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Opposition to Occupation Threatens Bush Agenda

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release May 9, 2003

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Rising Opposition to Occupation of Iraq Threatens Bush Agenda for Restructuring the Oil-Rich Country

Interview with Mansour Farhang, professor of political science at Bennington College, Vt. conducted by Scott Harris

As the Bush administration works to pacify and restructure post-war Iraq, continuing violence and power struggles between various factions are creating an unstable and dangerous situation. In the latest in a series of confrontations between the U.S. military and Iraqi civilians opposed to American occupation, U.S. troops shot and killed 15 civilians and wounded 75 demonstrators who were protesting the soldier's presence in the town of Fallujah. Despite the U.S. central command's effort to prevent Iraqis from celebrating the 66th birthday of ousted leader Saddam Hussein, a number of commemorations did take place, especially around the former leader's hometown of Tikrit.

Retired Lt. General Jay Garner, the man appointed by the Bush administration to rule post-war Iraq, organized an April 28th closed-door meeting of handpicked Iraqi citizens and exiles to begin the formation of a U.S.-backed "transitional government." But this heavily guarded assembly drew the ire of several thousand Shiite protesters who claimed that the meeting did not represent the interests of the Shiite religion, practiced by 60 percent of Iraq's population. Concerned about the growing political strength of Shiite clerics in Iraq, the White House warned the government of neighboring Iran -- also a majority Shiite nation -- not to interfere in Iraq's internal affairs.

News that the Bush administration was considering the selection of former CIA Director James Woolsey as an advisor to any new U.S.-appointed Iraqi minister of information and the inclusion of Philip Carroll, a former chief executive of Shell Oil Company on an American-created council to oversee Iraq's oil industry, has done little to quell suspicion of America's motives in the country. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Mansour Farhang, professor of political science at Bennington College in Vermont, a native of Iran, who assesses the religious and political opposition facing the Bush administration as it attempts to install a new government in Baghdad.

Mansour Farhang: Iraq was like a prison for 30 years. It really had an incredibly vicious machinery of repression. For people who have gotten rid of this thing, we don't really know exactly about their political tendencies, preferences, their reflections and what kind of an impact this experience has had on them. So in the short run, the most radical and the most vocal, the most passionate elements could appear to have dominated the scene. But I doubt very much if they really represent the sentiments and preferences of the Iraqi people. So we have to wait and see.

But with respect to exiles, exiles do not have a popular base in Iraq. But if there is a consensus, if there is a collective attempt to move toward an inclusive pluralistic system, definitely the exiles could be very important, not so much as political leaders, but as managers, as technocrats.

Between The Lines: But is the United States -- the Bush administration -- making a mistake by putting these exiles at the "head of the line" so to speak, for control and positions of importance in this interim government that they're now putting together?

Mansour Farhang: Absolutely. If the United States does this, it means this claim of wanting to promote democracy is a complete deception -- that it's impossible to take Mr. (Ahmed) Chalabi or others like him, however competent they might be as technocrats or businessmen and all that. But they will have no relationship with the Iraqi people. It would be impossible to create a legitimate political order by appointing these people who have been associated closely with the CIA and State Department. This strategy means everything the Bush administration is saying about democracy is a complete deception. There is no sincerity in making an effort. But the first step toward really identifying a movement toward democracy is the extent to which people and their representatives are involved in the political process, and that remains yet to be seen.

Between The Lines: What can you tell us about the various movements around the Shiite clerics that are now involved in the struggle for power and what if any, are their connections with Iran's government as the Bush administration charges and warns against their interference in the affairs of postwar Iraq?

Mansour Farhang: Ayatollah (Mohammad Baqer al) Hakim and his brothers have lived in Iran since 1980. They are very close to the Iranian government and they also have an armed force of about 10,000 militias trained and equipped by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. They're still in Iran and Hakim definitely is interested in taking these forces to Iraq. He even suggested to the American commander that they wanted to help them to take over Basra (during the war) and the United States rejected their help. This is one group.

Now exactly how influential the Iranians are with respect to duplicating the project of the Iranian Revolution remains to be seen. But there are many other clerics who do not want an Islamic republic, who think religion should play a role, but not in the sense of creating a theocracy. There are conservative elements such as Ayatollah (Ali Hosseini) Sistani, who is the most senior and perhaps has the largest following in Iraq. He even doesn't want the clerics to get involved in politics. There are some other clerical elements who are very close to the United States, Ayatollah (Abdul Majid) al-Khoei, the man who was assassinated in Iraq a couple of weeks ago. He was very close to the CIA, but he represents a group of people based in London. The most radical elements are the ones who say, "We want to establish an Islamic Republic of Iraq" and Iran is in a very difficult and tenuous (position). Helping this particular wing of the Shiites is very dangerous because the United States would retaliate.

On the other hand, it is a kind of ideological crisis for them if they stand on the sidelines and watch them. But my guess is that they calculate their political interest and after what has happened to Iraq and after the pressure on Iran -- with respect to the nuclear issue -- Iranians will do nothing. They might engage in propaganda, but will do nothing in terms of material assistance or arms shipments across the border to help anybody, because helping any one group in Iraq means instigating civil war in Iraq. In my opinion, it's unthinkable for Iraq to have a regime like the one in Iran. It's impossible for any one group in Iraq to dominate the entire country. That's why I am somewhat optimistic that Iraqis -- if they are genuinely interested in creating order and stability in their society -- movement toward democracy becomes a necessity. This is the only way they can live together. Otherwise, it will be a bloody and unending conflict.

Between The Lines: What do you make of the United States' rejection of any United Nations involvement in overseeing the organization of an interim government? It seems that all over the Middle East, many people and governments are suspect of the motives of the United States' invasion of Iraq. Given the fact that the U.N. is not being allowed in as some kind of neutral referee to put together such an interim government, does that not fuel these suspicions?

Mansour Farhang. Definitely. It's very negative. That makes me very skeptical about the American claim of promoting democracy if the United States wants to impose a client state, a new form of dictatorship -- perhaps not as cruel as Saddam Hussein -- but a dictatorship in the sense that there is no open political competition and participation in the country. That's why they don't want the U.N. But if the United States is interested in actually promoting democracy, then the U.N. can play a fantastic role of legitimizing the process. The Iraqis (will) work with the U.N. if the U.N. was involved in assisting the process of reconciliation, consensus building and constitution building and so forth. The Iraqis associating with the U.N. would have gained legitimacy. That's why I feel very skeptical -- that the United States is really not interested in democracy. Imposition means "Doing it alone" and they "don't need any international observers."

Read Mansour Farhang's March 17 Nation Magazine article, "The Triangle of Realpolitik" online at

For related links on postwar Iraq, visit our Web site Between The Lines for the Week Ending May 9, 2003


Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, nationally syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending May 9, 2003. AOL users: Click here!

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