Now!"- Why Now?
by Max Elbaum
These days even pro-war figures admit that things in Iraq are messy and difficult. Gone are slogans like "Mission Accomplished" and pronouncements that "we'll be greeted as liberators" and "we'll create a model pro-Western democracy in the Middle East."
Instead, the people who spread those fantasies (and baited dissenters as "helping the terrorists") have retreated to Argument B: Yes, things are bad over there, they concede. And maybe Bush administration mistakes are partly to blame. But the real problem is failure, incompetence and "age-old hatred" among Iraqis themselves. Things will be even worse if the US gets out: right now it's only our military presence that's standing between Iraq and genocidal civil war. Further, an "irresponsible" withdrawal will give heart to terrorism worldwide and threaten the security of people at home.
US Military: Solution or Problem?
It is an agonizing time for all people of conscience in this country. We are appalled by the horrific events occurring in Iraq each day, and inevitably fearful about what may happen tomorrow. There are no guarantees. None of us can predict the future with certainty.
But we do have a guide to help us make our best estimate of future possibilities: the four-year track record of the US invasion and occupation. This record provides overwhelming evidence that the US military presence in Iraq is a central feature of the disaster there rather than part of a solution. Take a few news reports from the last few weeks as examples:
that US snipers regularly set "bait" for Iraqis, leaving an item on
the ground and then shooting to kill anyone who stops to pick it up -
man, woman or child.
Stories about US-employed "security contractors" - unaccountable to any law whatsoever opening fire and killing Iraqi civilians without provocation.
Heightened use of air power - including in densely populated Sadr City - with dozens of civilians killed as a result.
Add these to the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib and the grim statistics accumulated over the last four years: Up to one million Iraqis killed. Almost four million forced to flee from their homes, half to neighboring countries and half displaced within Iraq. Reconstruction projects all behind schedule and mired in corruption while US firms such as Halliburton and DynCorp make millions.
There's nothing in that track record showing that the US occupation prevents violence in Iraq or fosters respectful treatment of the Iraqi people. To the contrary: everything indicates that Washington's presence is a source of violence and brutality.
Iraqis Want US Out
The majority of Iraqis themselves have reached exactly that conclusion. As early as August 2003, just five months after the invasion, a Zogby poll showed two-thirds of Iraqis wanted US and British troops to leave within a year. Two years later, two-thirds of Iraqis wanted foreign troops out either immediately or as soon as the new Iraqi "sovereign" government was established. The latest BBC/ABC poll - taken months after the start of the US "surge" - shows that big majorities think the surge has worsened the security situation and reduced opportunities for dialogue across sectarian lines. Now nearly 50% of Iraqis want immediate withdrawal and more than ever before (57%) say that violence against US troops is acceptable.
Since Iraq belongs after all to the Iraqi people themselves, it would seem only fair - as well as sensible - to heed their opinion. Unfortunately, the US people are bombarded day after day with propaganda that demeans the intelligence and humanity of Iraqis and hypes the notion that "America knows best." But Iraq is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and it is a terrible mistake to underestimate the sophistication of Iraqi political actors and the Iraqi environment. True, by causing so much destruction and spurring the exodus of a high percentage of Iraq's educated classes the US has probably reduced that sophistication (at least in forms of politics that US people recognize). But as a Jordanian who worked for the US Embassy recently told a delegation of US visitors, "I believe the US must leave completely. Iraq will have a difficult and bloody rebirth; it may take 10 or 15 years. But Iraq has enough heritage to recover, to stand on its own two feet. There is no other way."
What About the Sectarian War?
There is a sectarian civil war underway in Iraq. Many of the organized forces involved have reactionary social agendas that offer nothing positive to the Iraqi people as a whole. And it is true that in some specific instances, US troops have prevented specific killings or massacres from taking place. No doubt many US soldiers and officers sincerely see this as a key part of their mission.
But the majority of Iraqis on both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide want the US out because they recognize that fundamentally foreign occupation drives sectarian conflict and fosters the growth of the most reactionary elements. It doesn't heal divisions or promote democracy.
|A group from the SPC bus fortifying themselves to brave the rain in NYC for the October 27 march. Its demand: "US Out of Iraq Now!" Photo: Carol Baum|
The current civil war is not the result of "age-old hatred" between Shia and Sunni, who have lived peacefully in mixed neighborhoods (and religiously mixed families) for centuries. Rather, it is the result of 20th century relations of power and privilege, all shaped by Western colonialism with its divide-and-conquer tactics. After 2003, Sunni-Shia violence was fueled by the decision of the US "Provisional Authority" to set up its client government on a sectarian basis; by US collective punishment of entire Sunni cities (such as Fallujah) for the insurgent activities of initially small groups; and by the US training and supplying Shia death squads in its initial attempts to crush the mostly Sunni insurgency. More recently, the barrage of US propaganda against Iran -Washington raising the danger of a "dangerous Shi'ite crescent" even while backing a mostly Shi'ite and sympathetic-to-Iran government in Baghdad - has compounded the problem. And as long as Washington backs its client regime no matter what, the political figures who lead that regime have no incentive to compromise with their political opponents.
Even with Washington behaving this way, the majority of Iraqis call for national reconciliation. And in contrast to administration distortions, the vast majority of armed attacks in Iraq are against US troops or their Iraqi collaborators, not against Iraqi civilians (though these are often the most publicized and spectacular).
One can perhaps imagine in the abstract an international force that - if it had the support and active cooperation of most Iraqis - could help suppress the sectarian violence spawned by invasion and occupation. But the US military - the invading, occupying and day-to-day repressive power - is not that force.
The Regional Picture
What about the argument that the US presence in Iraq is necessary for "regional stability?"
The very opposite is true. The close-to-two-million Iraqi refugees bring tremendous economic and political strain to neighboring countries. The occupation-driven civil war spreads Sunni-Shia tensions across Iraqi borders. US troops occupying an Arab country fuel anti-US sentiment in a region where it is already at record highs. Frustrations with the actions of northern-Iraq-based Kurdish rebels conducting armed actions in Turkey and Iran threatens to spread war to those countries.
And with each day US troops stay in Iraq the Bush administration ramps up its latest rationalization for war against Iran: the accusation that Iran is responsible for the death of US soldiers in Iraq.
Washington's desperation to stay in Iraq reinforces every backward aspect of its policy region-wide. To make sure massive anti-occupation sentiment among Arab populations does not influence (or overthrow) pro-US governments, Washington ups its aid to police-state governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and elsewhere. To head off a friendly Iraq-Iran-Afghanistan relationship that might lead to regional cooperation outside of US control (like what's happening in Latin America), Washington fans Sunni-Shia tensions. All on top of Bush's blank-check for Israel, whose occupation of Palestinian land has long been at the pivot of Arab and Muslim vs. US conflict.
Fulfilling US Moral Responsibility
For all these reasons, immediate US withdrawal is an absolutely necessary condition for Iraq to move toward peace and self-determination. But it is not sufficient. In the wake of its invasion and occupation, the US does have a moral responsibility to the Iraqi people. How can this country best fulfill that responsibility? By committing itself to pay for the reconstruction of Iraq under Iraqi control and by supporting regional diplomatic efforts to bring peace and development to the Middle East. Even better would be a larger turnabout in US policy, replacing reliance on military force and support for repressive regimes with diplomacy, backing for self-determination and respect for international law (especially concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict).
For all these reasons, this is the time to say more loudly than ever: "Out Now!"