Iraq

The Secular Left in Iraq

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Bill Weinberg has an interesting report in The Nation about "an active civil resistance in Iraq that opposes the occupation, the torture regime it protects and the Islamist and Baathist insurgencies alike."

The [Iraq Freedom Congress] was formed in 2005, bringing together trade unions, women's organizations, neighborhood assemblies and student groups around two demands: a secular Iraqi state and an end to the occupation….

The IFC's self-governing zone of some 5,000 in Baghdad, established in the district of Husseiniya more than a year ago, is an island of coexistence in a city torn by sectarian cleansing, says [IFC president Samir] Adil. Thanks to the Safety Force, the district has become a no-go zone for sectarian militias. "There has been no sectarian killing in Husseiniya since September 2006," Adil boasts. The IFC is working to establish more self-governing zones in Baghdad's mixed Sunni-Shiite districts, and it has a similar autonomous zone in Kirkuk.

I don't know how seriously to take Adil's claims. I'm certainly skeptical of the idea that there have been "no" sectarian killings in Husseinya in the last 15 months. A quick Google search turned up this story from May, in which "armed men stopped a minibus and shot dead all 11 passengers."

Still, Weinberg's bullshit detector has impressed me in the past. (His coverage of Central America in the '80s refused to idealize the Sandinistas or to paper over their restrictions on civil liberties, for example, even as he declined to become a cheerleader for Reagan's foreign policy.) If you want to take a closer look at the IFC, its website is here. Weinberg wrote about the group's efforts in Kirkuk here.

In other war news: Kevin Drum notes some unpleasant developments. John Robb examines the growth of guerrilla groups and asks: Does size matter? And Patrick Cockburn gives a useful summary of the recent twists and turns among Iraq's different factions. Cockburn's bottom line: "American commentators…look at Iraq in over-simple terms and exaggerate the extent to which the US is making the political weather and is in control of events there."

NEXT: Smear 'Em if You Got 'Em

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  1. “American commentators…look at Iraq in over-simple terms and exaggerate the extent to which the US is making the political weather and is in control of events there.”

    That has always been the central danger to the experiment in Iraq. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. You can give people an opportunity for democracy but you can’t force them to commit to it on the emotional level needed to really make it work.

    Of course, many had serious doubts that Germans, Japanese, Koreans or Chinese could create stable democracies and though it took time, they did manage. I think the most important factor is merely time. If you give the nascent democracy time enough to get stable without the training wheels people will begin to trust it and believe it can work. They will stick their necks out to protect it.

  2. Sure, blame the Iraqis.

  3. This reminds me of some of Christopher Hitchens’ stuff. He befriended some Iraqi professors living in the West and so wrote articles making the Iraqis look like Western Europeans. He says stuff like shame on liberals not supporting Iraqis like a woman working for the Iraqi Communist Party (communist is a good thing in Hitchens world).

    Bless the hearts of all the non-communist/socialist secular Iraqis trying to make their country a better place. Yet without Saddam Hussein level brutality, which they don’t advocate, it ain’t happening.

  4. There is an old adage that religious folk like to whip out, that if you were approached by a group of youth late at night, wouldn’t you be happy to find out they were returning home from a religous function?

    Well, in Iraq, I’m sure I’d be much happier to find out they were coming home from a secular state function.

  5. Sure, blame the Iraqis.

    Yeah, kinda. Yes, I blame primarily those neocon inspired nitwit that destroyed a functioning, if despicable, political regime who believed against all history, experience, and accumulated western thought that liberal democracy would magically and spontaneously erupt to take its place.

    However, there was some twisted logic behind the surge; violence stops with political reconciliation. Instead, the Iraqi congress went on vacation. We broke it, and bought it to the tune of a half-trillion dollars, but Ron Paul is right in the sense that its ultimately their mess (and, duh, *their country*).

    Sure, root causes, America is pretty much to blame. But if we were to pull out tomorrow and the Iraqis went on internecine pogroms and full-scale (not guerrilla) Civil War, its on the hands of those pulling the triggers and those who direct them. They could, you know, *not* kill each other. That would be novel.


  6. Yeah, kinda. Yes, I blame primarily those neocon inspired nitwit that destroyed a functioning, if despicable, political regime who believed against all history, experience, and accumulated western thought that liberal democracy would magically and spontaneously erupt to take its place.

    However, there was some twisted logic behind the surge; violence stops with political reconciliation. Instead, the Iraqi congress went on vacation. We broke it, and bought it to the tune of a half-trillion dollars, but Ron Paul is right in the sense that its ultimately their mess (and, duh, *their country*).

    Sure, root causes, America is pretty much to blame. But if we were to pull out tomorrow and the Iraqis went on internecine pogroms and full-scale (not guerrilla) Civil War, its on the hands of those pulling the triggers and those who direct them. They could, you know, *not* kill each other. That would be novel.

