Saturday, September 24, 2005

Big Trouble for British Occupation of Southern Iraq

As expected, the British and the corporate press are blaming Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army for the recent troubles in Basra, obscuring the fact two SAS undercover troublemakers were caught red-handed readying a terrorist attack against Iraqi Shi’ites. Adrian Blomfield, writing for the UK Telegraph, characterizes the arrest of the British terrorists as “two SAS soldiers [held] hostage in Basra” and the allegations that the two were plotting murder and mayhem a “smear campaign” that translates into “another blow to the British Army’s hopes of restoring its affection among locals,” as if Iraqis are fond of the idea of occupation and foreign troops stationed in their country.

Basra’s governor, Mohammed al-Wa’eli, accused Britain of “imperial arrogance,” a shoe that fits and the Brits (and Americans) should wear it. The average UK Telegraph reader may not know it—as many Americans do not know their own checkered history—but “imperialism” is precisely what the Brits imposed on Iraq for decades, beginning after the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1914. Britain, in standard arrogant and back-stabbing fashion, promised the Arabs of what they would later call Iraq independence, only to betray them. Instead of independence, Iraq became a “mandate” territory under the League of Nations and British “supervision.” Outraged Iraqis revolted in 1920 and the British put down the rebellion with aerial bombardment. It was Winston Churchill, as colonial secretary, who remarked, “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes,” for instance the Kurds in northern Iraq. Churchill was also responsible in part for drawing the current borders of Iraq, carved out three Ottoman districts—the northern mostly Kurdish district administered from Mosul, the middle predominately Sunni Arab district, including Baghdad; and the southern largely Shiite district, whose major city is Basra. It was indeed the “imperial arrogance” of the British that angered the Arabs (and Kurds) of what is now Iraq and motivated them to revolt.

“The governing council has decided to stop all co-operation with the British until they meet three demands,” declared al-Wa’eli. “To apologize for what happened, to guarantee that it does not happen again, and third, to provide some compensation for all the damage they did during the operation,” demands that prompted a British embassy spokesman in Basra to remark that the conditions put forward “shouldn’t be a problem,” even as the “Foreign Office described the demand for an apology as a local issue and not a reflection of the feelings of the Iraqi prime minister, who met the UK defense secretary on Wednesday in London,” according to the Financial Times. In short, nobody should get too concerned about a few riled up Shi’ites. “Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said the incident would not harm his government’s relations with Britain, while [John Reid, UK Defense Minister] said the subsequent street unrest in Basra would not deter the 8,500 British troops stationed in southern Iraq from continuing their mission.” In other words, the Brits believe it is business as usual with the same degree of “imperial arrogance,” and no doubt a green light for future undercover operations designed to keep the Shi’a and Sunni at each others throats and eventually splinter Iraq into three religious and ethnic pieces, as long envisioned and proposed by the Israelis and, more recently, their neocon fellow travelers in America.

Iraqis, characterized as “uncivilized tribes” by revered British politicians, understand this plot well. “Everyone knows the occupiers’ agenda,” declared Abdel Hadi al-Daraji, one of al-Sadr’s officials in Basra. “They are in bed with Mossad and their intention is to keep Iraq an unstable battlefield so they can exploit their interests in Iraq…. We have to take the moral high ground and resist this provocation by the British. This is a very dangerous, very sensitive time in Iraq but we must calm our supporters or we will fall into the British trap.” In other words, a Shi’a uprising against the Brits (and Americans) will not occur until the time is right. Since many Shi’ites consider the SAS plot and the subsequent “rescue” (flattening buildings and killing Shi’ites in the process) a “second Abu Ghraib,” a newfound resistance against occupation may not be far off.

Last year Rumsfeld said the fighting in Iraq was simply the work of “thugs, gangs and terrorists” and General Myers added that there was “not a Shiite uprising” in southern Iraq and “Mr. Sadr has a very small following,” as the Sydney Morning Herald reported at the time. However, as Ghassan al-Attiyah, executive director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy in Baghdad, explained, there was “a general mood of anti-Americanism among the people in the streets” that went far beyond al-Sadr’s followers. In the wake of the SAS blunder and the British response, no doubt this antipathy has grown, not only against the Americans but the Brits as well. The British, as characterized by the comments of John Reid, may believe Basra is “returning progressively to a level of normality” (that is to say, occupation as usual), but it appears the Shi’a have other ideas. As a primary example of how just out of touch the corporate media in Britain is, consider the comment in the Telegraph that the “locals” have “affection” for British administered occupation, demonstrating that the legacy of “imperial arrogance” has not subsided—not in Tony Blair’s government or in the ranks his good friends at the right-wing Telegraph, a newspaper “group” (conglomerate) once owned by the “The Right Honorable” Conrad Moffat Black, Baron Black of Crossharbour, a scurrilous neocon who once “appropriated” (i.e., he stole) over $62 million from a workers’ pension fund.

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