Why they're right to resist

Published: 18/05/2007

Written by: John Minns
Originally listed under: Edition 86 - January 2005

Arundhati Roy, the winner of this year's Sydney Peace Prize, angered right-wing figures by supporting the Iraqi resistance. Sydney Morning Herald and Age columnist Gerard Henderson thought he had found the logical flaw in the position of opponents of the war in Iraq like Roy who now support the resistance. He asked: "Is it possible to be anti-war while advocating the cause of one side in a military conflict?"

For Henderson and others like him, one cannot honestly be opposed to war and yet support a resistance movement which uses violence. But what Roy argued, correctly, was that the stakes involved here are enormous. Iraq is now the frontline in a global war - not against "terrorism" as Bush, Blair and Howard would have us believe, but about the future of world imperialism. If these warmongers win in Iraq, then the imperialism they oversee will become far more aggressive and expansionist than before.

If the US completely pulverises the resistance it would encourage those in the Administration - and more broadly in the powerful circles of business and government which really matter - in their aggressive pursuit of global empire. Of course, the rhetoric used to support this would not be that of "empire". As with Iraq itself, it would be justified by a crusade for the "extension of democracy" - what journalist Michael Ignatieff, himself a supporter of the American occupation, conceded was "...the incurable delusion of imperial rulers that the 'lesser breeds' aspired only to be versions of themselves."

A quick and easy victory for the Coalition in Iraq - a possibility which has now disappeared - could only mean that the US would try to lead more military attacks on countries which have offended it or which appear to constrain its power. Looking at the misery which the most powerful military in the world has visited on Iraq, is it any wonder that few in the Middle East want to see Bush and his friends succeed?

When the Pew Global Attitudes Project surveyed 16,000 people in 20 countries in May 2003, majorities in seven of eight Muslim populations surveyed said they thought that the US might become a military threat to their countries. And these figures - gathered before the attack on Fallujah and before the daily horror of the occupation became a regular item on TV screens - do not include Syria or Iran, the most likely to experience a US attack if Bush succeeds in Iraq.

The insurgency itself cannot militarily defeat the Coalition forces. But what it can do is to raise the cost of the occupation to the point where the resistance in the West can mobilise, mount pressure on our governments and force them to get out of Iraq.

We do not support tactics such as beheading. But why has the Iraqi resistance resorted to these measures? There are two possible answers. Supporters of the occupation claim that these horrible tactics tell us about the insurgents themselves: that they are uncivilised, the most degraded examples of humanity - indeed they are hardly human at all. Therefore, they must be destroyed. It is morally necessary to do so.

The other possible answer is that the tactics of the resistance are themselves a product of Western intervention. The Coalition brings to the battlefield a vast array of weaponry. It can destroy a town like Fallujah from the air, with artillery and from the inside of tanks or covered in body armour. What can those who resist them do? Often they feel forced to use terror as a tactic. It was the same during the Algerian war for independence from the French, the Vietnamese fight for independence, the Palestinian struggle today and even, arguably, during the war waged by the American colonists for their independence.

But in any case, the death and destruction caused by the conventional weapons of the Coalition is vastly greater than any horror which the insurgents could possibly come up with. A study published in The Lancet in October estimated that 100,000 Iraqi civilians, mostly non-combatant women and children, had already been killed - and this excludes those who died in the attack on Fallujah.

As for the claim that Iraqis are still better off than before the war, a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore found that the risk of death from violence for civilians in Iraq was now 58 times higher than before the war.

Those who set up the Abu Ghraib prison system and who shoot unarmed, wounded insurgents have no moral right to condemn anyone as barbaric - especially those whose country they have invaded. The very existence of the armed opposition on such a scale, despite the firepower arrayed against it, indicates that masses of Iraqis do not want the US and its allies there.