Labor Advocate Online
Vivid Images In a Long, Ongoing
by Bill Onasch
The public display of burned and mutilated bodies shocked all sides in the Iraq conflict. Though war can never be civilized there are some widely recognized rules of conduct. Prisoners should be treated humanely, never killed, tortured or humiliated. Respect should be shown for fallen soldiers.
Since workers make up the overwhelming majority of all combatants the working class everywhere should support these elementary rules while, at the same time, working for an end to war. The fact that the U.S. military has at times violated them is not an acceptable excuse for barbaric behavior by their opponents.
Top religious leaders, and others in Iraq, have condemned the mutilations. Most pointedly have not, however, condemned the killing of four "private security personnel." Many, probably most, Iraqis view such operatives as a mercenary component of the foreign occupation forces. Those carrying out the guerilla resistance to the occupation consider them fair game military targets.
The shocking events in Falluja confirm that even after a year of "liberation" hatred of the U.S. occupation runs very deep. This festering anger can quickly erupt into leaderless uprisings, fueled by vengeance, running out of control as we saw in Falluja.
Such sentiment is not limited to this one town, or to the largely mythical "Sunni Triangle." Both Fox News and National Pentagon Radio would have us believe that the residents of the Triangle were a favored aristocracy, enriched by Saddam Hussein at the expense of their Shia neighbors to the south.
It is true that many of Saddam’s henchmen came from Sunni families. It is also true that many in the south suffered discrimination under the old dictatorship. But little benefit from all this filtered down to the working people of the Triangle. (Certainly the Sunni Kurds did not fare well under Saddam.)
Some have tried to make a big deal out of the fact that there have been relatively few attacks on occupation forces in the south (though there have been some, even recently.) Not so widely reported are the informal nonaggression deals the occupiers have made here and there with paramilitary groups— some financed by Saudi Arabia—operating in the south. Nor is there much publicity about vigilante attacks on political or religious rivals by some of these groups that have been no more humane than the horror in Falluja.
The fact is that opposition to the occupation cuts across all ethnic, regional and religious lines in Iraq. Most may not participate in, or even condone military resistance—though many do. Even fewer support indiscriminate attacks on Iraqis employed by state enterprises now run by the occupiers. But the overwhelming majority want to see an end to the occupation—now.
The IRA survived for decades in occupied Ireland in a similar environment. Pacification of Iraq is no more likely to succeed than British pacification of Ireland—or U.S. pacification of Vietnam.
Never mind the Sunni Triangle, central Baghdad today is no more secure than Saigon was in 1970. We’ve seen this movie before.
So has John Kerry. In fact, unlike the "chicken hawks" running the current administration, Kerry saw the horror of Vietnam first hand and came to oppose that war. In 1971 he was joining with other veterans, as well as students and growing numbers of workers, demanding "Bring the GIs Home Now!"
Unfortunately, we have heard no such clarion call from him concerning this current war. Kerry mainly talks about getting other countries to chip in with bigger contributions of blood and money for the occupation. He also wants to beef up the U.S. Army with another 40,000 troops. Both Bush and Kerry seem committed to a road that will inevitably lead to more Fallujas.
But all that was in the old movie too. The Vietnam war was not ended by electing a Democrat peace candidate. That war was started by a Democrat and ended by a conservative Republican.
It was terminated when the Establishment concluded that continuation threatened domestic as well as global stability. That was based on two factors:
1) While they made considerable progress in their promise to "bomb Vietnam back into the stone age," there was clearly no reasonable hope for a military victory in the foreseeable future.
2) The international antiwar movement came to involve literally millions of participants in the United States, including, toward the end, making deep inroads into the labor and civil rights movements—and even into combat units in Vietnam.
It will almost certainly take a similar process to get us out of Iraq.
Political, as well as armed, resistance is building, not receding, among the peoples of Iraq. Under the most difficult circumstances an independent labor movement is beginning to arise once more, the most impressive example being the Federation of Worker Councils and Trade Unions. In addition to sectarian religious formations there is also a lively women’s rights movement emerging around the Organization of Women’s Freedom and worker based parties contributing to the political debate such as the Worker Communist Party.
While applauding these courageous actions in Iraq we need to refocus to do our job of building a mass movement against this war/occupation here at home. This movement must be independent of the electoral process, never subordinating our activities to the campaign strategy of any candidate. This movement will be necessary regardless of who wins the November election.
In the spirit of defending self-determination we should focus our demands on our government—not proposing alternative plans for occupation and reconstruction of Iraq.
Many argue that the U.S. has so destabilized Iraq that a simple withdrawal would condemn the country to chaos. Many Iraqis are concerned that a U.S. exit without any transitional peace keeping force could lead to a disastrous civil war such as Lebanon endured during the 1970s-80s.
Undoubtedly these are legitimate concerns. The peoples of Iraq may well ask for assistance from the UN, or other countries, to maintain order—and protect them from attack by unfriendly neighbor regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey—after the end of U.S. occupation. While advising caution, especially in regard to the UN, we should honor any such request for help.
But the initiative for such an appeal is completely up to them. We have no business proposing such alternatives. The U.S. government has forfeited any right to advocate any future scenario. We want the government that speaks in our name to get out! End the occupation! Bring the GIs home! That should be our sole objective.
Only when we have won that goal can we awaken from this nightmare of such disturbing images as we saw in Falluja.
Support the Labor Movement in Iraq!