Christian Parenti, author of the new book The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq, spoke to Solidarity at the Iraq Occupation Focus conference on 5 December in London.
My comments on the Iraqi resistance at the conference today were a response to a presentation of the situation that I felt overlooked some of the more problematic aspects.
I believe we on the left should be calling for a withdrawal of US troops regardless of whether or not the resistance meets the left's criteria of a good movement.
The resistance is very diverse. There are some very ugly elements. I have interviewed former Iraqi senior officers who were virulently anti-Shia and were involved in the resistance. I don't support their hatred of the Shia; but I do believe they have a right to resist US occupation.
My concern to avoid romanticising the resistance comes partly from my experience in Central America as a journalist and a solidarity activist. I saw numerous examples of a three-step process.
One, romanticising the movements in Central America. Two, becoming disillusioned with them. Three, abandoning activity.
The left, in its solidarity, will be more effective and more sustainable if it approaches issues with its eyes open. It would be awful for people to think the resistance are angels, find they are not, and then bale out of activitiy.
I want to disabuse people of the idea that the resistance are pure and good. There are Saddam loyalists and former torturers in the resistance.
If the left has a simplistic position, then we are vulnerable.
I support the position of Iraqi workers. I wouldn't go as far as saying that the armed resistance don't have a right to resist the invaders. That would be taking me on to the ground of what I would like to see in Iraq, and that's meaningless: I can't affect that.
Hopefully there will be room for a secular, democratic movement alongside the resistance. But for now what we have is the resistance.
I know the Union of the Unemployed and I hung out with them in Iraq. But they're not that big. Iraq is a deeply religious society. The Union of the Unemployed are very valiant, but they don't have much traction. Another problem is that the Ba'th regime under Saddam hijacked the motifs and the language of left politics.
I want to see a negotiated withdrawal. It would have to be negotiated with multiple parties - with the major Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish parties, and with organisations in the resistance that would come above ground if there were a clear will for negotiations - with every organisation that has power in Iraq.
I don't think that is going to happen any time soon. I think the US is going to hang on for four years at least, increasing its military operations. I'd like to think it has some intention to withdraw, but I don't think it has.