From the ANSWER Archives:
March 19, 2014, marks the 11th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. During the next weeks the newsletter will feature key articles from the ANSWER Coalition archives that ANSWER and associated groups published before and during the invasion, and throughout the U.S. occupation of Iraq. This is a critical period of U.S. history and the voices of those who led the mass anti-war and anti-occupation movement during this period are largely erased from the U.S. mainstream media. Please read and share this important article originally published in May 2008 about a key moment in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Share it with young people who were not yet teenagers when the Bush administration invaded Iraq in one of the greatest war crimes in modern history.
By Michael Prysner
Originally published on May 9, 2008
The writer is an Iraq war veteran.
I clearly remember the first children I saw in Iraq. They were digging through a burning pile of trash, pulling out discarded food packages and stomping out the flames before searching inside. In those first days of the invasion, I thought maybe we would be bringing some type of relief to the poverty that existed. Instead, unemployment in Iraq has soared to roughly 70 percent. Those who do work not only suffer from low wages but must work under a brutal occupation where simply traveling to work can leave you imprisoned, disabled or dead.
Rummaging through garbage as a means of survival has become a harsh reality for the people of Iraq, but their struggle for survival goes beyond enduring hunger and poverty. On May 4—over five years later—three children rummaged through a pile of trash in Baghdad’s impoverished Madinat al-Sadr district, looking for empty bottles they could sell. As they searched through the garbage, a U.S. helicopter swooped overhead and unleashed its machine guns. The bullets, designed to demolish buildings and vehicles, tore through their bodies. They died on the pile of trash they had hoped would feed their families.
The occupation of Iraq has not only brought unrelenting violence to the region, but has also plunged the country into poverty. According to a 2007 Oxfam report, nearly half of the Iraqi population lives in "absolute poverty," with up to 8 million Iraqis requiring immediate emergency aid. Their report declared, "Iraqis are suffering from a growing lack of food, shelter, water and sanitation, health care, education, and employment."
Oppression breeds resistance
Deep poverty combined with the daily violence and repression of an occupying army culminated in the development of the guerrilla resistance. The U.S. corporate media—the mouthpiece for the banks, the Pentagon, and Wall Street—has scrambled to define the Iraqi resistance on their own terms. They have attributed the violence in Iraq to al-Qaeda, loyalty to Saddam Hussein or "radical Islam" to name but a few. The overall message is that the U.S. military is meeting resistance because of cultural backwardness, not the material conditions in Iraq created by the United States.
CNN recently ran a story on educational classes given to detained resistance fighters in Iraq. Wolf Blitzer explained, "We’ll look at how we are breaking them of their anti-U.S. hatred." It is implicitly understood that the resistance movement in Iraq is driven by ignorance, and those who resist the occupation have not yet had the epiphany that submission to the United States will bring peace and prosperity. The armed struggle of the Iraqis is portrayed as idealist in nature, not an inevitable result of the material realities of occupation and oppression in Iraq.
The true causes of the Iraqi resistance can be found in V.I. Lenin’s writings on the liberation of oppressed nations, still relevant nearly a century later: "Imperialism is forcing the masses into this struggle by sharpening class antagonisms to an immense degree, by worsening the conditions of the masses both economically—trusts and high cost of living, and politically—growth of militarism, frequent wars, increase of reaction, strengthening and extension of national oppression and colonial plunder."
To understand the resistance, it is vital to grasp that Iraqis did not choose to fight against the occupation; they were forced into it by the economic conditions created by over a decade of sanctions, the devastation of war, imperialist plunder and the political conditions under the occupation. Iraq’s long history of resistance is deeply ingrained in the consciousness of its people.
The ruling class tries to delegitimize the Iraqi resistance, claiming that the Iraqi people do in fact have political power and can make their voices heard through the "democratic process." The notion that such "democracy" will solve the problems of the Iraqi people is a travesty—no democratic facade built under occupation will give the Iraqis the power to vote imperialist troops out of their country.
Sectarian violence a product of occupation
Washington set up the Iraqi government not so that it would serve the interests of the Iraqi people, but so that it would facilitate and manage imperialist interests within Iraq. U.S. officials intentionally designed the new Iraqi government to create conflict among the Iraqi population.
In violation of the International Humanitarian Law, the Bush administration established Iraqi political institutions based on sectarian and ethnic division. Dr. Saeed Hasan Almusawi, former Iraqi representative to the United Nations, asserts that "this policy intended to change the identity of Iraqis from the national one to [an] ethnic and sectarian one [and to] incite sectarian violence and destroy the social fabric of Iraqi Society."
This policy was codified in the U.S.-backed Iraqi Constitution, which divided Iraq into three separate regions on a sectarian basis. The aim of the imperialists is to characterize the resistance in Iraq as anything but a national liberation struggle, and to dismantle any hint of a national identity.
The United States has used these sectarian wedges to promote the racist idea that the Iraqi people would simply slaughter each other if U.S. forces were to withdraw; in reality, sectarian strife would not exist had it not been actively fostered by the occupation. As a U.S. military study "discovered" in November 2007, "Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of ‘occupying forces’ as the key to national reconciliation." (Washington Post, Dec. 19, 2007)
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr broke it down bluntly: "The occupation is trying to divide Sunnis and Shias. It is trying to drive a wedge between Sadris and the Sunnis. I love the Sunnis. I am a Shia, but we are all Iraqis." (Al Jazeera, April 2)
Sadr and his Mahdi Army have vacillated between all-out resistance and compromise with the occupation. Nevertheless, his calls for national unity and the end of the occupation have resonated strongly with Iraqis and led to major confrontations with U.S. and Iraqi forces, whose strategy rests on the division of the Iraqi people.
The people of Iraq have every right to resist the occupation, and to liberate their country from national oppression. U.S. workers fighting for jobs, education, and health care have the duty to support the Iraqi resistance against the occupation that has destroyed their economy, schools and hospitals. Soldiers in the U.S. military, many of whom join to escape economic hardship, must realize that their fight is not against Iraq’s suffering poor, but against the billionaires who sent them to fight for profits. Activists truly committed to end the war must stand in solidarity with the people of Iraq, who are engaged in a heroic fight against imperialism under the most adverse circumstances.