When it comes to lies and hypocrisy, the British media was in top form in its description of the riots provoked by the British army in Basra last month. The freeing of two undercover British agents at the barrel of a tank from an Iraqi police station was described as robust and even heroic, while the Iraqis throwing petrol bombs at the tank were denounced as a baying, bloodthirsty mob. What has gone less reported is the reason for the anger of the crowd: not just the arrogant show of force by British troops against their supposed allies in the Iraqi state apparatus, but the widespread reports that the undercover agents were not only dressed as Mehdi army militia men (the armed supporters of Shia radical Moqtada al Sadr), not only fired on Iraqi police when questioned, but were carrying a stash of weapons, including an anti-tank gun and, most curiously, explosives and a detonator. This accusation has been made official by Iraqi government spokesmen. The implication is that the agents were on their way to carrying out a terrorist atrocity.
In the atmosphere of fear and terror that reigns in Iraq, it is routine for the population to blame the occupying forces for massacres which are officially attributed to groups like al Qaida. The western press usually dismisses such claims as typical of Arab paranoia. In our minds there is no doubt that al Qaida and similar groups are indeed responsible for many bloody crimes against the civil population. But we are also keenly aware that the occupying forces are perfectly capable of carrying out such attacks themselves. The British state, which supposedly adheres to the rule of law and abhors the ‘men of violence’ in Ireland, has so deeply infiltrated the IRA and Protestant terror gangs that its agents have been directly involved in torture, assassination, and terrorist bombings. In the case of the Protestant gangs, the infiltration is so thorough that groups like the UDA are more or less a covert wing of the British army; but even in the ‘enemy’ IRA you had the absurd situation where one British agent (‘Stakeknife’) became the head of the IRA commission investigating…British agents in the IRA, and was therefore regularly involved in the torture and killing of fellow British agents.
The insistence of Iraqi forces, from the local police to the Moqtada organisation to the central government, that these agents were involved in something very shady indeed was if anything confirmed by the haste and violence of the operation freeing them. It seems clear that the British army has something to hide.
The question is then posed: what would the British army gain by planting bombs and further wracking up the mounting tensions that separate Shia from Sunni, Arab from Kurd, and even Shia faction from Shia faction? Up till now, the British have tended to favour the Moqtada al Sadr organisation over some of the more mainstream Iraqi Shia groups such as the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, which is seen as a stooge of Iran. So why would the British want to discredit the Mehdi army by carrying out atrocities in their garb? The situation is too murky to provide clear answers. But both in America and Britain certain elements of the bourgeoisie are already assuming that Iraq is doomed to break up into three separate states – Kurdish in the north, Sunni in the centre, and Shia in the south(1). It could be that such elements are already thinking that the more Iraq descends into chaos, the better, because it will bring it closer to this final dismemberment.
Or it could be that, like the terrorist gangs caught up in an irrational spiral of hatred and revenge, the armed forces are simply being dragged into the destructive logic that is currently devastating Iraq. The net result is the same: bloodshed and chaos on an ever-mounting scale. The ‘liberating heroes’ of the great democracies are once again shown to be the mirror image of the terrorists they claim to be opposing.
(1) For example, former high-ranking State Department and Pentagon official Leslie Gelb published an article in the New York Times on 25 November 2003 advocating ‘The Three State Solution’ in Iraq. A ‘British’ argument in favour of a Shia state, on the other hand, would be that it could serve as a counter-weight to the USA and would preserve a stronger British influence than in the rest of the country.