Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 July 2006
Issue No. 802
Region
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Maliki's dead end plan

To recognise the Iraqi resistance as legal would undermine the entire misadventure of US military action in Iraq, thus the basis of reconciliation is absent, writes Firas Al-Atraqchi

More often than not, the popular paradigm present in discussions of the Iraqi resistance is a Western construct. It was in the Western media, notably British and US wire services, that Iraqis were first divided into Shia and Sunni and it was there, too, that a concept of terrorism trumped that of resistance and was hammered into the collective psyche of myriad commentators.

This architecture for the understanding and reporting of events in Iraq appeared late 2003 and fell into full swing in 2004. Again and again, reports from Iraq labelled any and all anti-occupation activity as of "insurgent" nature.

In some ways, this has been a coup for Western media, because on the one hand it absolves them of having to do their homework on who or what Iraq's anti-occupation forces are comprised of, what their agendas may be, and who their targets are. On the other hand, this approach also helps to group together all acts of violence under a single, convenient, moniker. For example, "insurgent" is today used to describe militia, resistance, Al-Qaeda, Zarqawi, Badr, Al-Mehdi Army, kidnapping gangs and other criminal activities.

How does this work? Well, first off, if Al-Qaeda mounts an attack against a Shia mosque the media attributes it to "insurgent" action. If anti-occupation forces defending their homes attack a US Humvee, it is also called an "insurgent" action. If a gang of criminals kidnap for ransom, it is also referred to as the work of "insurgents". Pretty soon, the lines blur and the reader assumes there is one big group of militants fighting under the same banner and for the same cause.

Enter the phrase "war on terror". By bundling up all terrorist organisations and resistance groups under the "insurgent" masthead, the media has co-opted Iraq into the global war on terror spectacle. This was long the reasoning of the White House, and unfortunately the media continues to play ball. It remains a deceit. In Iraq today there are several armed groups fighting for a number of causes and not all of them can be classified as resistance. Nonetheless -- and once again unfortunately -- some in the Arab and Asian media have picked up the Western penchant for labelling violence in Iraq under a single classification. When the wire news powerhouses create a trend, media worldwide tends to follow, and usually to the detriment of objectivity.

For example, some wire agencies have portrayed the "insurgency" in Iraq as Sunni; the Sunnis were depicted as waging a war against the "Shia-led" government and their US military backers. To the reader, it appears that the country is caught between Sunnis fighting US forces and the Shia community. Missing from this description is the number of Shia resistance groups which in recent months have started to publicise their own videos of exploding Humvees, Abrams tanks and in one case at least, foreign contractors.

On 2 July, a Lebanese satellite television station aired footage of attacks reportedly conducted by Shia resistance groups. The groups read out a message saying they are specifically targeting US and UK troops and personnel, blaming them for the carnage in Iraq. The group goes on to say it will abort any attacks that may cause harm to Iraqis, including police and Iraqi army, as "they are our brothers".

This tidbit of news is not available to the viewer in the US, Western media not having much bothered to investigate who comprises the Iraqi resistance. Indeed, it is worth mentioning that at one incredulous point, Pentagon and White House spokespersons referred to the Iraqi resistance as "anti-Iraq" forces while reporters dutifully took note of the phrase. The propaganda is aimed to convince a public lacking information that resistance groups in Iraq are not only targeting other Iraqis but the very future of Iraq.

In this light, foreign troops and military contractors are positioned as protectors, both of Iraq and Iraqis, and that it is only through working with them that Iraq will have a future. The reader is presented with a completely disingenuous picture of events in Iraq.

Additionally, the very word "resistance" has itself become taboo among talking heads when reflecting on the situation in Iraq. Many Western commentators in the mainstream media refer only to "insurgents" or "terrorists", with the notable exception of MSNBC's Chris Matthews.

Hostility to the use of "resistance" lies in its very definition. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, resistance can be defined as, "An underground organisation engaged in a struggle for national liberation in a country under military or totalitarian occupation." If the media were to use of the word resistance, by definition it would be acknowledging that the aim of those fighting foreign forces in Iraq is national liberation. More importantly, it would be acknowledging that Iraq is under military or totalitarian occupation. This would emphatically fly in the face of every White House press release on the situation in Iraq.

Public relations and White House pundits have stressed that Iraq is truly sovereign and not under occupation. The US military is in Iraq, or so the story goes, to provide assistance in rooting out terrorists and helping a fledgling democratic government stand on its feet. Imagine the jolt to the system that the substitution of word resistance for insurgent would catalyse.

Were the US government ever to acknowledge the Iraqi resistance as a resistance movement, it would undermine the very rationale of its presence in Iraq, as well as put into question the invasion and occupation until now. The irony is that the US itself was founded on the spirit and stamina of resistance fighters -- the Minutemen, the militia -- who stood up to the British Empire and demanded independence.

The foregoing helps put in context Iraqi Prime Minister Nuir Al-Maliki's reconciliation efforts.

Three days before Maliki delivered his televised "reconciliation announcement", advisors leaked to the press that his plan would include recognising that the resistance was legal from the point of view that it comprised those fighting foreign occupation. US legislators on Capitol Hill complained it was reprehensible that Maliki would offer amnesty to those with the blood of US military personnel on their hands.

At best this was grandstanding. If history has taught us anything it is peace is always signed between adversaries who vowed and acted to destroy each other only days earlier. The real reason for US objections was the political minefield acknowledging the legality and legitimacy of resisting occupation represents. And were the Iraqi government to acknowledge any such thing, the US military would be obliged to do likewise, given that it is "supporting" the said Iraqi government and not "occupying" Iraq.

Not surprisingly, three days later the original 28-point reconciliation plan had been filtered down to 24 points. Missing from the final draft was the distinction between legitimate anti-occupation resistance groups and terrorist groups. Problem solved for Washington, but for Maliki, reconciliation is impossible between parties who cannot recognise the objective status of the other.

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