Lawful Resistance to Occupation in Najaf

by Marjorie Cohn
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

13 August 2004

Anyone who tunes in to the cable news channels these days would hardly realize our Commander-in-Chief is presiding over a new campaign of aerial terror against the Iraqi people in the holy city of Najaf. In his nightly prayers, George W. Bush should remember those prosecuting Scott Peterson's murder trial, which is wall-to-wall fare on television this week.

For nearly a week, American troops and Iraqis under U.S. command have been battling the resistance led by the "radical" cleric Muqtada Sadr in Najaf. Hundreds have been killed. The U.S. forces are poised to strike the Imam Ali shrine. Such an attack on one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam could unleash a volcanic reaction among Shia Muslims throughout the Middle East.

Bush, however, continues to proclaim victory in Iraq, while the number of dead U.S. soldiers rapidly approaches the 1,000 mark. Our troops who haven't yet been killed are sweltering in 130-degree Iraqi temperatures, with no end in sight.

Kais Alazawi, Editor-in-Chief of the Iraqi daily Al-Jareda, and General Secretary of the secular Arab Nationalist Movement, fears a civil war threatens Iraq.

"In Najaf, we're witnessing the failure of the transfer of sovereignty process begun in June," according to Alazawi. He calls the U.S.-chosen interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi "an American pawn who has revealed his true face" by capitulating to the United States' military campaign against the resistance forces in Najaf.

"This offensive will not diminish the level of violence in the country, much to the contrary," says Alazawi. "You cannot resolve a fundamental political problem by force. The main problem in Iraq remains the occupation, and when there's an occupation, there's resistance. The solution must be political," in Alazawi's opinion.

Deputy Governor of Basra, Salam Uda al-Maliki, plans to announce the secession of Basra, Misan and Dhi Qar from the central government in Baghdad, and the effective cessation of oil exports. The separation of these three southern provinces would likely encourage the Kurds in the north to seek greater autonomy, enhancing the possibility of civil war.

"This reaction comes in response to the crimes committed against Iraqis by an illegal and unelected government, and occupation forces who claimed they came to liberate Iraq, but it turned out that they have come to kill Iraqis," Ali Hamud al-Musawi, head of the Misan governing council, told Al Jazeera Tuesday.

Even the U.S.-installed interim Iraqi government seems to be at odds with itself. In a broadcast on Al Jazeera television yesterday, Interim Vice President Ibrahim Jaafari said: "I call for multinational forces to leave Najaf and for only Iraqi forces to remain there." Last week, Jaafari said there was "no justification" for the U.S. assault on Najaf. The Financial Times reports Jaafari is Iraq's most popular politician, according to opinion polls.

The situation in Iraq is deteriorating because the Bush administration has permitted the country to lapse into chaos.

Under the Geneva Conventions, an occupying power has an obligation to protect civilians and enable humanitarian assistance. Thousands of civilians were killed - and continue to die - at the hands of the American military. Cluster bombs and depleted uranium, which indiscriminately target civilians, were used, in violation of Geneva. And the U.S. government's insistence on hegemony over the provision of humanitarian aid prevented relief organizations from bringing crucial assistance to the suffering Iraqi people.

The Hague Regulations mandate that an occupying power restore and maintain public order and safety in the occupied territory. Yet the occupiers succeeded only in destabilizing the country and destroying its infrastructure. Many Iraqis are forced to drink contaminated water, resulting in epidemics of typhoid and hepatitis E.

When the media does mention the fighting in Iraq, we hear about the Iraqi "insurgents." There are certainly terrorists operating in Iraq, thanks to Bush's war, which has drawn them there like a magnet. Those who target civilians - be they suicide bombers, or cluster bombers - are terrorists.

Journalist and writer Paul-Marie de La Gorce said in an interview in Le Nouvel Observateur this week that the al-Qaeda forces, which have come to Iraq just to confront the United States, do not enjoy popular support among the Iraqi people.

But much of the opposition to the occupation appears to be legal under international law. People have a right to resist illegal occupation. In her report, "Terrorism and Human Rights," United Nations Rapporteur Kalliopi Koufa cited with approval the 1999 Convention of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference on Combating International Terrorism:

"People's struggles including armed struggle against foreign occupation, aggression, colonialism, and hegemony, aimed at liberation and self-determination in accordance with the principles of international law shall not be considered a terrorist crime."

The Iraqi resistance goes beyond the followers of Sadr, standard bearer for Shi'ite resisters. De La Gorce says "the Iraqi resistance has won popular support, but is not unified, which is its weakness."

Contrary to Bush's claim that his regime change in Iraq has produced a more stable Middle East, his actions have opened a hornet's nest of death and destruction.

Marjorie Cohn, a contributing editor to t r u t h o u t, is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.

Extracted 08/17/04 from Truthout


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