It was Sam Francis who coined the phrase anarcho-tyranny, to describe the simultaneous existence of armed dictatorship and the absence of the rule of law. He used it in the context of the crime wave of the early nineties, when armed drug gangs freely roamed American streets even as big government plotted to grab guns from regular Americans and ensnare the bourgeoisie in its regulatory and tax bureaucracy. It is a situation in which government does everything but what it is supposed to do, namely protect life and property.
It became clear to Americans in those days that if they were to secure their liberty, they couldn’t rely on government, which seemed more intent on protecting the rights of criminals than the freedom or security of law-abiding Americans. Thus did grow throughout the 1990s vast stretches of gated communities, private security agencies, private arbitration agencies, and a host of other market means to provide services that government claimed to provide but did not.
The people of Iraq now know all about the concept of anarcho-tyranny, as American troops spent 48 hours securing the rights of Iraqis to loot and steal everything in sight. Liberation indeed! The merchants who remained struggled to do business without electricity or water, while fending off gangs of marauders in their midst.
This report from Baghdad, courtesy of the Malaysian news agency Utusan:
Shopkeepers opened fire Friday at mobs of looters in Baghdad, where residents voiced growing frustration about the reigning chaos that US troops have done little to stop.
Merchants took up arms for the first time since US troops entered the city to fanfare Wednesday, as looting sprees left 25 people injured.
“We want the law to rule and if the Americans don’t defend us then we’ll defend ourselves with our own weapons,” said store owner Khazen Hussein.
US troops, who say they are still involved in a military campaign and do not have the capacity to maintain law and order, have rarely intervened to stop the looting.
In Al-Rasafi market, merchants fired pistols in the air outside a seven-storey garment store, while at Al-Arabi market shopkeepers fired Kalashnikov assault rifles toward approaching looters.
Young people were also seen with iron bars running after potential thieves.
Baghdad has seen rampant looting since US troops rolled in Wednesday and the two-and-a-half-decade regime of Saddam Hussein crumbled.
Almost everything has been considered fair game, from the luxury homes of senior Iraqi officials to European diplomatic missions and former state institutions that once inspired fear.
Only a few bakeries and cafes were open Friday in Baghdad, which still lacks running water and electricity that was cut during the three-week bombing campaign.
With no police force or fire department, a number of government buildings — including the Iraqi Industrial Union, the Civil Administration Department and the Trade Ministry — were still smouldering Friday after being torched by mobs.
No new attacks were reported Friday against US forces, who have met sporadic resistance from pro-Saddam fighters since they swept into central Baghdad.
But US troops were visibly nervous, rarely moving from their positions, after a suicide bombing late Thursday that killed one soldier in north Baghdad.
A US military source said the attack had taken place in Saddam City, an impoverished northern suburb home to two million people, mostly Shiite Muslims, after marines came under heavy fire.
It was the first suicide attack against American forces since they captured Baghdad amid scenes of jubilation, and raised doubts about how firmly coalition forces held the city in their grip.
Twenty-five people, including two children, were admitted to Baghdad’s Al-Kindi hospital on Friday after suffering gunshot wounds in clashes during the looting.
But the hospital, Baghdad’s largest, can provide little help as it has been ransacked itself.
“The situation is chaotic and catastrophic,” Peter Tarabula, medical coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross here, said after an ICRC team inspected the hospital.
All staff have fled Al-Kindi hospital with the exception of two doctors who administer first-aid but do not carry out operations.
Meanwhile in northern Baghdad, around 30 fully armed Iraqi missiles were found in a vacant lot near a shopping centre. Each of the sandy-yellow missiles was 10 metres (32 feet) long and a metre (3.2 feet) in diameter, an AFP correspondent said.
They were loaded on 15 trailers which witnesses said were abandoned at the site several days ago by men in civilian clothes.
At the Ramadan 14 mosque in the heart of Baghdad, near where a towering statue of Hussein was demolished by residents and US troops Wednesday, only about 20 people showed up for weekly prayers, compared with thousands on an average Friday.
The few worshipers blamed the low attendance on US checkpoints around the central square and people’s fear their homes would be burgled if they left.
“After seeing all the looting, encouraged by the Americans, I’m beginning to like Saddam Hussein,” said businessman Fayez Khalil, in an opinion shared by most others who turned up for prayers.
Just a week ago, clerics used Friday sermons to exhort followers to wage holy war against the US and British “invasion.”
The Iraqi case is far more extreme than anything the US has seen, even in the heyday of the Los Angeles riots, in which the police were far more concerned with citizens who might be wielding unlawful weapons than they were with the looters. But what’s going on in Baghdad and other cities in Iraq is a microcosm of the state’s law-enforcement priorities.
In Iraq in the last two days, you could rob a home and hospital and have your rights protected by the US military. But if you held up a picture of Saddam Hussein, you would be likely to get yourself shot. This underscores the primary focal point of the rule of every regime: to maintain and tighten its monopoly over the coercive powers of the state, while displacing and eliminating possible competitors to that position.
What the US is doing in Iraq is what every state throughout history has done. Whatever excuse it gives for its rule — securing liberty, guaranteeing security, reinforcing virtue, saving souls, stopping terrorism, or whatever — it always comes down to the same thing: gaining, maintaining, and firming up political control. All other priorities take a back seat to that one. As Murray Rothbard used to emphasize, there is a reason why the state has more severe penalties for challenging its rule than it does for ordinary crime.
The experience also shows the way the state uses chaos to its advantage. Given enough of this, people begin to welcome the use of official violence in order to curb the private violence. Once reporters started to be the targets of looters, the military finally stepped in with a dusk-to-dawn curfew, thus seriously curbing the freedom to move about, something Saddam Hussein would never have dared to attempt. If Iraqis were hoping that American troops would bring with them greater access to a rich night life, they will now find that these plans are on hold.
But of course all the liberal columnists who are urging that the US stay for the long haul in Iraq are only creating the conditions for more extreme crackdowns. They will be in no position to criticize the imposition of a military dictatorship, with violators shot on sight, all paid for by US taxpayers. The military can respond that this is just showing concern and care for the people they liberated.
We’ve all imagined ways in which this military operation is unprecedented. On one hand, the US has engaged in small wars of conquest on a routine basis since its final consolidation after the war between the states. On the other hand, gutting the entire infrastructure of an orderly society is something that the US has never attempted to do by force, and it wasn’t even the intention.
The US set out to “decapitate” the regime and otherwise leave everything else in place so that another government to the US’s liking could step in. Now, the US is being asked to take on the role of the entire state apparatus itself, not only providing the police structure needed for the protection of essential rights but also making the infrastructure work properly. This is something that the federal government has never managed to pull off in its own backyard of the District of Columbia!
It’s extraordinary what the self-proclaimed conservatives of this administration have done to Iraq, and to us. But to the state, it is all justified because, after all, its ability to maintain a secure control over the apparatus of compulsion and coercion is secure. Whether that power is used for the good of society or not is beside the point. In this respect, there is no real distinction between wartime and peacetime, their country or ours.