Bush in Babylon: The Recolonisation of Iraq


The assault and capture of Iraq—and the resistance it has provoked—will shape the politics of the twenty-first century. In this passionate and provocative book, Tariq Ali provides a history of Iraqi resistance against empires old and new, and argues against the view that sees imperialist occupation as the only viable solution to bring about regime-change in corrupt and dictatorial states. Like the author’s previous work, The Clash of Fundamentalisms, this book presents a ...

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The assault and capture of Iraq—and the resistance it has provoked—will shape the politics of the twenty-first century. In this passionate and provocative book, Tariq Ali provides a history of Iraqi resistance against empires old and new, and argues against the view that sees imperialist occupation as the only viable solution to bring about regime-change in corrupt and dictatorial states. Like the author’s previous work, The Clash of Fundamentalisms, this book presents a magnificent cultural history.

Detailing the longstanding imperial ambitions of key figures in the Bush administration and how war profiteers close to Bush are cashing in, Bush in Babylon is unique in moving beyond the corporate looting by the US military government to offer the reader an expert and in-depth analysis of the extent of resistance to the US occupation in Iraq.

On 15 February 2003, eight million people marched on the streets of five continents against a war that had not yet begun. A historically unprecedented number of people rejected official justifications for war that the secular Ba’ath Party of Iraq was connected to al-Qaeda or that “weapons of mass destruction” existed in the region, outside of Israel.

More people than ever are convinced that the greatest threat to peace comes from the center of the American empire and its satrapies, with Blair and Sharon as lieutenants to the Commander-in-Chief. Examining how countries from Japan to France eventually rushed to support US aims, as well as the futile UN resistance, Tariq Ali proposes a re-founding of Mark Twain’s mammoth American Anti-Imperialist League (which included William James, W.E.B. DuBois, William Dean Howells, and John Dewey) to carry forward the antiwar movement. Meanwhile, as Iraqis show unexpected hostility and independence, rather than gratitude, for “liberation,” Ali is unique is uncovering the depth of the resistance now occurring inside occupied Iraq.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The charm of stylish dissent: less Chomsky, more poetry. Empires may come and go but Tariq Ali, the rebel who has lost the streets but gained the ghettos, is here to stay, to fight on ... Buy his spirit.”—India Today

“Caustic warnings run through Bush in Babylon: The Recolonisation of Iraq by Tariq Ali ... who criticises pro-American academic and media apologists for stressing that Bush’s policies are ‘the only way to stabilise the world’ ... undeniably passionate.”—Financial Times

“A precious jewel of a book.”—Il Manifesto, Rome

“Hard facts, sharp political analysis and literary insertions that evoke the richness of Arab culture ... unlikely to soothe the middle-class nerves of our harmony-seeking ‘Gutmenschen.’”—Suddeutsche Zeitung

“Tari Ali ... has poured all his caustic verve and literary talent into this essay on the modern history of Iraq. Drawing on the work of great Arab historians, but also on personal testimony and the works of different Iraqi poets, he reconstitutes the principal moments of a tragic history—a pitiless dissection of the lies used by the Anglo-American leaders to legitimate their recent imperial expedition in Iraq.”—Le Monde Diplomatique

“A strikingly erudite tour of Iraqi and Middle Eastern history and, at points, a survey of the work of secular-nationalist Arabic poets such as the Syrian Nizar Qabbani and the Iraqi exile Mudhaffar al-Nawab.”—Philadelphia City Paper

“An often compelling insider’s perspective—with some valuable insights into the sensitivities that explain why the occupying coalition in Iraq is not being treated as a savior.”—New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781844675128
  • Publisher: Verso Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/2004
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,516,381
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Tariq Ali is a writer and filmmaker. He has written more than a dozen books on world history and politics—including Pirates of the Caribbean, Bush in Babylon, The Clash of Fundamentalisms and The Obama Syndrome—as well as five novels in his Islam Quintet series and scripts for the stage and screen. He is an editor of the New Left Review and lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

Bush in Babylon

The Recolonisation of Iraq
By Tariq Ali


Copyright © 2004 Tariq Ali
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1844675122