    I agree. You give a loaded gun to a crazy person, and they go on a shooting spree. Sure, you’re a jackass for giving him the gun in the first place, but it’s still the responsibility of the guy whose going around shooting people.

  7. Elemenope,

    We ought to take this on the road.

    What do you think American politics would look like if they were being carried out under foreign occupation, where the occupiers has consistently favored policies that shifted power from white people to non-white people?

  8. Of course, many had serious doubts that Germans, Japanese, Koreans or Chinese could create stable democracies and though it took time, they did manage.

    China is a democracy?

  9. a secular Iraqi state and an end to the occupation

    Just what every candidate, sitting Congressmen, and the President want. Of course, if by “secular” then mean crypto-Communist, then maybe not so much.

  10. Do you think that the occupation of Iraq by a foreign military that has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, in the name of democracy, a unified political structure, and human rights, is going to shift political power towards those who agree with our platform, or away with them?

    The American presence turned al Sadr from a low-level player to the most powerful Shiite in Iraq, and turned Sistani from the most powerful Shiite leader to an also-ran to Sadr.

  11. However, there was some twisted logic behind the surge; violence stops with political reconciliation.

    Agreed. An effort to get the violence under control was a necessary step to achieve political reconcilliation. But it is not, and will never be, a sufficient step, without an end to the occupation. And right now, as predicted, we’re watching the violence go back up. Just as it went up after a brief reducation after the re-capture of Falluja.

    This is a classic quagmire. We can’t leave or the place will go to hell, but we can’t stay or it will never get any better. Perhaps a surge as part of an integrated policy of announcing and negiating the conditions of a gradual withdrawal, would have been the way to go.

  12. I blame primarily those neocon inspired nitwit that destroyed a functioning, if despicable, political regime who believed against all history, experience, and accumulated western thought that liberal democracy would magically and spontaneously erupt to take its place.

    QFT – but also don’t forget, they took away a pan-Arab secular bulwark against the Islamic fundamentalist nations/kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Iran.

  13. Sure, A-R, they destroyed a functioning, if despicable, regime that was contained; and sure, they removed a bulwark against violent political Islam.

    But let’s not forget – they also failed to finish the war in Afghanistan before opening up a second front against a new enemy.

    So there’s that.

  14. Joe —

    Agree 100%. The confusion (intentional or otherwise) amongst politicians and pundits in the US between necessity and sufficiency is why we still have folks like Krauthammer proclaiming that change is just around the corner if we do A, B, and C and ‘stay the course’. Some of the necessary steps *can’t* be undertaken by or under the shadow of an occupying force, and so no matter how many other necessary steps we take, it will fall short of those sufficient to cause a chance for peace.

    On the other matter, I still blame people for killing others regardless of the conditions which precipitate it, especially if those killings are not directed against the perpetrators of those conditions. It’s something like “America is favoring our Shi’ite enemies over us Sunnis…so let’s go shoot up a Kurd neighborhood!”

  15. China is a democracy?

    Taiwan is both Chinese and a democracy. That’s how I understood the reference.

  16. LMNOP,

    I still blame people for killing others regardless of the conditions which precipitate it Oh, me too. Absolutely.

    My point is that not all, or even most, Iraqis want to go out an kill each other. What has happened is that the most violent, most sectarian elements have greatly expanded their influence.

  17. What do you think American politics would look like if they were being carried out under foreign occupation, where the occupiers has consistently favored policies that shifted power from white people to non-white people?

    You mean like Little Rock, Birmingham et al in first in the 1870’s then again in the 1960’s? Because your paradigm is sure how Bull Conner and the boys saw it.

  18. My point is that not all, or even most, Iraqis want to go out an kill each other. What has happened is that the most violent, most sectarian elements have greatly expanded their influence.

    And their identities are known by their friends, relatives and neighbors. When the US leaves, starting in January, 2008, are these silent witnesses going to come forward because of their unquechable desire for a free, democratic, and secular society? Or will blood, religious and ethnic considerations convince them to remain silent. After all, he’s only blowing up Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, (pick one) no need for one to stick his neck out.

  19. You mean like Little Rock, Birmingham et al in first in the 1870’s then again in the 1960’s? Because your paradigm is sure how Bull Conner and the boys saw it.

    Yet the bombings were not that common. Yeah, some black churches got burned down, some uppity local blacks and interloping civil rights advocates got killed. I’m not forgetting or forgiving that. Still it was nothing like Iraq today. Which begs (just kidding) raises the question, Why not?

  20. Kolohe,

    No matter how angry Bull Connor and the boys got, those were still American troops and marshalls. In many cases, they were the local National Guard. There was no question about the lawful and popular legitimacy of the United States of America in Arkansas. There was opposition to their presence, but you might have noticed, there were very few attacks on them.

