Patrick Cockburn: Why Dannatt is right about the forces of occupation

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Iraq is one of the most complicated countries on earth but some of the most important aspects of the present crisis are very simple: few countries welcome foreign invaders however much they dislike their own rulers. Occupations are seldom popular and their unpopularity grows the longer they continue.

"Nobody loves armed missionaries," said Robespierre, the French revolutionary leader. It is this obvious but crucial point which is at the heart of General Sir Richard Dannatt's critique of present government policy. His exact words are "our presence exacerbates the security problems." This has been self- evident to anybody visiting Iraq over the past three years.

For a few days after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 opinion polls showed that Iraqis were equally divided between those who thought they had been liberated and those who said Iraq had been occupied. But ever since polls have shown that the majority of Iraqis outside Kurdistan believe their country is occupied and most want this occupation to end as soon as possible.

This is the central political fact in Iraq. Occupation provokes resistance.

This is why guerrilla warfare erupted so swiftly. It was not foreign fighters or remnants of Saddam's regime who imposed a war on Iraqis, but armed groups that could operate in a sympathetic environment.

"We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear," continued General Dannatt. "As a foreigner you can be welcomed by being invited into a country, but we weren't invited... Let's face it, the military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in."

General Dannatt is quite right to point to the fundamental lack of legitimacy of the foreign military presence in Iraq flowing from the fact that in 2003 American and British armies "kicked the door in." A final Downing Street myth punctured by General Dannatt is that in Iraq " we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro-West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East."

In reality, the US and Britain delayed elections, knowing that Shia religious parties sympathetic to Iran would win them.

The Occupation: war and resistance in Iraq, by Patrick Cockburn, is published by Verso.

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