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Anthony Arnove on the logic of withdrawal
Why the U.S. has to get out of Iraq now

March 31, 2006 | Pages 6 and 7

ANTHONY ARNOVE is the co-editor with Howard Zinn of Voices of a People's History, an editorial board member of the International Socialist Review and a long-time contributor to Socialist Worker. Here, he discusses the themes of his new book Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, published by the New Press and available at bookstores now.

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THE THIRD anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq just passed. Has the U.S. liberated Iraq?

IRAQ HAS not been liberated. It has been subjected to a colonial occupation that is tearing the country apart and making life hell for the vast majority of Iraqis.

Conservatively, since the invasion, there have been at least 98,000 "excess" Iraqi deaths, according to the highly respected medical journal The Lancet. This study, it is important to note, excluded the deaths of Iraqis in Falluja, the area of the most intense U.S. attacks.

And it's not just deaths. It's the torture of hundreds of Iraqis, if not thousands. It's the more than 14,000 people who are still being detained--many held for more than a year, or in some cases more than two years, without any due process.

It's the people whose homes are raided, the people who have been humiliated and harassed, the women afraid to leave their homes, the parents afraid to send their children to school, the people who have less power even than under United Nations sanctions prior to the invasion, less access to safe drinking water.

If you look back over this occupation, at each six-month marker, the situation is worse. You think it can't get worse, but it does. And it will continue to get worse if the United States stays.

WHAT ARE the real interests of the U.S. government in maintaining the occupation?

IRAQ IS of strategic value to the U.S. government for two reasons: oil and geography.

Iraq has the world's second-largest oil reserves and sits in a region with two-thirds of global oil reserves, as well as increasingly important natural gas resources.

The United States has been committed for decades to controlling Middle Eastern oil. That strategic commitment has increased in recent years, as supplies have declined and oil has become more and more expensive to extract from the earth (Iraq, by contrast, still has some of the highest grade and cheapest oil to extract in the world).

Key economic and political--and potential military--rivals to the United States actually import far more of their energy from the Middle East than the United States does. Washington is determined to prevent China and India and other countries from becoming "peer competitors," as they are called in U.S. national security documents.

In other words, the United States wants to be the country best able to use oil as a weapon against other countries.

Washington elites understand that hegemony in the Middle East is essential for global hegemony. So now that the U.S. government is in Iraq and has made all these claims about how Iraq would become part of a broad democratic transition in the Middle East, the credibility of the United States as an imperial power is at stake.

The ability of the United States to intervene politically, economically and militarily in the affairs of other countries around the world depends on the legitimacy of its power.

For years after the U.S. defeat in the Vietnam War, the imperial might of the United States was constrained. Washington war planners have been trying to remove those barriers, but they now risk creating an "Iraq syndrome." So they have a lot on the line, and have a tremendous amount at stake in "winning" the war in Iraq.

THE MAINSTREAM media constantly refer to Iraqis who oppose the occupation as "terrorists" or "Saddam loyalists" or "religious fanatics." What are the actual reasons for the resistance?

PEOPLE HAVE every right to resist having their country illegally invaded and occupied. To resist having their cities wrapped in barbed wire and put under curfew. To resist having their homes raided, having racist graffiti scrawled on their homes, being arrested and tortured for the crime of being Iraqi.

If you ask U.S. soldiers why Iraqis are resisting the occupation, many have a much clearer picture than the one we get in the U.S. media. "If someone invaded Texas, we'd do the same thing," observed one soldier, Lt. Col. Kim Keslung.

Iraqis have a long history of resisting colonial occupation, so it really should come as no surprise that they should be opposing another foreign power claiming to be their liberators.

THE U.S. has stoked sectarian conflict in Iraq as part of a "divide-and-rule" strategy. Is Iraq headed toward a civil war?

THE LONGER the U.S. occupation of Iraq continues, the greater the chances are that Iraq will have a civil war. There is nothing inevitable about this, but we certainly can't rule it out.

Shia and Sunni have lived side by side in Iraq, worked together and intermarried for decades, with nothing remotely like the sectarian conflict we now see breaking out in Iraq. The more than 12 years of United Nations sanctions, driven by the United States, and the 2003 invasion and occupation have badly undermined secular and nationalist currents in Iraq, and fueled sectarian and reactionary religious groups.

After years of arming the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein, the United States now is arming Kurdish and Shia militias that have carried out murderous attacks on Sunnis, provoking reprisal attacks. The new government set up by the United States is based on sectarian and ethnic principles, further encouraging the conditions that could lead to civil war.

But the main conflict in Iraq today remains the one between pro-occupation and anti-occupation forces, not between Sunni and Shia, as the establishment media would have us think.

Most Iraqis remain strongly opposed to the occupation. And the main source of violence today remains the U.S., UK, and allied international occupation forces.

SOME PEOPLE say that the U.S. shouldn't withdraw immediately because this would cause more violence and instability, and ultimately make things worse for ordinary Iraqis. What's the case for immediate withdrawal?

THE INVASION of Iraq has made the world a far more unstable and dangerous place.

