Iraqi resistance and our attitude towards it

The left wing movement in the imperialist countries is quite confused on the question of how to judge and how to support the Iraqi resistance. This confusion, however, is primarily due to a mixture of basic ideological weaknesses and lack of information about the leading forces and alliances of the Iraqi resistance movement. This article aims to contribute to some clarification on both issues.

Ideological basis of how to judge and to support

In the Report of the Commission on the National and Colonial Question dated July 26, 1920, Lenin stated: “The characteristic feature of imperialism consists in the whole world … being divided into a large number of oppressed nations and an insignificant number of oppressor nations, the latter possessing colossal wealth and powerful armed forces” (CW vol.31 p.240). According to this guiding principle the Second World Congress of the Comintern committed all communist parties to actively support the revolutionary liberation movements in the oppressed countries, especially those oppressed by their own bourgeoisie. It should be clear from this that communists in imperialist countries have a bounden duty to support all revolutionary movements against imperialist oppression and that communists in Anglo-American countries must as a special priority support the Iraqi resistance as this country is suffering most from their respective ruling classes.

Most left wing people, however, then raise the question: “What is a revolutionary movement?” They especially resent the participation of Islamic as well as “Saddam-ite” forces because they are characterised as backward, non-revolutionary, repressive, etc. Lenin’s pronouncements at the Second Congress of the Comintern help us to shed light on this question.

“It would be utopian to believe that proletarian parties in these backward countries, if indeed they can emerge in them [!], can pursue communist tactics and a communist policy, without establishing definite relations with the peasant movement [i.e. a backward movement beholden to their bourgeoisie] and without giving it effective support” [ibid p.241]. Consequently, Lenin explains the difference between a “reformist” and a “revolutionary” movement, the reformist being an appendage to the imperialist country’s policies of oppression and intervention and helping it to suppress the revolutionary movement, whereas the revolutionary one genuinely fights imperialist oppression and is open to communist agitation and education.

It should not be too difficult for a Marxist-Leninist to apply this analysis to today’s situation in Iraq: Who is the reformist part of the movement there? Undoubtedly it is, among others, the so-called Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) and its allies who support the puppet regime in Baghdad in order to “use the transfer of sovereignty for democratic and social progress”. Who are the revolutionary forces? Obviously, these are the ones who vigorously resist all occupation forces including their collaborators, irrespective of their country of origin and irrespective of their class membership, the latter being bound to confuse those who pay lip-service to revolution but in reality support imperialist reaction.

We must draw a distinction between the oppressors and those who help them on the one side, and on the other side the oppressed and those who defend them. If an imperialist country is able to mobilise its working class in its war against the oppressed then the working class objectively become collaborators and have no right to expect special treatment on account of their class background.

Second, there is the question of the revolutionary quality of the resistance movement in Iraq. Before providing some information on this issue in the second part of this article, it should be made clear in advance: In principle, the quality of this movement cannot be expected to considerably exceed the average of the global working class movement. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc, the working-class movement has ebbed considerably. This, combined with a still relatively high standard of living in the imperialist countries provides fertile ground for all kinds of revisionist and opportunist theories, perhaps out of a desire to prevent total marginalisation, but it in fact contributing to the further disintegration of the movement.

In the light of this weakness: There is hardly any strong communist party in the imperialist countries, no communist international and thus no chance to send international brigades to Iraq or elsewhere to defend oppressed peoples. This means that we are not able to have close relations with the resistance movements in third world countries; in the absence of a strong international working-class movement they are literally left on their own to organise resistance and revolution. Who are we in these circumstances to judge from our comfortable positions as to who qualifies for our support and who does not? In fact, it is we who objectively depend on the most conscious forces in these movements and on their struggle to shape their movements in a revolutionary way. We can only help them by building a strong movement within our own countries to fight against the war-mongering of our ‘own’ bourgeoisie efficiently. And only when our own strength reaches a certain level, can we help to separate the revolutionary and progressive forces from the ones who have their own agenda (warlords, religious fundamentalists and other backward forces). Meanwhile, however, we have to leave that up to the movements themselves – because, as Lenin put it: “In this age of imperialism, it is particularly important for the proletariat and the Communist International to establish the concrete economic facts and proceed from concrete realities, not from abstract postulates, in all colonial and national problems” (ibid p.240)

The leading forces of Iraqi resistance

Now to the question at stake: What is the Iraqi resistance? On 25 July 2004 an article was published in the magazine Asia Times with the headline “The liberation of Baghdad is not far away” by Alix de la Grange which can be taken as a key for learning about the main forces in the resistance movement. De la Grange and his team had the chance to secretly meet two generals and a colonel of the disbanded Iraqi army, “now on the run for many months, chased by the coalition’s intelligence services”. The three identified themselves by “extracting some papers from inside a dusty plastic bag: identity cards, military IDs and several photos showing them in uniform beside Saddam Hussein”. These former generals have abandoned their clandestine positions to explain their versions of events and talk about their plans: “We would like to rectify some information now circulating in the Western media, that’s why we took the initiative of meeting you”, quotes de la Grange. The following is a summary of the key statements given during a three-hour meeting in a minibus with tinted windows driving through the streets of Baghdad.

