BAGHDAD – Abdo Satar al-Chaalan, chairman of the weekly newspaper al-Mustaki (The Independent) – the self-described “spokesman of the Iraqi resistance” – proudly recalls the five times that he was arrested by Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1970s, as a member of an opposition party. He has already been arrested once by the Americans, and another arrest may be just around the corner.
“After the invasion,” says Chaalan, “I decided to set up a newspaper,” along with lawyer and chief editor Abdel Hamid Dhari. “Al-Mustakil” is totally self-financed. “It’s the first Iraqi paper which is not sponsored. That’s why many people are against us,” says Chaalan. The first edition was printed on May 15, now 5,000 copies go out into the Baghdad area every week. Including writers, editors and volunteers – nobody gets a salary – there’s a staff of around 50. After a few editions, al-Mustakil became the talk of the town. It had some daring photos on the front page of mujahideen veiled by their keffieh (scarves) pleading resistance against the occupation. Both Chalaan and Dhari are from Falluja – the heart of Iraqi resistance. But the paper stopped short of calling for armed struggle.
US proconsul L Paul Bremer obviously didn’t like it: any media in the new Iraq critical of the occupation is accused by Bremer of “incitement to violence.” So on July 21 the Americans came in full force to the white house off Saadoun St. “Sixty armed soldiers, two Humvees, two Iraqi police cars,” recalls Chaalan. “I was arrested. They took computers, disks, printers, everything. They took me to the police college, with my hands tied. I spent two weeks in a jail cell, with another 150 prisoners, mostly looters.”
Chaalan was never interrogated, not even once, in those two weeks. Finally, he says that an Iraqi judge came to see him. Chaalan was inevitably accused of being a Ba’ath Party member. The judge found nothing, and Chalaan was released. As a result, al-Mustakil was closed for two months. Now it’s back with a vengeance. The latest edition of September 20 carries five photos on the front page and a full account on page 4 of the Americans smashing into their office.
Chaalan and Dhari are crucial characters in the sense that they are intimately close to the eyes and the ears of the Iraqi popular resistance. “Any Iraqi who is loyal to the country does not agree with the occupation, under whatever name. UN forces will work under orders of the Americans, so we are against them all.” Chaalan says that Iraqis would agree with UN forces, blue helmets, but not under American command. Their solution to the quagmire: “The American military leave Iraq, the UN comes with a multinational force.” Al-Mustakil is positioned remarkably like the slain Swedish foreign minister, Anna Lindh, who just days before being murdered in a Stockholm department store this month was saying that “you cannot have a situation where the US remains in control over what happens in Iraq and at the same time others have to move in and take care of security and reconstruction.”
Chaalan draws the inevitable parallel with Palestine. “Palestine is occupied. Iraq as well. It’s the same kind of resistance. Only five months after the war, the Americans started suffering, and asked the UN for help. We will resist, even if it is for a hundred years.”
Chaalan and Dhari simply can’t believe the existence of Executive Order 13315, signed by US President George W Bush on August 28, which in fact places Iraq’s state assets under the total control of the US Treasury: by all means the institutionalization of the looting of Iraq, under the banner of “Iraqi reconstruction.” “It’s not legal,” says Dhari, “because nobody in Iraqi was consulted. When the Americans are gone, this paper means nothing.” With this order in the bag, the Bush administration shouldn’t lose much in case it is forced to hand over just a little control of Iraq to the UN.
Al-Mustakil expresses a widely-held view in Iraq: Saddam remains an American agent. He was secretly negotiating with the Americans, even during the war. And he remains under American protection. “[Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld stayed in Tikrit for 24 hours in his recent visit. Why?” Dhari lists oil as only one of the main reasons for war. The other major reason is redrawing the Middle East map. He mentions [Israeli Premier] Ariel Sharon’s visit to India. “There will be a new security triangle [Israel, Iraq and India]. And Iraq will be the sponsor of this triangle with its oil.”
Al-Mustakil is very much aware that for the Bush administration the main thing in Iraq is to privatize Iraq’s oil, privatize Iraq’s economy and to get the big US corporations in. There’s no concern as to how the country will be run. Al-Mustakil considers the recent Iraq privatization announcement in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates by Iraq’s “unknown” finance minister a sham: “Iraq was sold.” This means that most, if not all, of the 25 members of the American-appointed Governing Council are not honest: “Most of them don’t even have Iraqi nationality. They are privatizing everything except the oil, because the oil already belongs to America.”
Al-Mustakil rejects the notion that the bombings of the Jordanian embassy, the UN headquarters in Baghdad and the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf were conducted by Iraqis: the paper blames America, and especially Israel – a widely popular view. Says Dhari, “We have to see who benefits. First of all Israel. They want Iraq dismembered. Turkey also benefits – they want to take over Kirkuk. Turkey and Iran also want the same thing – dismember Iraq. Kuwait also benefits – it still remembers the Gulf War [of 1991].”
Al-Mustakil believes that the resistance will keep growing – spreading to the whole country. “Iran is saying to the Americans that if you press us with nuclear issues, we are going to tell the Shi’ites in Iraq to start resisting. Iran is saying ‘leave us alone’. One word from al-Hawza [the powerful Shi’ite clergy, seated in Najaf] would be enough to launch a jihad. If the situation continues like this, al-Hawza will say the word. And the Americans know it.”
Al-Mustakil considers an American failure irreversible. Says Chaalan, “When the Americans came from Kuwait, we said we wanted a national, honest government, and respect of basic freedoms. Before that, there must be a provisional government, elected by the Iraqi people. Their mission would be to write a constitution and to call independent elections – and then we would have a national government. And we wanted the re-starting of major services. From April to now, none of these demands were satisfied.” Dhari is exasperated, “It’s all a big lie, from 1968 to now, produced by the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency].”
Al-Mustakil holds that for the Iraqi resistance, “Saddam’s cassettes are nothing but excuses for the Americans to stay longer: They can say there’s danger coming from Saddam.” Chaalan and Dhari are not preaching armed struggle: “We will resist, but with our paper.” Most of all, al-Mustakil is forceful on the really crucial point: “The Iraqi resistance just wants to serve the Iraqi nation. It’s a national resistance, with no relation to Saddam Hussein. And in addition to a nationalist sense, there’s resistance that comes from the bad behavior of the American soldiers. They don’t respect local customs, traditions, the privacy of women. They have nothing to give the Iraqi people.”
Bremer and his masters of war in Washington may not be aware of it, “but it was the Americans themselves who created the Iraqi resistance.”