It has been disastrous for the Iraqi people and has needlessly claimed the lives of more than 2,300 U.S. soldiers--disproportionately young men from small towns across this country with little economic opportunity. And it has increased the likelihood of civil war.

But the United States has no right to be in Iraq in the first place. The war was sold to a skeptical public through a series of lies--about weapons of mass destruction, al-Qaeda's links to Iraq and so on--that were meant to justify denying Iraq's sovereignty. None of those claims was true.

But now we have a new set of lies. Once the big lies about al-Qaeda and WMD were exposed, the Bush administration found a new mantra: We are bringing democracy to Iraq. We are rebuilding Iraq. We are preventing civil war.

We have seen a revival of the white-man's-burden argument that was used to justify the British, French and earlier colonial empires. This is the idea that we have to "bring democracy" to backward peoples to civilize them.

But the occupation is the opposite of genuine democracy and self-determination for the Iraqi people. This colonial occupation, like earlier ones in history, uses democracy only as a pretext, while actually working to deny Iraqis a genuine role in determining their own future.

If there were genuine democracy--if it were up to Iraqis--the first thing that would happen is that the United States and its international coalition partners would be forced to leave Iraq. The second thing is that Iraqi oil would be renationalized.

Poll after poll has shown that the vast majority of Iraqis want the occupation to end immediately, and that they see U.S. and coalition troops as occupiers not liberators.

In a Gallup poll conducted not too long after the invasion, in fact, only 1 percent of Iraqis said they thought the aim of the U.S. invasion was to "bring democracy" and 5 percent thought it was to "help the Iraqi people." That's about the same number of African Americans in the United States--2 percent--who approve of the job President Bush is doing.

When asked the real reasons for the invasion, most Iraqis felt the reasons had to do with oil and a reordering of the Middle East to further entrench U.S. and Israeli interests. And in that view, they are certainly right.

The United States didn't invade Iraq because of WMD or human rights or democracy, but because it saw an opportunity after 9/11 to gain further control over the oil-rich Middle East, and to extend its hegemony in the region and thereby the world.

EVEN THOUGH public opinion has shifted decisively against the war, the antiwar movement hasn't grown in numbers or confidence. What needs to be done to move forward?

AN ENORMOUS gap exists between the level of antiwar sentiment and the degree to which that sentiment has been organized into protest--especially the kind of protest that could have an impact on the people in Washington who are prosecuting this war.

The antiwar movement has made a series of missteps--the biggest of which was throwing so much of its energy into trying to elect a pro-war candidate, John Kerry, in the last presidential election.

The Democrats are not an antiwar party and are not going to be the standard-bearers of the anti-occupation message. They are as committed to winning the war in Iraq as the Republicans are. They have only tactical differences over how best to do it.

A number of antiwar groups are now repeating the mistake they made with Kerry by focusing their energies on the mid-term congressional elections. That strategy is one major reason we didn't have a national coordinated demonstration on the third anniversary of the occupation, which was a serious mistake.

The antiwar movement has also downplayed politics, to its detriment, thinking somehow that we'll reach a mythical, nonexistent "Middle America" if we drain our movement of any political content.

But you can't explain what is happening in Iraq, in the Middle East, or in the broader "war on terror," without talking about politics. You need politics to be able to counter all the arguments about why we can't pull the troops out of Iraq. And you can't build an effective antiwar movement in this country without challenging the anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia that have been used to sell this war.

But there are real signs that we can turn the tide. On their own, people are turning against the war and getting to the point where they want to take action.

While the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have now cost more than $300 billion and the Pentagon's annual budget is more than $400 billion, budgets for early childhood education programs, health care, day care, libraries and basic social services are being slashed drastically around the country.

We need to involve larger numbers of people facing budget cuts, attacks on their jobs and unions, and violations of their civil liberties, as well as more and more soldiers and veterans, and family and friends of those in the military, to demand all foreign troops in Iraq be brought home now.

Unions and city councils have passed resolutions against the occupation that can serve as models for raising the issue of the war and occupation in our workplaces and communities.

Recruitment for the military is down, especially among African Americans, which shows that counter-recruitment efforts are beginning to have an impact. This also explains why there have been such intense attacks on counter-recruitment activities of groups like the Campus Antiwar Network.

People's views on the war in Iraq, like during Vietnam, are correlated strongly to race and class. The less money you earn, the more likely you are to oppose the war. Seventy-nine percent of African Americans think the war in Iraq was a mistake.

Millions of people sympathize with the aims of the antiwar movement, but have not yet been mobilized for actions. We need to find ways to involve these wider audiences in our movement, and to connect local actions with coordinated national actions that can help people to overcome the pervasive sense of isolation and atomization that so many feel.

So we really need to fight on many fronts: supporting counter-recruitment, confronting government and military officials about the human costs of this war and the lies they use to justify it, exposing war profiteers, encouraging and protecting soldiers who speak out and who resist their orders or service, working with veterans groups and military families' groups.

We can end this war. The future of the world, not just Iraq, depends on it.

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