News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
ZNet | Iraq
by Milan Rai
November 09, 2005
The following is an exclusive interview with long-time
activist and writer Milan Rai. Milan is the author of 'War
Plan Iraq' and 'Regime Unchanged' and a leading member of
Justice Not Vengeance (http://www.j-n-v.org
). He is an
advisor to UKWatch and a contributor to the UKWatch blog.
UKWatch: The situation in Iraq appears to deteriorate by the
day. The USAF have been carrying out bombing raids on Iraqi
cities, and insurgent attacks occur just about everywhere
outside of Anglo/American bases. Robert Fisk recently
commented that Iraq is the most dangerous conflict there has
ever been for journalists to cover. Some commentators argue
that the "coalition" has already lost the war and that it is
now a question of when the British and Americans withdraw
rather than if. What is your reading of the current situation?
Milan Rai: I don't believe that the US/UK have already lost
the war. They may well lose the war, and be driven out by
the scale of violence and chaos, but we are some way away
from that right now.
As various people have pointed out, success for insurgencies
mostly consists of not being defeated and crushed. By that
score the many-stranded insurgency is currently successful.
It doesn't follow that it will continue to be successful, or
that the occupation forces are being 'defeated'.
What seems to be happening is that the actions of the
occupation forces, and in particular the reckless
pre-emptive violence of the US troops (under orders to
eliminate any potential threat to their personal security),
are steadily increasing the level of hatred and violence. At
the same time there is growing sectarian and inter-ethnic
violence, partly as a result of the policies of the
occupation (using Kurdish guerrillas to assault Sunni cities
like Fallujah, for example), and a very very high level of
violent crime (which the occupation forces are unable to
The current human, political and economic cost to the United
States and Britain of the occupation is just about
sustainable for the foreseeable future. So (ignoring
possible pressure for change at home) we have three possible
futures: go on like this for the next few years; a sharp
rise in violence forcing the occupation forces out; or a
decisive blow to the insurgency leading to a sharp reduction
in violence, and a dramatic reduction in US/UK forces (what
some people call an 'exit strategy' and what Donald Rumsfeld
and Condoleeza Rice call a 'victory strategy').
What's most likely out of those three options? At the
moment, probably option 1: go on like this for the
foreseeable future, with some political gains for the Iraqi
people, growing discord, and unremitting violence. Hell.
UKW: It is commonly argued by many press comentators that
while the invasion may well have been wrong to withdraw
troops now would be to subject the Iraqi population to the
insurgents, who have certainly carried out many horrendous
atrocities. What is your response? Should troops withdraw?
MR: Let's distinguish first between the various kinds of
insurgents and the different kinds of 'foreign troops' who
might be in Iraq.
Within the 'resistance', there is a division between the
al-Qaeda element and the rest, and then divisions between
other kinds of Islam-oriented militants, Ba'athists,
non-Ba'athist nationalists, vendetta-pursuers, and so on. If
all foreign forces were removed from Iraq, I think that
there would almost certainly be an escalation in ordinary
violent crime -- which is checked to a certain degree by the
occupation and collaborator forces -- and a very serious
risk of sectarian and ethnic violence on the scale of
full-scale civil war.
There would also be an attempt by the al-Qaeda elements to
take control of the country along the lines of the Taliban
takeover of Afghanistan. Would that be successful? Probably
not, but the attempt would heighten the level of chaos and
Should troops withdraw?
Well, it is clear that US forces are part of the problem
rather than part of the solution. British forces, by their
direct and indirect support of US forces, because of their
growing tendency to imitate the US approach, and through
their own rather sordid record of abuse in southern Iraq,
are also part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Iraq has not got a chance of a decent, viable society
without withdrawal of these forces.
On the other hand, Iraq may well need the presence of
unbiased security forces, an international security presence
in the country that is entirely free of US control.
My own feeling (following to a large extent the thinking of
Iraq expert Juan Cole) is that the least damaging way
forward for Iraq is the total withdrawal of US/UK forces in
a staged manner over several months, and their simultaneous
replacement by UN forces (perhaps drawn from the Islamic
Conference countries, from the Arab world, or from the
uncontaminated countries of the EU).
I stress that this is a replacement strategy. When the idea
of UN forces is raised in mainstream discussion, it is
generally in terms of a subordinate UN presence within a
framework of continuing US control. This is a 'figleaf'
strategy, and one that the UN, quite rightly, would not
touch with a bargepole.
UKW: Media reporting focusses on the crimes of the
insurgents and largely ignores the violence of the British
and Americans -- Medialens recently noted that the BBC
devoted just nine seconds of coverage to the American
bombing of Ramadi where, according to Iraqi sources, many
civilians were killed. How do you view the current media
coverage and is its depiction of the insurgents as by far
the most dangerous force in Iraq accurate?
MR: Media coverage of violence in Iraq is appalling, partly
for the understandable reason that most journalists are
terrified of doing the things that are necessary to really
cover the story, but mostly because of ideological conformity.
