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Armed Opposition to the U.S. Occupation of Iraq

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 June 23, 2003

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Armed Opposition to the U.S. Occupation of Iraq Could Signal a Protracted Guerilla War

Interview with Chris Toensing, executive director and editor of Middle East Report, conducted by Scott Harris

With growing attention being focused on the Bush administration's failure to locate Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction," the president's principal justification for war, Congress and the media are beginning to ask some tough questions about the possible exaggeration or manipulation of information gathered by intelligence agencies. Against this backdrop, armed resistance to the U.S. military occupation of Iraq is becoming more deadly with each passing day.

Over the past two weeks attacks by guerilla forces centered in cities north of Baghdad have killed at least 10 American soldiers, wounded 25 and shot down an Apache helicopter. Ambushes by these forces against U.S. troops, described by Washington as remnants of the Baathist party loyal to Saddam Hussein or terrorists sympathetic to al Qaeda, are almost a daily occurrence. The U.S. has responded by sending thousands of troops into conflicted areas and aggressive house-to-house searches for weapons, tactics which have angered many anti-Saddam civilians who increasingly resent the occupation of their nation. The killing of 18 un-armed protesters by U.S. soldiers in the city of Falluja last month, has also fanned the flames of hostility and sparked a cry for revenge.

In all, more than 50 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq, many from hostile fire, since the Pentagon announced the end of the war on May 1. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Chris Toensing, editor of Middle East Report, who examines the growing armed resistance in Iraq and the possibility that the increasing number of guerrilla attacks could signal the beginning of a protracted conflict.

Chris Toensing: Who is the resistance? I don't have an authoritative answer on that. I do have some reason to believe from eyewitness reports from reliable Iraqi sources that there are some members of the old Republican Guard and even the old security services who have been agitating and have been participating in some of these demonstrations of crowds such as the one in Fallujah that led to the shooting of unarmed protesters. But I think it's very unlikely that every Iraqi who's involved in either those unarmed demonstrations or the armed attacks on U.S. soldiers is an ex-Baathist or an ex-supporter of Saddam's regime.

It's more likely that what we see in this area of this predominantly Sunni area northwest of Baghdad is the U.S. operating in an area which was the social base of support for Saddam Hussein's regime, not necessarily because they bought his ideology and were apologists for him but because they were recipients of disproportionately good treatment, both in terms of the services provided by the state and in terms of job opportunities and all of those things for social promotion of the people in that area . And they fear loss in status in postwar Iraq to the other elements in Iraq, particularly the Shia population that appears to be keeping lines open to the occupation authorities. I think some of the resistance also simply comes from a sense of Iraqi nationalism. While they may have been happy to see Saddam Hussein's regime fall and are happy that he's no longer governing them even if he is still alive in Iraq, they're not happy at all about an indefinite foreign occupation of their country, especially not if the occupying force is going to employ rather heavy-handed tactics to put down any and all expressions of dissent and resistance. Certainly, I think the more heavy-handed the tactics become -- house-to-house searches with absolutely no reason to believe that there's anyone inside -- that poses a threat to the U.S. forces.

These types of measures are likely to engender the kind of resentment toward U.S. forces that eventually we may be able to compare to Palestinian resentment toward Israeli occupying forces, the kind of pan-Iraqi resentment of the occupation that could in the future boil over into a genuine social intifada against a U.S. occupation. I think it's way too early to say that that's happening. It would take a long time for such a thing to develop, but it's possible that could happen particularly if the United States does not make some positive progress on these questions of indigenous governance and particularly the questions of providing basic security and basic amenities to the population. All of these at the moment are not good and I would say the chances are pretty high that it will turn into what could be called a quagmire.

Between The Lines: The Bush administration seems to have gone out of its way in recent weeks to label those elements of armed resistance in Iraq attacking U.S. troops as terrorists or specifically as sympathetic to al Qaeda, despite the fact that there's no evidence or direct connection between Saddam Hussein's old government, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, the group that carried out the attacks against the United States Sept. 11th. Is it possible that the Bush administration is setting up a justification to increase the level of troops in Iraq to combat an insurgency that may develop later and be able to sell that to the American public by labeling any future fight around the U.S. occupation of Iraq as a fight against terrorism?

Chris Toensing: That's certainly possible and I agree with the premise of your question. We saw this during the war as well, that virtually any acts of resistance against the invading forces are to be labeled as "death squads,"."terrorism," these very inflammatory labels which probably distort the reality on the ground. Paul Bremer, (the new U.S. chief administrator to Iraq) is freely using the word "occupation" to describe the presence in Iraq when we heard constantly before the war that "We are not coming as your occupiers, we are coming as your liberators." All of this rhetoric has suddenly been thrown down the memory hole, but not down the memory hole of Iraqis.

I think that one reason the administration has put so much focus on "foreign fighters" who may have links to Osama bin Laden or God knows who else is that leaves open talking about Sunni militants, leaves open the prospect of blaming things on Syria, talking about the influence of Iran on the Shiite religious parties, leaves open the possibility of blaming unrest in Iraq among the Iraqi population, upon Iranian meddling. And it provides a pretext -- which probably would be one of many -- for more vigorous intervention in Iran than is currently taking place. So in that regard, the unrest in Iraq could paradoxically enough -- even though it should be taken as evidence of the failure of the strategic vision of the neo-conservatives who are probably still driving Middle East policy in the Bush administration -- be taken as evidence that we simply haven't finished yet and that we need to implement the entirety of the neo-con's vision rather than simply the first step. That is one ominous possibility that is out there.

Contact Middle East Report by calling (202) 223-3677 or visit their website at

Related links and more at our website:

"Iraqis Threaten Suicide Blasts Over Wages," The Courier-Mail, June 20, 2003

"Deadly Attacks On U.S. Forces,'" CBS News, June 19, 2003

"From Liberation to Counter-Insurgency" by Jim Lobe, The Asia Times, June 18, 2003

"US Says Troops Face Iraqi 'Guerrilla War,'" By James Politi and Guy Dinmore, The Financial Times, June 19, 2003

"What Are Americans Dying for Now?" by Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe, June 18, 2003

"America's Rebuilding of Iraq is in Chaos, Say British," by Peter Foster, The Telegraph, June 17, 2003

"Iraq Occupation Has Deadly Toll For US," by Robert Schlesinger, The Boston Globe, June 16, 2003

"American Peace Put to the Test," by Jean-Louis Turlin, Le Figaro, June 14, 2003

"U.S. soldiers face growing resistance," Attacks in central Iraq become more frequent, sophisticated, by William Booth and Daniel Williams, The Washington Post, June 9, 2003

"Ex-Army Boss: Pentagon Won't Admit Reality in Iraq," By Dave Moniz, USA

Today, June 3, 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 June 27, 2003.

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