 200,000 foreign
forces and armed mercenaries, and of the diverse groups resisting their
presence in the country.
All these forms of violence are escalating, leading to a chaotic and
The way to deal with this situation is not to pour petrol on the fire,
but to look for an imaginative and honest political way out.
Having been appointed by the occupation authority under a corrupted UN
oversight process, Ayad Allawi's interim government lacks any legitimacy
Its success could only be measured through its ability to address the
needs of the Iraqi people, foremost among which is security.
The offensive against Najaf is the most crude and inept action possible,
and it follows a long line of such actions by the occupation forces and
their political leadership.
Some Iraqis hoped that the so-called transfer of power would permit a
lessening of tension and a quick withdrawal of foreign forces from the
cities, to be followed by greater cooperation between police and the
population in tackling random violence.
It had been hoped that the police would become more effective in
protecting doctors and other professionals from targeted kidnap and
murder, and that homes, places of worship and other public places would
become less insecure, and that efforts would be redoubled to address the
abysmal failure to rebuild the infrastructure.
Instead, there is now a greater effort at involving the police and other
new Iraqi armed forces in waging the United States' war-by-proxy against
the political opponents of the occupation.
The collapse of law and order has little to do with Sadr. His is one of
a number of forces with armed militia operating in the country.
Its control of poor slum areas and inner cities resulted from the chaos
that was brought about by the occupation; it was not itself the cause of
The physical destruction of state power, the interference in civil
society institutions, and the violence and lack of legitimacy of the
occupation were responsible for the emergence of new centres of power
and authority that must now be integrated into the political process.
In particular, the Sadr movement has a wide appeal among young, poor,
marginalised and traditionally edu cated sections of the urban
population, and it is irresponsible to ignore or antagonise such a wide
section of Iraqi society.
These are people who should be allowed to enter the political process
through their chosen vehicle. They have a legitimate critique of the
present flawed process, which is designed to serve the political
objectives of the US administration and its few Iraqi allies.
But instead, the US occupation is trying to destroy or marginalise those
movements, while also reinforcing existing inequities through media
censorship and by heightening tension with neighbouring Iran.
After Najaf, where are US troops going? Are they going to encircle
Thawra (Sadr City), the Baghdad suburb? Are they going to attack every
poor suburb of every city from Kirkuk to Basra? And bomb every town
where there have been large demonstrations in opposition to the attack
This offensive has already dealt a severe blow to the interim
government. It has shown that it is unable to rein in the US presence,
and can only fall in line with America's military imperatives.
It has shown that the US has no intention of permitting a genuine Iraqi
political dialogue or the development of an inclusive democratic
The action in Najaf is also deeply symbolic. This is not only a Shia
issue. Najaf is a holy site for all Muslims everywhere and has
particular historical significance for Iraqis.
It is the seat of traditional learning and a repository of Iraqi
communal and national culture, but it was also the focus of the 1920
uprising against British colonial rule that had set Iraq on the path of
Najaf has been a lively centre of commerce, industry and political
activity ever since. Nothing cut the last links between Saddam Hussein
and large swathes of Iraqi society more than his persecution of Najaf.
It is here that Iraq has its greatest tradition in mediation, where
social, moral and religious influences can be brought to bear, and where
economic regeneration has brighter prospects. Trying to solve Najaf's
problems by Yankee fire is a mark of abysmal failure.
Some liberals who opposed the war subsequently adopted an argument that
the US and Britain now have a responsibility to remain in Iraq and to
see to it that the country arrives at the safe shores of democracy and
This argument is based on the presumption that, left alone, Iraq would
fall into internecine conflict which only the US and Britain, being such
civilised and civilising nations, could address. This was always a
convenient myth, but the repeated military offensives against Iraqi
cities must now make it clear that chaos and internecine conflict is
with us already, and it is being expanded and prolonged by foreign
It is time to set an early date for a complete withdrawal of foreign
forces and then to ask what can and should be done to help Iraq.
. Kamil Mahdi is an Iraqi and lecturer in Middle East economics at the
University of Exeter
K.A.Mahdi at exeter.ac.uk
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