By Tariq Ali
Two years after the invasion of Iraq, writer and activist Tariq
Ali spoke to Socialist Worker about US strategy in the Middle East
and the growth of the Iraqi resistance to the occupation
Socialist Worker: The Iraqi resistance is demonised by Bush and
Blair as terrorists, supporters of Saddam Hussein, Islamic fundamentalists
and so on. Tell us what you think of the resistance.
Tariq Ali: Every resistance movement against imperialism has
been categorised as terrorist ‹ the Mau Mau in Kenya were
demonised and brutally tortured by the British; the Algerian FLN
by the French; the Vietnamese by the French and the Americans.
Today Israel’s Ariel Sharon refers to Palestinians as terrorists,
Russia’s Vladimir Putin crushes the Chechens in the name
of fighting terror and Tony Blair is assaulting traditional civil
liberties in this country in the name of fighting terror. It’s
hardly surprising that the Iraqi resistance is characterised in
the same fashion.
Obviously the means used to drive out imperial occupiers are
determined by the nature of the occupation. The brutality of the
US troops and systematic torture they have used has been well
documented. So how can the resistance be beautiful?
During the Algerian war a leader of the national liberation front,
the FLN, was asked about using terror against French civilians
in cafe bombings in Algiers. He replied, “If we had an air
force I promise you we would only target French barracks, but
SW: How does the struggle between imperialism and the resistance
in Iraq compare with the struggles against French colonial rule
in Algeria or against the US in Vietnam? Have the techniques of
empire changed? Is the nature of the resistance different?
TA: The techniques of empire have not changed at all. The tally
in Vietnam was two million Vietnamese dead and 50,000 US soldiers.
The tally in Iraq today is over 100,000 Iraqis dead and 1,500
US soldiers. The proportions don’t change.
What has changed is the world in which we live. With the collapse
of the traditional left there is a big vacuum. In Vietnam and
Algeria the movement was led by people who were either communists
(Vietnam) or secular nationalists (Algeria).
In Iraq today the heirs of the Iraqi Communists - whose leaders
were hanged by the British empire - are crude collaborators on
The armed resistance is led by religious groups, ex-Baathists
and in certain areas by Iraqi nationalists. The political failure
to create a national liberation front is the Achilles heel of
Zarqawi’s al-Qaida group only entered the country after
the US occupation. It is a tiny minority whose tactics are denounced
by most Iraqis opposed to the occupation.
There is also the political resistance of Moqtada al-Sadr and
his faction, which is based in the Shia slums of Baghdad and the
poor sectors of Basra and other cities in the south of Iraq. He
will demand the withdrawal of all foreign troops and say no to
permanent US bases in the country.
If the leading figures in the United Iraqi Alliance, Abdul Aziz
al-Hakim, and Shia cleric Ali Sistani - not to mention the fraudster
Ahmed Chalabi - cave in, the resistance will spread to the south
In my opinion, to demand and accept an election under the protection
of an occupying imperial army could only lead to further collaboration.
Sistani models himself on Gandhi, but India had a very different
history to Iraq and Gandhi called on the British to quit India
at the height of the Second World War.
The US administration was split over who should lead Iraq. The
first option was Iyad Allawi, the second option is Sistani/al-Hakim/Chalabi.
But the house of cards could collapse quickly if a Sistani regime
cannot deliver a rapid withdrawal.
SW: Since 2003, we have seen the two assaults on Fallujah, the
rebellion in Najaf, the elections and the installation of another
interim government. How has the Iraqi resistance developed and
changed since 2003?
TA: Fallujah is the Guernica of the Arab world. A city was destroyed,
its people killed, tortured, dislocated, its children orphaned.
Tragically, in contrast to the first assault on the city, Sistani
remained silent in November.
In other words the bloc he heads acquiesced in the destruction
of Fallujah in return for power sharing. This event marks the
first serious breach in the unity of Iraq.
The elections were initially regarded by Washington as a concession,
though US journalist Thomas Friedman argued strongly for them
in the New York Times on the grounds that it was best that Sistani
crushed the insurgency rather than the Americans. Just like it’s
best if Abu Mazen crushes the Palestinian resistance rather than
In an occupied country imperialism always divides and rules -
India, Africa, Vietnam, Korea, Cyprus, Ireland and the Arab east
are examples from the past. The American empire will want a client
regime in place and it will use each group against the other.
Allawi against Sistani; armed resistance groups against al-Sadr.
That is why some elementary unity on a political level is vital.
If Sistani, as the voice of the majority community, had denounced
the destruction of Fallujah, it would have created the basis for
some form of unity. So the resistance, in my opinion, has progressed
little over the last two years. This is a tragedy for Iraq.
SW: There are several elements to what the US is doing in Iraq
- military, political and economic. To what extent is the resistance
countering in these three areas?
TA: Militarily the resistance has made the country ungovernable,
including Baghdad, a city of several million people. Economically
the targeting of foreign companies and the pipelines has been
effective. Oil firm Halliburton is welcomed in Basra, but not
This is the first serious neo-liberal occupation and the third
largest presence - after US and British troops -is the privatised
armies run by firms.
A few months ago a South African mercenary was shot dead. It
later emerged that he had been one of the torturers of Steve Biko.
I was in South Africa at the time and many people rejoiced.
SW: Can the resistance win - and what would this mean?
TA: The withdrawal of all foreign troops, no military bases and
Iraqi control of Iraqi oil would constitute a victory. But will
the US allow this to happen?
Henry Kissinger has called for the Balkanisation of Iraq. The
only grouping ready for this are the Kurds, provided they get
the oil wells. Neither Turkey - for its own vile reasons - nor
the rest of Iraq will accept this willingly.
So it’s a mess, but the lack of an overall political project
on the part of the military and political resistance is a very