Pacifists Praising Fascists Killing Democrats
As someone who felt sufficiently opposed to the 2003 invasion of Iraq to join the protest marches and to attend Stop the War Coalition meetings, it is a source of great sadness to me what a shrivelled, irrelevant self-parody the British anti-war movement has become. It seems hard to believe it now, but for a couple of months in early 2003, the Stop the War Coalition seemed to be the vehicle for something huge. Schoolchildren were walking out of their classes in protest; between 750,000 and 2 million people (depending on whose estimates you believe) swarmed through the streets of London on February 15th; ordinary, middle-of the-road people – the kind you don’t normally see on a protest march – massed to vent their anger in virtually every city or major town in the UK. Celebrities like Ms Dynamite and Fran Healy queued up to go on stage at anti-war events.
By contrast, the Stop the War Coalition events you see occasionally in city centres these days are just plain embarrassing. Gone are the moderate, progressively minded individuals, leaving just an unsightly handful of dim-bulb Trotskyists, clapped-out Stalinists and Koran-thumping Islamists. The more respected campaigning organisations have either deserted them (e.g. Greenpeace) or had given them a wide berth from the beginning (e.g. Oxfam). STWC propositions rarely offer anything more intellectually complicated than shouting “Bliar!” and “End the occupation!” Their campaigns are uninspired and uninspiring, and the media stunts look increasingly cheap and desperate. You just walk pass them, put up your collar, try to avoid eye contact with them and no, I wouldn’t like a copy of the Socialist Worker, thank you very much.
The intellectual poverty of the Stop the War Coalition these days is staggering. Since so much of the STWC’s organisation now amounts to little more than a franchise of the Socialist Workers Party, they’ve adopted the SWP’s perennial habit of reducing complicated issues to placard-sized slogans. Hence, the cry on the street is not, “Develop an effective exit strategy that leaves a working democracy and a functioning civil society in Iraq!” but “End the occupation now!” The almost inevitable carnage and civil war that would follow the various foreign troops suddenly stopping whatever they’re doing and heading straight for the airport doesn’t appear to weigh all that heavily on the consciences of the protestors. If this is compassion for the people of Iraq, then it’s compassion that the Iraqi people could do without.
Naturally, none of this has the slightest impact on actual policy. One consequence of all those “Bliar” badges is that no non-awkward-squad Labour MP is going to have the slightest interest in what a STWC lobbyist has to say. But it does have the effect of cheapening discourse on Iraq within civil society – in our media, in our pubs and coffee shops, and in the streets and houses of Britain. The intellectual and moral bankruptcy reaches its absolute nadir with that section of the anti-war movement which romanticises and eulogises the various armed militias that have come to be dubbed “the Iraqi resistance.”
The warning signs started before the war even ended. A week or two after the tanks began rolling across the Iraqi frontier, I was at a meeting of my local branch of the STWC. The chair was from one of the various Judean Peoples Front-esque hard-left factions that, as with most branches of the STWC, did most of its actual administration. He posed the question, “Who do we actually want to win this thing?” My own view was that, although I felt that the war was a spectacularly bad idea, and had been justified on the basis of phoney WMD evidence, now that the war had begun, the least worst outcome was for it all to end as quickly and with as small a body count as possible, and this was most likely to come about through a swift victory by the US and Britain. The chair, though, had other views. In his opinion, the best outcome would be if the US/UK forces received “a bloody nose.”, thus preventing future military adventures. What was left unsaid, apart from the deeply uncomfortable thought of being asked to hope for the mass slaughter of large numbers of one’s own countrymen, was that any such situation would almost certainly involve massive civilian casualties among the Iraqi population, as two armies fought each other to a bloody pulp in their towns and countryside.
It was around this time that the placards on the anti-war demos not only proclaimed “Stop the War” and “Not in My Name”, but were joined by Socialist Worker placards bearing the words “Victory to the Resistance.” Was this the Stop the War Coalition, or the Lose the War Coalition? By now, the moderates who had flocked to the STWC banner in huge numbers in the previous months were deserting them just as quickly. Registering alarm at a reckless military adventure being conducted on shaky justifications was one thing. Being asked to be a cheerleader for Saddam’s fedayeen was another entirely.
Increasingly, there was also little point in protesting. The US tanks were nearly at Baghdad, and it was clear that the war would soon be over. I stopped attending the anti-war marches and meetings, and discreetly began to avoid returning the voicemail messages of STWC organisers.
Just as a segment of the anti-war movement started cheering for Saddam’s thugs in the Republican Guard and fedayeen to win the war, so too have elements begun to openly praise the actions of the Iraqi resistance as they wreak havoc across Iraq. It is these elements that represent the anti-war voice at its most intellectually dishonest and morally hypocritical.