Chapter One

Introduction: Living with the enemy

Why are otherwise intelligent people in Britain and the United States surprised on learning that the occupation is detested by a majority of Iraqi citizens? Could the reason be that there is no memory of being occupied in these two countries, notwithstanding the Roman conquest of Britain? Even in the latter case, there was episodic resistance of which Agricola, the most gifted Roman proconsul in Britain, was informed soon after his arrival. It was not that the stinking natives were unaware of the merits of Roman civilization. It was simply that they did not like being ruled by another power. In his essay on Agricola, the Roman historian Tacitus provides a vivid description of the imperial mentality. On one of his visits to the outer reaches of the island, Agricola looked in the direction of Ireland and asked a colleague why it remained unoccupied. Because, came the reply, it consisted of uncultivable bog lands and was inhabited by wild and very primitive tribes. What could it possibly have to offer the great Empire? The unfortunate man was sternly admonished. Economic gain isn't all. Far more important is the example provided by an unoccupied country. It may be backward, but it's still free.

Continental Europeans and Russians have more recent experience of the phenomenon and of what it provokes - a resistance on many different levels. The plea to the Iraqis not to fight back or resist the Anglo-American occupation - coming as it did from French Gaullists, German Greens/social-democrats, the Russian oligarchy and numerous European others - struck a strange note. Was it simply Northern arrogance with regard to the South; or a desire to appease the United States; or a belief that Iraqis are a different or lower breed of people who might be happier under occupation, just like the Palestinians? Perhaps it was a mixture of all three. Whatever the reason, the Iraqis appear to have ignored the pleas.

Empires sometimes forget who they are crusading against and why, but the occupied rarely suffer from such confusions. During the first colonisation of Iraq a special elite layer was created by the British to help sustain imperial rule in the country. This was after the First World War, during which Britain fought the decaying Ottoman Empire for mastery of Mesopotamia, suffering one major defeat and several minor setbacks in the process, with colonial troops from India taking heavy casualties on each occasion.

It was the underprivileged social layers in the cities who led the resistance during the inter-war years. The reports currently coming out of Baghdad and Basrah suggest that, while the merchants and traders are prepared to live with the occupation, it is the poor, above all, who regard it as a national indignity. And if the illegal plans being hatched by Viceroy Bremer to sell off Iraqi oil in perpetuity to foreign exploiters - in order to pay for the enormous costs of the war and the occupation - come to fruition, then even the merchant classes will begin to grumble. Few Iraqis, apart from Ahmed Chalabi and his cronies, would like to lose control of their oil. If a referendum on this question alone were permitted, over 90 percent of the population would vote for Iraqi control of Iraqi oil.

But this is imperialism in the epoch of neo-liberal economics. Everything will be privatised, including civil society. Like aliens from another planet, once the cities are secured (if that ever happens), NGOs will descend on Iraq like a swarm of locusts and interbreed with the locals. Intellectuals and activists of every stripe in all the major cities will be bought off and put to work producing bad pamphlets on subjects of purely academic interest. This has the effect of neutering potential opposition or, to be more precise, of confiscating dissent in order to channel it in a safe direction. The message from the donors is straightforward: make some noise, by all means, but if you do anything really political that seriously affects the functioning of the neo-liberal state on any level, your funds might not be renewed. And, as usually happens, participation in serious politics is likely to be forbidden. This is then characterised as 'civil society' or 'real grass-roots democracy', cleaner and more user-friendly than any political party. Users may be limited, but the NGO salaries from the West are there to ensure that this remains the case. Some NGOs do buck the trend and are involved in serious projects, but these are an exception. Long-term experiments in Egypt and Pakistan have produced reasonable results. The main problem in both places is that religious groups have seized the day, filled the vacuum, and argued against consumerism as the dominant value in contemporary societies. There is no effective secular opposition in either country, both of which are presided over by military dictators.

Elsewhere military regimes have been gently eased out of existence and replaced with a new form of rule. Capitalist democracy = privatisation + 'civil society'. This tried-and-tested formula has already wrecked much of Latin America and the whole of Africa. The dictatorship of capital is proving much more resilient than the military variety. It now threatens to roll over Iraq. Will it succeed?