“We knew that if the United States decided to attack Iraq”, stated the generals, “we would have no chance faced with their technological and military power. The war was lost in advance, so we prepared for the post-war. In other words: the resistance. Contrary to what has been asserted, we did not desert after American troops entered the centre of Baghdad on 5 April 2003. We fought a few days for the honour of Iraq – not Saddam Hussein – then we received orders to disperse … As we had foreseen, strategic zones fell quickly under the control of the Americans and their allies. For our part, it was time to execute our plan. Opposition movements to the occupation were already organised. Our strategy was not improvised after the regime fell … The objective was to liberate Iraq and expel the coalition. To recover our sovereignty and install a secular democracy, but not the one imposed by the Americans. Iraq has always been a progressive country, we don’t want to go back to the past, we want to move forward.”

Defining the front line combatants & weapons

“More than a year after the beginning of the war, insecurity and anarchy still dominate the country. Because of their incapacity to control the situation and to maintain their promises, the Americans have antagonised the population as a whole. The resistance is not limited to a few thousand activists. Seventy-five percent of the population support us and helps us, directly and indirectly, volunteering information, hiding combatants or weapons. And all this despite the fact that many civilians are caught as collateral damage in operations against the coalition and collaborators.”

As to the question of who is a collaborator, the generals answer: “Every Iraqi or foreigner who works with the coalition is a target. Ministers, mercenaries, translators, businessmen, cooks or maids, it doesn’t matter the degree of collaboration. To sign a contract with the occupier is to sign your death certificate. Iraqi or not, these are traitors. Don’t forget that we are at war.”

As to the resistance network, essentially composed of Ba’athists (Sunni and Shi’ite), the resistance currently comprises “all movements of national struggle against the occupation, without confessional, ethnic or political distinction. Contrary to what you imagine in the West, there is no fratricidal war in Iraq. We have a united front against the enemy. From Fallujah to Ramadi, and including Najaf, Karbala and the Shi’ite suburbs of Baghdad, combatants speak with a single voice. As to the young Shi’ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, he is, like ourselves, in favour of the unity of the Iraqi people, multi-confessional and Arab. We support him from a tactical and logistical perspective.”

According to the generals, every region in Iraq deploys its own combatants with each faction choosing freely its targets and methods of attacking them which are at the same time increasingly coordinated. There is no rivalry among the different combatant groups, insist the generals, except on who will eliminate the largest number of Americans.

“The attacks are meticulously prepared. They must not last longer than 20 minutes and we operate preferably at night or very early in the morning to limit the risks of hitting Iraqi civilians. … we have more than 50 million conventional weapons. No heavy artillery, no tanks, no helicopters, but Katyushas, mortars, anti-tank mines, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other Russian rocket launchers, missiles, AK 47 and substantial reserves of ammunition and – the most efficient weapon – the Kamikazes.” According to the generals, they consist of more than 5,000 well-trained men and women, among them 10% foreigners, who only need a verbal order to drive a vehicle loaded with explosives.

The generals claim responsibility for the suicide attack of 22 September 2003, in which Akila al-Hashimi died, a diplomat and member of the Iraqi Governing Council; the execution of the four American mercenaries in Fallujah in March 2004; the killing of Ezzedin Salim, the president of the Iraqi executive body, through a car bomb at the entrance of the Green Zone on 17 May 2004. On the execution of the four Americans they comment: “… the American soldiers waited for four hours before removing the bodies, while usually they do it in less than 20 minutes. Two days earlier, a young married woman had been arbitrarily arrested. For the population of Fallujah, this was the last straw, so they expressed their full rage against the four cadavers. The Americans, they did much worse to living Iraqi prisoners.”

The generals also arrange and support the kidnapping of foreigners: “We are aware that the kidnapping of foreign nationals blemishes our image, but try to understand the situation. We are forced to control the identity of people circulating in our territory. If we have proof that they are humanitarians or journalists we release them. If they are spies, mercenaries or collaborators we execute them. On this matter, let’s be clear, we are not responsible for the death of Nick Berg, the American who was beheaded.”