Among the British anti-war figures who have written about the Iraqi resistance are Tariq Ali, the vice-president of the Stop the War Coalition, and the Guardian journalist Seamus Milne. Both these writers have depicted the guerrillas in over-flattering terms that are easily refuted by readily available information. In particular, they both wildly exaggerate the popularity of the resistance.
In Tariq Ali’s view, ‘The immediate tasks that face an anti-imperialist movement are support for Iraqi resistance to the Anglo-American occupation.’  Ali has strongly implied elsewhere that he refers to violent, armed resistance rather than non-violent forms of protest.
Sooner or later, all foreign troops will have to leave Iraq. If they do not do so voluntarily, they will be driven out. Their continuing presence is a spur to violence. When Iraq’s people regain control of their own destiny they will decide the internal structures and the external policies of their country. One can hope that this will combine democracy and social justice, a formula that has set Latin America alight but is greatly resented by the Empire. Meanwhile, Iraqis have one thing of which they can be proud and of which British and US citizens should be envious: an opposition. 
Ali is echoed by Seamus Milne,
The anti-occupation guerrillas are routinely damned as terrorists, Ba’athist remnants, Islamist fanatics or mindless insurgents without a political programme. In a recantation of his support for the war this week, the liberal writer Michael Ignatieff called them "hateful". But it has become ever clearer that they are in fact a classic resistance movement with widespread support waging an increasingly successful guerrilla war against the occupying armies. Their tactics are overwhelmingly in line with those of resistance campaigns throughout modern history, targeting both the occupiers themselves and the local police and military working for them.  [emphasis added]
Are they, as Milne claims, ‘a classic resistance movement with widespread support’? The question isn’t difficult to answer, because since the invasion an increasing number of opinion polls have been held inside Iraq to find out what the Iraqi people actually think, rather than what people several thousand miles away say they think. These polls depict a relationship between the Iraqi people and the resistance fighters that is completely contradictory to the image portrayed by Milne and Ali.
In February 2004 Oxford Research International completed a national survey of Iraq on behalf of the BBC, to determine Iraqi attitudes to the invasion and occupation. Upon being asked if the US-led invasion of Iraq was right or wrong, 48.2% of Iraqis responded that the war was either “somewhat right” or “absolutely right”, while 39.1% said it was either “absolutely wrong” or “somewhat wrong.”  Admittedly this is a drop in support from a poll the previous September, in which 62% of Iraqis had said that the war had been worth it to get rid of Saddam.  Even so, more Iraqis still regarded the invasion as right than did not. As somebody who opposed the war, this makes me feel just as uncomfortable as those who supported it must feel when reading the Butler Report.
As for whether they supported the current presence of the coalition in Iraq, 39.5% said that they either “strongly” or “somewhat” supported it and 40.9% strongly or somewhat opposed it. The rest regarded it as “difficult to say.” A more-or-less evens split over whether or not to support or oppose the coalition. Opinion was very divided over when the coalition should leave, though only 15.1% said they should leave now. The largest segment among those polled (35.8%) said that they should remain until an Iraqi government is in place.
Iraqis may have been strongly divided about the coalition and how long it should stay, but on the subject of whether the coalition should be attacked, there was a clear majority. 78% of Iraqis viewed attacks on coalition forces as unacceptable. Yet only three months earlier, Tariq Ali had claimed that, ‘without the tacit support of the population, a sustained resistance is virtually impossible.’ 
Overwhelming though Iraqi public opposition may have been to attacks on coalition forces, attacks targeting US or British soldiers were the kind that had the least degree of public opposition. Even fewer regarded attacks on the CPA as acceptable, and fewer still supported attacks on Iraqis who worked for the CPA. Most unpopular of all were attacks on the New Iraqi Police. A near-unanimous 96.6% of Iraqis regarded attacks on Iraqi Police as unacceptable. This incredible level of support for the IP is echoed by Salam Pax, the Iraqi web diarist who became world famous as the “Baghdad Blogger” before and after the Iraq War.
Iraqi Police kick major ass. Much respect. Wherever you go now and open up that subject you will see a lot of sympathy with those brave men and women and a total incomprehension to what this so called resistance is doing. They are killing Iraqis now. They say Jihad against the Infidel Occupier and they go kill those Iraqi police men…It is not the Infidel the attackers are killing but Iraqis and this just might be good because the general sentiment now is “what the fuck do the Jihadis think they are doing?” 
Seamus Milne seems to view the terrible death toll of Iraqi Police officers as part of a ‘classic resistance movement’, to be hailed as the ‘real war of liberation’, yet he is espousing a view held by only 1.5% of Iraqis. Unforgivable. Moreover, Milne actually seems to be reading Iraqi opinion polls, as is evident from this passage by Milne.