    As opposed to Americans occupying Iraq.

  21. I admit to being a deliberately a little contrarian on purpose here, but:

    There was no question about the lawful and popular legitimacy of the United States of America in Arkansas.

    It was questioned by a significant minority from 1948-1965, and by a signicant majority from 1860-1865.

    My only point is the assertion “occupied people hate occuppiers” while universally and tautologically true, is way too simple of an explanation of an explanation for the violence levels in Iraq specifically, and any parallel type of scenario in general. There are way too many factors in play.

  22. Kolohe,

    I was talking about the 60s. Obviously, during and immediately after the Civil War, there were a lot of people who actually did view federal troops and foreigners. That’s why they shot at them. And didn’t in 1960.

  23. joe,

    There was no question about the lawful and popular legitimacy of the United States of America in Arkansas.

    Not in the 1960’s but in the 1860’s-1870’s the issues was, shall we say, “hotly debated.”

    In any case you make a classic error by imputing to Iraqi the cultural values of Western Europe. Few Iraqi have the same emotional commitment to the abstraction of the country of Iraq that most Westerners do to the whatever nation state or country they live in. In other words, patriotism never caught on. If it had, our task would be much easier.

    For the Shia and Kurds who make up 80% of the population of Iraq, living under the often brutal rule of the Sunni amounted to living under foreign occupation. They fell little emotional connection to the Sunni just because 80 years ago Europeans drew a line around an area on a map and declared everyone inside the line to belong to the same country.

    The idea that the “people” of Iraqi resent us as foreign invaders is simply the projection of our cultural expectations onto a people with a far different history. When the Iraqi people go to the poles, they do not elect politicians who demand an immediate end to the occupation. They understand far better than you the realities of their situation.

  24. Agreed, Shannon, I was thinking about the 60s.

    Back on topic, I’d say the people in Iraq look on American troops more like the confederates did in 1863 than like their great-grandsons did in 1963.

    And I am NOT imputing western ideas about patriotism to Iraqis. Some of them hate that dirty foreigners are occupying sacred Muslim lands. Some of them hate that dirty foreigners are occupying their tribal lands. Some of them hate that dirty foreigners are occupying Arab lands. Some of them just plain hate that they are occupying their neighborhoods or villages. And yes, some of them actually are Iraqi nationalists, and hate that they’re occupying Iraqi lands.

    What’s they common thread here? “They” are occupying “our” lands. “They” are putting their infidel paws up under “our” grannies’ chadors at checkpoints. There is no need to read any “western idea of nationalism” into my comments – they stand up just fine without it.

    For the Shia and Kurds who make up 80% of the population of Iraq, living under the often brutal rule of the Sunni amounted to living under foreign occupation. They fell little emotional connection to the Sunni just because 80 years ago Europeans drew a line around an area on a map and declared everyone inside the line to belong to the same country. Yes, and the very first chance they got, they took up arms against those occupiers.

    When the Iraqi people go to the poles, they do not elect politicians who demand an immediate end to the occupation.

    And the Oscar for Best Irrelevant Use of “Immediate” to Steal a Base in an Argument goes to…

    This is what I wrote: This is a classic quagmire. We can’t leave or the place will go to hell, but we can’t stay or it will never get any better. Perhaps a surge as part of an integrated policy of announcing and negiating the conditions of a gradual withdrawal, would have been the way to go.

    Is my actual position so intimidating that you need to make up a more convenient one?

  25. “The idea that the ‘people’ of Iraqi resent us as foreign invaders is simply the projection of our cultural expectations onto a people with a far different history.”

    Uh, no it’s not. It’s actually borne out by polls of Iraqis, the majority of whom not only resent us, but also support violent acts against our occupying force.

  26. Yeah, you don’t need to have nation-state-based patriotism to have resentment of foreign occupiers.

  27. Do you think that the occupation of Iraq by a foreign military that has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis,

    Assertions that the US military has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis require some proof.

    Preferably proof not originally published in the Lancet and comprehensively debunked.

    Yeah, you don’t need to have nation-state-based patriotism to have resentment of foreign occupiers.

    Funny that they express their resentment of us by mainly trying to kill each other.

  28. Has anyone done a recent, comprehensive look at the violence in Iraq and calculated how much of the violence by “insurgents” is being carried out by foreigners, ie Saudi’s etc.? Or has it truly shifted back to local factions in secular battles?

  29. The Lancet study is three years old, and the amount of action American forces have engaged in since then has been much higher than that engaged in previously.

    I don’t find the Lancet articles original upper-end estimates (which is all they were, and all they presented as) to be terribly reliable, but Iraqi deaths from American action are well into the six figures by now.

  30. Paul, I doubt you can get an honest answer.

  31. I frequently carry news stories about the Iraq Freedom Congress on my Smygo list:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo/

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