The depiction of insurgents as by far the most dangerous
force in Iraq? Well, both Iraq Body Count and the Lancet
Study published a year ago found that many more Iraqis
were/are losing their lives because of military action by
the occupation forces than because of military action by
Then there is the huge toll of indirect deaths through, for
example, the greater rate of fatal traffic accidents due to
the high speeds and recklessness needed to avoid ambushes,
hold-ups and curfew violations. These deaths are
attributable to the ongoing occupation.
UKW: Some on the left have argued that the Iraqi insurgents
deserve our support since they are fighting an illegal and
very brutal occupation. What is your view?
MR: There is a right of resistance, whenever a country is
occupied. This does not mean that every tactic is permitted,
or that every vision of liberation is justifiable, or that
every 'resistance' group is legitimate. In fact, many of the
active groups are a serious problem for the Iraqi people.
I do not accept, in fact I vehemently reject, the slogan
'support the resistance' -- unconditionally.
Secondly, what does it benefit anyone fighting in Iraq if
someone here in comfort and safety says, 'I support the
resistance' or 'We all should support the resistance'? If
someone truly supports the resistance, they would be
involved in directly assisting the resistance, or going to
Iraq to fight. I find it distasteful to see, particularly,
white people living in comfort urging brown people living in
terrible danger to fight and die in the cause of
'anti-imperialism'. If you really believe killing British
and US soldiers is the way forward, then go and take the
risks yourself, and do not rely on others to win your war
Thirdly, when someone living here and associated with the
anti-war movement says 'I support the resistance', they do
nothing to assist 'the resistance', but they do much to harm
the cause of the anti-war movement and thus the cause of the
Iraqi people, as people who might otherwise listen to us are
less willing to listen to the arguments for withdrawal.
UKW: Some anti-war activists and commentators have
criticised the Stop the War Coalition for being
undemocratic, overly centralised and for not helping to
mobilise for direct action. Do you think this criticism is
justified and what do you think the anti-war movement should
be focussed upon now?
MR: One can either criticise existing organisations, or one
can try to improve them from within, or one can set up
complementary/alternative organisations. The Stop The War
Coalition has many achievements to its credit, and has also
limited the movement in a number of ways. Those who are
dissatisfied with it often accord it more power than it
actually has or should possess.
What should the anti-war movement be focussed on right now?
Unlocking the majority opposition to the occupation, and
turning the rather tentative and lukewarm discomfort people
feel about the war into a powerful and angry force for
change. I've got some ideas about how to do that, but I'll
be writing about that at greater length in the next few weeks.
UKW: There is much speculation that the United States is
gearing up for an assault on Iran. Given how disastrous the
occupation of Iraq has been and how deeply unpopular
attacking Iran would be, (even Jack Straw has ruled out
British support for such a move), how likely do you think it
is that such an attack would happen?
MR: I think it is extremely unlikely that there will be an
invasion of Iran in the foreseeable future. Iran is big and
its military is capable, unlike the poor state of sanctions
Iraq. The US has learned from the Iraqi invasion of Iran two
and a half decades ago.
Might the US launch airstrikes and so on? Possibly.
The most likely scenario, in my view, is another Orange
Revolution-type situation, where the US appears to be
backing youth, freedom, democracy, pop music, and other Good
Things, as it tries to shake the establishment and secure
the rule of thugs who will take orders from Washington.
UKW: Some might argue that since the British presence in
Iraq is so small our withdrawal would have little or no
impact. What would be the impact of a unilateral British
MR: Why was the US so desperate to have us in the invasion
force? We were militarily insignificant in the original
invasion plan, but politically we were critical to securing
domestic acquiescence in the war -- Blair's on board, we
have the backing of 'the international community'. Just so
with the occupation. British withdrawal would set the alarm
bells ringing in Washington and across the country.
British withdrawal would help build pressure that might
modify and restrain the US occupation forces. It would help
to deter future wars.
British withdrawal is crucial for the Iraqi people and for
others under threat around the world.
UKW: What are the Americans aiming for? What will they now
settle for in Iraq?
MR: Control. Residual US forces hunkered down in bases, tame
Iraqi political institutions, obedient (often Saddam-era)
military-intelligence-police-judicial formations that will
enable US control of the country.
UKW: You have written much recently on the governments
response to the London bombings. How serious is the threat
to human rights in this country? What should concerned
people do about that threat?
MR: The threat is very serious. The threat to freedom of
expression is coming from many different directions, without
much response. As freedom and human rights are eroded,
alienation, fear and hatred increases, and national security
is eroded. Doing the right thing is also doing the safe thing.
What can we do? Everything we normally do to resist bad
policies. Everything from education and lobbying to
nonviolent civil disobedience.
Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
Lord Weÿrdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
"Don't just question authority,
Don't forget to question me."
-- Jello Biafra