The occupation is still in its infancy. Its aims are simple: to impose privatisation and a pro-Western regime in Iraq. But its ability to do so permanently is circumscribed by the history and consciousness of the Iraqi people. This is not to imply that the whole country is desperate for a protracted war. If anything, the opposite is the case. If the occupation succeeds in stabilising the country, and if basic amenities are restored together with some semblance of normality, then a Vichy-style operation staffed by local jackals could succeed, if only for a limited period. There are a few spunky little jackals, evil-tempered to those who do not share their vision of the occupation as 'liberation', but politically quite agile despite the fact that they have nil support in the country. They tell Bremer that as long as Saddam Hussein is alive, people think he might stage a come-back and, therefore, support for the occupation will remain restricted. The imperialist fatwa against Saddam includes a $25m reward for his assassination. Presumably this item of expenditure, like the bounty paid for killing Saddam's two sons and a grandson, will be paid for out of the proceeds of Iraqi oil.

But none of this is feasible so long as there is an armed resistance. While the Ba'athists dominate this resistance in the Baghdad region, they are not the only people involved and Western reporters have acknowledged that there is a near-universal rejoicing in private when an occupation soldier is killed. And if there is no early resolution to the conflict we could see the emergence of a much broader national resistance, as other organisations begin to worry that the Ba'athists, through having played a leading role in the struggle, may restore their credibility amongst significant sectors of the population. Were the Iraqi Communist Party, a section of the Kurdish organisations and the Shia to take such a plunge, it would become virtually impossible for the United States to hold on to Iraq indefinitely.

If the situation in the Baghdad region remains turbulent and the Shia hierarchy refuses to do a 'serious' deal with Bremer - that is, to cave in completely - the United States might have no option but to opt for a rapid Balkanisation. This would mean redrawing the lines in the sand that created the country and producing three protectorates, modelled on the old Ottoman vilayets of Baghdad, Basrah and Mosul. In effect, this would mean a Kurdish entity controlling the oil and would doom the region to ugly civil wars and ethnic cleansing. There are two million Kurdish people living in Baghdad. Genuine humanitarian considerations rarely bother imperial politicians and, for that reason, they might consider the protectorate possibility as offering the safest medium-term solution. The current division of the country into three regions has created the possibility of a de facto partition of Iraq. If Kerbela became the capital of an Islamic republic in the South, it would undoubtedly aim to reach a security agreement with the Islamic republic of Iran. Could the Empire tolerate such an affront? And would the Turkish military leave the Kurdish entity alone, or would it have to become an Israeli protectorate like Jordan? And what of Baghdad? Back to the Ba'ath? It could happen unless new opposition forces emerge.

It is the children of occupied or war-torn countries who find it difficult and painful to accept an alien presence, which is creating enormous problems for their parents. In 1857, during the first large uprising against the British in India, children became willing, eager and courageous couriers, carrying messages to neighbouring villages. When, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, an Algerian national movement erupted to confront the settlers and their patrons, children, including those between eight and ten years of age, played an active part. During a visit to Hanoi in 1966, at the height of the US bombing raids on North Vietnam, I remember finding the city strange and spooky. And then I realised why this was so. There were no children. They had all been evacuated, in most cases against their will. It was not till I visited villages in the interior that I saw any children. Their teachers complained bitterly that they refused to study in the makeshift schools created in caves and underground shelters. The only way the children could be persuaded to study was by the promise that their homework would be marked in downed US planes and helicopters. That worked. Palestinian teachers have used Israeli tanks and stones to good effect.

