The Roots of Resistance: Why The U.S. Faces a Joint Shia, Sunni Uprising in Iraq

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A nightmare situation for the U.S. is beginning to emerge with Sunni and Shiite Muslims joining together for the first time to oppose the US occupation. We speak with author and Voices in the Wilderness founder Milan Rai about the causes for armed resistance from both Sunni and Shia Iraqis across the country. [includes rush transcript]

  • Milan Rai, author of Regime Unchanged and “War Plan Iraq” and one of the founders of Voices in the Wilderness, UK. He joins us on the phone today from Hastings, England.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On the line with us is Milan Rai, the author of “Regime Unchanged” one of the founders of “Voices in the Wilderness” in Britain. On the phone from Hastings, England. Your analysis of the situation?

MILAN RAI: I think that the background is that the United States has been trying to minimize the political and military costs of the occupation in the run up to the elections. And therefore, they constructed this supposed handover of power to try and calm down the Shi’a majority in Iraq. So last autumn there was a crisis conference in Washington, and they cooked up this June 30 handover idea. They weren’t serious about actually handing over power to Iraqis, to local political forces. In fact, there’s a very good article in today’s “London Times” by the foreign editor pointing this out, admitting this. And back in November, senior officials said it’s a huge gamble, but it’s easy to overestimate the degree of control over the events that we have now and underestimate how much we will retain after the 30th of June. They were expecting to be able to quiet them down — Shi’a majority and get through to the election without having made any real distribution of power to the Iraqis. The immediate cause of the crisis with the Sadr factor is to do with the fact that they decided to take action against his newspaper, and also arrested one of his deputies. They have in fact arrested quite a few of his officials over the last year. I don’t think anyone has got a very clear idea why they decided just over a week ago to close down his newspaper for 60 days. They said it was because it had been inciting violence against the occupation. But it doesn’t seem to have been any particular incident recently which would have triggered that. It brought about demonstrations. The Iraqi forces fired on the demonstrations; apparently some people were killed. And then that was the starting point for more demonstrations, more armed actions, and it snowballed into this. That’s one strand of what’s going on is that — there’s been a very explosive situation where the Shi’a majority has been demanding majority decision-making, real democracy, and the United States has been trying to put them off and kick them out of direct elections, back past the U.S. presidential election so they that they don’t actually have to give power to Iraqis after the election. After the election, all bets are off. The U.S. can go back to the drawing board and say, well, this timetable, these plans have had — for having direct elections, maybe we can’t do it. Basically, they want to win the election and then they can have a breather and think again about what they want to do to the people of Iraq.

That’s one strand of things. The other strand of things is to do the Sunni side of things in Falluja. The coverage which is going on makes a few mentions of the root of the problems in Falluja, which started almost a year ago, on the 28th of April, when there was not one, but two, massacres in the town. There was a demonstration outside a school in Falluja where the U.S. were using their base in the town. People wanted the school back. They wanted the U.S. soldiers out. There was no problems in the town that justified having occupation forces there. They were firing on the crowd. 13 people were killed. The next day there was another demonstration to protest that. And again there was an firing on an unarmed crowd with British journalists who witnessed this unprovoked killing of two more people. And that really was the beginning of Falluja’s status as the most dangerous place in Iraq for occupation forces, because people were not willing to simply see their fellow citizens, their relatives shot dead with impunity, and not try to take some revenge for that. If they weren’t going to get justice and if they weren’t going to have a court process, then they were going to take revenge that the people would try to attack U.S. forces. Some of them would be killed, and then you have another spiral of revenge. And that’s really the story of Falluja. And the marines have just taken over there. They were hoping to have a more “softly-softly” approach, but that really blew up in their faces when they tried to start with the show of force, and they lost some soldiers and then they — they have went in heavy-handed again, and it sparked off yet more of an uprising. I think there are two different strands which are going on. The nightmare scenario is that they both continue to escalate and perhaps join together. No one is very sure about that. I think that a lot of the reporting is very confused about quite what Sadr is, and what his forces are, how much command he has over all of this. I think that we are probably in a sense seeing the Western media buy into his propaganda as it presents everyone who goes on the demonstrations, everyone who is taking up arms on the Shi’a side as a Sadr supporter, which I think is far from the case. However, a senior Iraqi cleric was quoted in the British papers today as saying, “We don’t like his style. But if he’s attacked, we’ll defend him.” I suspect that’s probably how the majority of Shi’as see the situation. They are not followers of his, but if he is under attack, then he is a cleric, he is Iraqi, he is being attacked by these foreign invaders who are not giving them democracy and freedom and so they will protect him. So, just if I can finish off by saying it’s very important for to us be clear about what Sadr is saying this is about. One of his spokespersons has said — is quoted in the “Times” as saying, “The only way to stop the operation force is for the coalition to pull out of all Iraqi cities, to put Saddam on trial and release all Iraqis being held in detention and to drop charges against Sadr himself.” So, that’s — if he does exert command, then that’s a fairly limited list of demands to call off this — what some people are saying is an Intifada. That’s a very important thing to hold onto as everyone is reporting all of these cries for the Coalition to go down with Americans and so on. The actual demands that are being put forward by people trying to lead this are fairly limited.

AMY GOODMAN: I want it thank you for being with us. Milan Rai, author of “Regime Unchanged”,speaking to us from Britain.

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