The generals concluded: “Everyone must know: Western troops will be regarded by Iraqis as occupiers. This is something that George W Bush and his faithful ally Tony Blair will do well to think about. If they have won a battle, they have not won the war yet. The great battle is still to begin. The liberation of Baghdad is not far away.”

These summarised statements from high-ranking members of the former regime and today’s resistance against foreign occupation give us a fairly good, though certainly not exhaustive, insight into the Iraqi movement. One might argue that it is not possible to extrapolate from this information the whole state of affairs within this movement. So let us look at two more voices from different viewpoints on the subject.

Awni al-Kalemij and the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance

On 20 August 2004, the German daily newspaper jungeWelt published an interview with Awni al-Kalemij, spokesman of the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance. It is not an armed resistance organisation. It strives for a broad political front of all pro-independence forces (including a communist faction that split from the ICP) and the convening of a constituting assembly from which a “new independent” Iraq is supposed to emerge. The key statements of Kalemij:

“I tell you: The whole population resists. Of course not everyone is involved in the armed battle but only those who are capable. The Americans speak of 30,000 to 50,000 armed activists. There are more. The Ba’ath party has long ago prepared for guerrilla war and provided the material conditions. They disposed the money and the weapons. It was the people who decided to fight. However, the Ba’ath party has provided the conditions. Many more parties participate in the resistance, among them organisations who were once hostile to the former regime. …

“When Muqtada al- Sadr marched with his militia and displayed his strength in the Shi’ite cities many Sunnis went to Najaf, Kerbala, Nassiriya and other cities to fight side by side with the Shi’ites. There is spontaneous fraternisation in the struggle. …”

The Alliance had once tried to build a national front against Saddam Hussein but failed because of many economic, political and ideological differences. “But now our main aim does not require any discussion of this: It is the victory over the occupation forces and the resurrection of an independent Iraq”, said Kalemij.

Finally, we refer to a source from the hostile camp.

What Scott Ritter has to say on the resistance movement

Let us turn to the testimony of Scott Ritter, former secret service officer of the US Navy in the Gulf War of 1991 and afterwards a director of the UNSCOM weapons inspection unit until 1998. These are the statements he made, translated and published in jungeWelt, 18 August 2004:

“Thanks to Saddam’s meticulous planning and foresight, it is his generals who are now leading the Iraqi resistance, including the Islamic groups.” This inclusion was necessary, according to Ritter, because after the insurrection of the Shi’ite majority in spring 1991 Saddam Hussein had to extend the basis of his power by including these forces, together with the traditional allies of the Sunni tribes in Western Iraq. Ritter totally rejects the Pentagon’s estimation of a “marriage of convenience” between Islamic fundamentalists and former members of the Ba’ath regime whereby the Islamists are allegedly about to take over Ba’athist cells. Says Ritter: “The Pentagon is totally wrong on this subject. … The Iraqi resistance is not a ‘marriage of convenience’ emerging from somewhere but a product of planning for years. Instead of continuously dissolving in a constantly growing Islamic movement, Saddam’s former generals have the say in Iraq, and they took into their boat the Islamic fundamentalists years ago – with or without their knowledge. …

“The Iraqi security forces have never been dismissed – they simply dissolved in the population to be called back to service, when and wherever they would be used. The so-called Islamic resistance is led by nobody else but the former Vice President Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri – a fiery Iraqi nationalist, Sunni Arab and self-confessed member of the Sufi brotherhood, a society of Islam mystics. His deputy is Rafi Tilfa, once chairman of the Directorate of General Security … As a former UN weapons’ inspector I have personally inspected the headquarters of the directorate in Baghdad as well as the regional one in Tikrit. … There is not a single person or family, not a single tribe and no Islamic movement in Iraq not totally known to this directorate – information of incredible value for everyone who wants to coordinate and run a resistance movement which is rooted in the population. …

“The anti-American attacks in Falluja and Ramadi have been executed by disciplined men in combatant units and the most probable men behind it are high-ranking members of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard. The degree of perfection of these attacks should have been no surprise to anyone who was familiar with the role of Sayf al-Rawi – former chief of the Republican Guard and responsible for secretly dissolving selected units for this purpose prior to US invasion. The ‘transfer of sovereignty’ to the new Iraqi government of Iyad Allawi by the end of June is a charade which will terminate itself, and this with tragic consequences. Allawi’s government – hand-picked from the ranks of Saddam-hostile exile Iraqis by the United States – has no constituency among the Iraqi people and lacks all legitimacy.