In recent years children have been at the forefront of resistance in Palestine. The Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani called them the 'children of the stones', applauding their courage and telling them to ignore the moth-eaten leaders of the Arab world who had always betrayed them. In 'I Am With Terrorism', one of his last political poems, written a year before his death in 1998, he turned the label of 'terrorism' against those who used it to justify tyranny and occupation. The 'terrorism' that Qabbani is identifying with is not that of 9/11 or of random bombings and killings. His own wife Balquis al-Rawi was killed when pro-Iranian mujahideen in Lebanon bombed the Iraqi embassy during the Iraq-Iran war. The poet had gone out to buy newspapers. When he returned his much-loved partner lay dead. He remembered her in numerous poems. The tragedy marked the rest of his life. Her memory haunted him till he died. And so for this poet, 'terrorism' is the word used by oppressors to defame a national liberation struggle. He would not allow this and wrote a message in a bottle to the youth of Palestine and an Arab nation that had forgotten its name:

We are accused of terrorism: if we defend the rose and a woman and the mighty verse ... and the blueness of sky ... A dominion ... nothing left therein ... No water, no air ... No tent, no camel, and not even dark Arabica coffee!! ... We are accused of terrorism: if we write of a ruined homeland the ruins of a homeland torn, weak ... a homeland without an address and a nation with no name. ... A homeland forbidding us from buying a newspaper or listening to the news. A dominion where birds are forbidden from chirping. A homeland where, out of terror, its writers became accustomed to writing about nothing. A homeland, in the likeness of poetry in our lands: It is vain talk, no rhythm, imported Ajam, with a crooked face and tongue: No beginning No end No relation to the concerns of the people mother earth and the crisis of humanity. ... A dominion ... going to peace talks with no honor no shoe. ... A homeland, men piss in their pants ... women are left to defend honor. ... Salt in our eyes Salt in our lips Salt in our words Can the self carry such dryness? An inheritance we got from the barren Qahtan? In our nation, no Mu'awiya, and no Abu Sufiyan No one is left to say 'NO' and face the scurriers they gave up our houses, our bread and our [olive] oil. They transformed our bright history into a mediocre store. ... In our lives, no poem is left, since we lost our chastity in the bed of the Sultan. ... They got accustomed to us, the humbled. What is left to man when all that remains is disgrace? ... I seek in the books of history Ussamah ibn al-Munqith Uqba ibn Nafi' Omar, and Hamzah and Khalid, driving his flocks conquering the Shem. I seek a Mu'tasim Billah Saving women from the cruelty of rape and the fire. ... I seek latter day men All I see is frightened cats Scared for their own souls, from the sultanship of mice. ... Is this an overwhelming national blindness? Are we blind to colors? ... We are accused of terrorism If we refuse to die with Israel's bulldozers tearing our land tearing our history tearing our Evangelium tearing our Koran tearing the graves of our prophets If this was our sin, then, lo, how beautiful terrorism is? ... We are accused of terrorism if we refused to be effaced by the hands of the Mongols, Jews and Barbarians if we throw a stone at the glass of the Security Council after the Caesar of Caesars grabbed it for his own. We are accused of terrorism if we refuse to negotiate with the wolf and shake hands with a whore. ... America Against the cultures of the peoples with no culture Against the civilizations of the civilized with no civilization America a mighty edifice with no walls! ... We are accused of terrorism if we defended our land and the honor of dust if we revolted against the rape of people and our rape if we defended the last palm trees in our desert the last stars in our sky the last syllabi of our names the last milk in our mothers' bosoms. If this was our sin how beautiful is terrorism. ... I am with terrorism if it is able to save me from the immigrants from Russia Romania, Hungary, and Poland. ...


Excerpted from Bush in Babylon by Tariq Ali Copyright © 2004 by Tariq Ali. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction : living with the enemy 1
2 The jackals' wedding 18
3 An oligarchy of racketeers 42
4 Colonels and communists 66
5 Ba'athism, Saddam and Gumhurriya 102
6 War and empire 144
7 Empires and resistance 172
Postscript : blood meridian 199
App Christopher Hitchens and the First Gulf War 248
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2004

    Extremely Informative

    This is a no-nonsense work that wastes no time in exposing the myriad lies and distortions given by the Bush administration for invading Iraq. If you're used to getting your news from tv or newspapers, you'll be shocked at the many truths revealed by Tariq Ali. Its way past time for America to wake up and smell the coffee. The invasion and occupation has been an unmitigated disaster that will fester for generations. It will be humiliating for the US military to be handily defeated by a devastated 'third-world' nation but that's exactly what is going to happen. Reading this book will give you a completely different view of American foreign policy and how it is the policy itself that engenders such anger and resentment from people all over the world. A must-read!!!

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