Iraq: The Iraqi resistance

Arab Women's Solidarity Association
From a reporter, Hannah Allam, currently in Iraq who is responding to a raging and very angry debate that began on the Arab Women's Solidarity Association listserv when children were recently killed while taking candy from US soldiers.
Greetings from Baghdad, everyone.
I've had to bite my tongue many times watching the debate unfold on this list about whether there's a legitimate Iraqi resistance, theories about the US funding these nonstop bombings, the roots of the insurgency etc etc etc. But I'm seething now: I just met with the U.S. investigator looking into the death of my dear friend and colleague at the hands of an Army sniper, I'm watching my Iraqi colleagues bring their toothbrushes and towels to the office because they have no water or electricity at home, we just got a call from our correspondent in Musayyib who was watching people there use their fingernails to claw through charred body parts in hopes of finding their missing relatives among the 98 or more people killed last night in a massive suicide bombing.

There are few angels in Iraq. I don't doubt that there are nationalist, anti-occupation fighters who target mainly or only U.S. targets and interests. I've interviewed some of them on Haifa Street, in Diyala, in Fallujah and among militias in Najaf and Sadr City, and they've all said they sometimes scrap attacks if civilians get in the way. They don't set out to kill ordinary Iraqis; their targets are the Americans, the American-trained security forces and the Iraqi government handpicked by Americans. For some people, that makes them more legitimate, for others there's no excuse for their contribution to the mayhem that's become as everyday as changing your socks.

Then there are the more vicious killers, the ones who will attack at any cost, hoping to deepen the increasing sectarian divisions in this country and they don't give a damn about whether 18 children get in the way, as was the case the other day in Baghdad Jidida -- a bombing our bureau covered in depth, even when no other Western reporters actually went to the scene to talk to people about what they saw. Yes, the US troops, either in extremely poor judgment or for more sinister reasons, threw candy at the kids who clamored around their convoy. Our reporter at the scene, a Lebanese-American, watched candy fall out of the pockets of dead children as their sobbing families claimed what was left of their bodies. An entire neighborhood football team was wiped out, one boy lost his twin brother, some mothers mourned two, even three, children who were blown to bits.

I recall a posting on this list saying, in effect, "Well the resistance warned Iraqis to stay away from the Americans." I find that unspeakably appalling, reminiscent of Bush administration officials talking about "collateral damage."

All of us who live in Iraq (yesterday was my two-year anniversary here) grow to know instinctively to stay away from the Americans on the streets. It's not just that a lot of them are trigger-happy young men in an unfamiliar and hostile place; they are also Target No. 1 for roadside bombings and small-arms attacks by people who don't care that an ordinary Iraqi family is in the next car. I can tell you that handing out candy to children was considered extremely irresponsible (at the least) by everyone here, and the foreign press grilled the U.S. spokesman about it at a press conference after the bombing that killed the kids.

Likewise, the death of my friend and co-worker, Dr. Yasser Salihee renewed and pointed questions about the U.S. military's refusal to release figures for the number of civilian casualties. I bristle at descriptions from afar of a puppet-like press who are just mouthpieces for Washington. That's plain wrong, and you can come here and see the daily risks reporters from all over the world take to bring readers to the front lines. No media take more risks than Iraqi reporters. My colleague Yasser was the perfect example, and you can read about him here:

No matter what you thought about the legitimacy of this war, in the early days people were actually hopeful that perhaps something good could come of this. Of course, as we all now know, anything resembling hope has proved elusive. People tell me all the time, "I wish Saddam were back," but they're usually saying it in a rank, death-smelling center for washing bodies, or at the equally revolting morgue at Yarmouk Hospital. People don't miss Saddam as much as they miss orderly streets and the safety to stroll along Abu Nawas Street at twilight, picking fresh fish from the Tigris to grill on the boardwalk.

Sure, now there's anger -- fury, really -- at the U.S. military. But that doesn't mean people really want them to pick up and leave right now. The state security force is hopelessly overwhelmed by better-armed guerrillas, and we haven't heard a cohesive political agenda from any of them. That became even more apparent to me last month, when I went to southern Lebanon with Hezbollah and my party-appointed minder stood with me at the Fatima Gate and rattled off a precise political agenda and then took me on a tour of the group's hospitals, orphanages and mountain-top schools. No matter what you think of Hezbollah, it's an organized, sophisticated force with a political agenda and the willingness to come to the table in Beirut.

So far, the Iraqi "resistance" painted as heroes by some on this list hasn't put forth a plan for the future of Iraq, other than ridding it of occupation. What comes next?

As terrible and chaotic as Iraq is now, there's a widespread feeling here that, in the absence of American troops, it could sink even lower. If Lebanon serves as a model for a legitimate anti-occupation resistance, Lebanon also serves as a bloody cautionary tale for what could happen if dozens of disjointed, revenge-minded armed groups suddenly find themselves in a free-for-all when Americans board their C-130 transport planes and head home.

I have some Iraqi friends who say, let us have our civil war and get it over with -- just get the Americans out. Others say, as bad as they are, let's give it more time and see whether there's progress in training an inclusive, well-equipped indigenous fighting force.

Neither prospect inspires much optimism, leaving this choice for Iraqis:

Pick your poison.

-- Hannah Allam