The popularity of the mainstream resistance can be gauged by recent polling on the Shia rebel leader Moqtada al-Sadr, who was said to have minimal support before his Mahdi army took up arms in April and now has the backing of 67% of Iraqis. 
Milne doesn’t cite which opinion poll he’s referring to, but he either hasn’t read this one or has disregarded it, despite the widespread publicity it was given as part of BBC news coverage of the 1 st anniversary of the war. As a professional journalist who writes about Iraq, it seems almost inconceivable that he could have missed it.
Fast forward to June 2004, and Oxford Research International repeated the poll. In the intervening period, Iraq had seen bloody battles erupt around Fallujah, an uprising by the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr, and appalling photos of abused Iraqi prisoners broadcast around the world. How had Iraqi public opinion been changed by these events?
Unsurprisingly, the poll showed a drop in support for the coalition. Only 40.8% of Iraqis now viewed the original invasion as somewhat or absolutely right, while 59.2% viewed it as somewhat or absolutely wrong. Equally unsurprisingly, more Iraqis now regarded attacks on coalition forces as acceptable, up from 17.3% in February to 32.8% in June. A large increase, but even so, despite a year of occupation, despite US troops turning Fallujah into a charnel house with a horrifying mix of incompetence and brutality, despite al-Sadr’s uprising and despite Lynndie England’s holiday photos, less than a third of Iraqis were willing to regard attacks on the coalition as acceptable. Meanwhile, their support for the Iraqi Police had actually increased slightly, with 96.9% opposed to any attacks on the IP.  The popular uprising just ain’t popular.
It’s hard not to get a sense of a certain schadenfreude pervading much of the anti-war movement. A sort of gleeful joy at every disaster in Iraq, despite the fact that the greatest victims in all this are the Iraqi people, whom the protestors are supposed to be marching out of compassion for. A rare example of this unspoken schadenfreude made explicit is given by the Evening Standard columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
A dogged campaigner against the blighted war in Iraq, I am now wrestling with the demons of callous triumphalism. The anti-war protestors have been proved horribly right. The allies who marched with the US into this ugly adventure should feel mortified. It is a fearful and turbulent country the new Western Imperialists hand over to the Iraqis. The past months have been challenging for us in the anti-war camp. I am ashamed to admit that there have been times when I wanted more chaos, more shocks, more disorder to teach our side a lesson. On Monday I found myself again hoping that this handover proves a failure because it has been orchestrated by the Americans. The decent people of Iraq need optimism now, not my distasteful ill-wishes for the only hope they have for a future.  [emphasis added]
One might want to chide Ms. Alibhai-Brown for her impulses, but at least she’s being honest with herself, and at least she’s trying to fight the urges to dance in glee as Bush and Blair’s plans unravel into chaos and tragedy. As a former protestor myself, I have to concede that I’ve felt these urges too. Milne and Ali, on the other hand, give the impression of being happy to cheer on the ongoing slaughter that is creating huge waves of misery in Iraq. These are hardly peripheral figures either. Milne, a journalist for a national broadsheet. Ali, vice-president of Britain’s largest anti-war organisation. If the Iraqi people succeed in building for themselves a peaceful, sovereign and democratic Iraq, it’s hard not to feel that it won’t be because of the anti-war movement, but despite it.
Phil Doré can be contacted at: email@example.com.
1. Ali T. (May-June 2003) Re-Colonizing Iraq. New Left Review 21 <http://www.newleftreview.net/NLR25501.shtml>
2. Ali T. (November 3 rd 2003) Resistance is the first step to Iraqi independence. The Guardian. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1076480,00.html>
3. Milne M (July 1 st 2004) The resistance campaign is Iraq’s real war of liberation. The Guardian. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,4960724-103550,00.html>
4. Oxford Research International (February 2004) National Survey of Iraq. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/15_03_04_iraqsurvey.pdf>
5. The Gallup Organisation. (24 th September 2003) Ousting Saddam Hussein “Worth Hardships Endured Since Invasion”, Say Citizens of Baghdad.
6. Ali T. (November 3 rd 2003) op. cit
7. Pax S. (October 18 th 2003) Where is Raed? <http://dearraed.blogspot.com/2003_10_01_dear_raed_archive.html>
8. Milne (July 1 st 2004) op. cit.
9. Oxford Research International (June 2004) National Survey of Iraq <http://www.oxfordresearch.com/Iraq%20June%202004%20Frequency%20Tables.PDF>
10. Alibhai-Brown Y. (June 29 th 2004) My shame at savouring American failure in Iraq. Evening Standard.