Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Whither Iraqi Resistance?

Agence France Presse reports that Sheikh Nasser al-Saedi, Moktada al-Sadr's ally, called for a demonstration against the occupation of Iraq: "Last Friday I called for a million-strong demonstration to demand a timetable for the end of the occupation and I repeat this demand again and I call on all political forces to take part in this demonstration" (Nasser al-Saedi, qtd. in "Radical Iraqi Cleric's Follower Calls for Million-strong Anti-US Demo," 25 Mar. 2005). As the (predominantly Shiite) United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish coalition have been unable to agree on power sharing and form a government two months after the elections (Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Mariam Karouny, "Iraq Parliament in Uproar Over Stalemate," Reuters, 29, Mar. 2005), there is a chance that Shiites, led by Sadr, and Sunnis who are opposed to the occupation can unite and assert themselves politically in the streets, as they did last April.

For Iraqis to bring the occupation of Iraq to an end, armed guerrilla struggle alone does not suffice. Guerrilla resistance, fragmented as it is with its fair share of ruthless reactionaries (of the sort who brutally murdered some civilian hostages) among them, can still inflict great damage upon the occupier, sabotaging its plan to install a pro-Washington regime that cuts lucrative deals with Western oil companies while remaking Iraq in its neoliberal image. And Iraqi guerrillas have at least demolished the notion that "U.S. forces will remain capable of swiftly defeating attacks against U.S. allies and friends," conducting major combat operations "in any two theaters of operation in overlapping timeframes" ("Quadrennial Defense Review Report," 30 Sep. 2001, p. 21). Without armed insurgency that has pinned down the main forces of the US Army in Iraq, Washington, drunk with victory, might have moved on to a war on Syria, Iran, or Venezuela by now. But, without a political organization that can unite popular forces across ethnic and sectarian divides, it is unlikely that guerrilla resistance alone can force US troops' departure from Iraq.

What Iraqis opposed to the occupation need is something like massive mobilizations in the streets and workers' strikes and factory occupations that brought down the Shah in Iran.
Between October 1977 and September 1978, anti-Shah protests grew from weekly to daily events. The protests culminated in a demonstration of some 2 million people in Tehran on September 7, 1978. It was among the largest demonstrations in history. In response, the Shah imposed martial law and his troops massacred more than 2,000 demonstrators.

While the street demonstrations were a massive show of force, it was the subsequent strikes that broke the back of the Shah’s regime. When martial law threatened to end the protests, Iran’s 30,000 oil workers struck. They brought the country to a standstill. This gave the revolution new momentum, sparking a mass strike wave.

Workers struck and took over factories, offices, hospitals and universities nationwide. They set up democratic workers’ committees (called shoras), and either bypassed or simply chased out owners and managers. Slum dwellers set up neighborhood committees around local mosques. As the Shah’s army and the police began to disintegrate, these committees took over the patrolling of the neighborhoods. (Saman Sepehri, "The Iranian Revolution," International Socialist Review 9, August-September 2000)
How long will it take before Iraqis become able to organize similar mass actions? In February this year, an open letter "Leave Our Country Now" by Hassan Juma'a Awad (The Guardian 18 Feb. 2005), general secretary of Iraq's Southern Oil Company Union and president of the Basra Oil Workers' Union, was published. The letter is powerful and eloquent, but it is not clear whether it is possible for Hassan Juma'a Awad and other Iraqi trade unionists who share his view to stage workers' direct actions against the occupation and coordinate them with street mobilizations nationwide in the near future, despite the collaborationist leadership of the Iraqi Federation of Workers' Trade Unions and the Iraqi Communist Party. Also, workers still employed and drawing regular paychecks in Iraq, where the official unemployment rate is 48%, must be a relatively privileged minority among masses of the unemployed. Whether that fact makes them more cautious (wishing to protect their privilege) or daring (acting in solidarity with the unemployed) also remains to be seen. Whither Iraqi resistance? As the occupation enters its third year, there are more questions than answers.

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