“We will face a nightmare for decades which will kill thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis. We will witness the emergence of a developing and dangerous anti-American movement in Iraq which one day will see the complete withdrawal of the American troops – similar to Israel’s shameful withdrawal in July 2000. The calculation remains as simple as that: The sooner we call our troops back home, the weaker this movement will be. And vice versa: the longer we stay, the stronger and more longstanding the collateral product of Bush’s election campaign against Iraq will be. There is no elegant solution to our Iraq debacle. It is no longer a question of victory, it is now only a question of how to limit the defeat.”

These remarks of Scott Ritter essentially match the report of the generals: There is a strong resistance movement under the leadership of the former national bourgeoisie which for more than a decade dared to defy imperialist intervention. It is a secular movement which respects and includes the Islamic population and their religious leaders without (or at least without the intention of) giving way to reactionary fundamentalism. In this connection I would like to finally quote a young Muslim Iraqi woman who publishes a kind of personal diary of her daily impressions of her occupied country on the Web under the address:

“At the beginning of August, for the first time churches were attacked by bombs. We were all horrified by this. For decades – no, for centuries – churches and mosques in Iraq have stood side by side. We celebrate Christmas and Easter with our Christian friends as well as they celebrate our respective holidays with us. We have never put each other into ‘Christian’ or ‘Muslim’ categories … It was never important. We were neighbours and friends … It makes me sick to believe that Christians do not feel safe any more. I know that we all feel insecure today, however, there was always the feeling of security among people of different beliefs. … We have famous Christian surgeons, professors, artists and musicians. In this respect Iraq was prominent in the region: We are famous for our acceptance of each other. I am convinced that these bombers are people who try to expose Islam in the worst possible light. … ‘Islam’ is depicted as the new communism. It is the new cold war being used to horrify the Americans so much that they arm themselves to the teeth and attack other nations in ‘self defence’. They think the best way is to launch ‘terror warnings’ which will drive ‘their’ people by fear to discriminate against Arabs in general and Muslims in particular …”

Islamic fundamentalism is obviously alien to the Iraqi people. One can assume that imperialist agents are at work not only to discredit the Iraqi resistance but to facilitate a seemingly class-indifferent crusade on the oppressed nations in order to assure the backing of the imperialist countries’ primarily Christian population, i.e. the working class people.


Is the Iraqi resistance movement a national revolutionary force?

On the basis of the above given information it can be stated that the Iraqi resistance movement is a national revolutionary force[1] in Lenin’s sense so far as:-

it resists imperialist occupation without any concession to an imperialist power or its collaborators and irrespective of the country which participates in the occupation;

it encompasses all resisting forces without discrimination, i.e. irrespective of their ethnic and religious background;

it also comprises communist forces which have split from the Iraqi Communist Party and joined the resistance movement;

it is firmly rooted in, and backed by, the vast majority of the population; and

it exposes the action of agents which try to split and discredit the movement.

In view of the relation of forces – globally as well as in Iraq – one might hardly expect any more progressive, mature and well-based movement. It is worth any support we may give, and we must at least refute any attempt to run the movement down and split our own small forces on this question.

A final word on the question of “fundamentalism” and “terrorism” in resistance movements against imperialism in general. Anyone who regards himself as a communist should at least be aware of the rights of self-defence provided for in Article 51 of the UN Charter and the provision given by an ad-hoc commission of the UN General Assembly in 1973: “Acts committed by citizens of states in a state of war which are bound to resist an aggressor in an occupied territory […] cannot be regarded as acts of international terrorism. Whereas acts which are conducted by a single state against a people with the aim of eliminating its liberation movement and crushing the resistance against the occupiers are real manifestations of international terrorism in its widest sense.” Also it is pointed out that “individual acts of terror which are always possible within a liberation movement must not lead to the criminalisation of the liberation movement as a whole.”

With these provisions, dear comrades who still have doubts, the “terrorist act” against the Red Cross is also covered!! Consequently, it is not for us to dissociate ourselves from such an attack, but leave it to the liberation forces as to whether they regard such action as helpful for their struggle or not. In principle, we should resist criticising so-called “terrorist” actions against imperialism, but leave that judgement to the people who are most involved in the real struggle – while at the same time building our forces in our own country.

Victory to the struggle of the Iraqi people!

Down with imperialism in all its forms and shapes!


[1] This does not mean that it cannot turn into a counter-revolutionary one as, for example, the Kuomintang did at a certain stage. But only then does the evaluation and strategy have to be reviewed/revised.