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"The U.S. occupation is the major source of violence and chaos in Iraq"
The case for immediate withdrawal

December 15, 2006 | Pages 4 and 5

ANTHONY ARNOVE is the author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, which will be available January 9 in an updated paperback edition from the American Empire Project with a foreword by Howard Zinn. Anthony is on the editorial board of Haymarket Books and the International Socialist Review. Here, he answers Socialist Worker's questions about the Iraq Study Group report.

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GEORGE BUSH still talks about the U.S. staying in Iraq until the "mission is completed." Is that a serious possibility?

BUSH'S POLICY is: when in a hole, keep digging. The real question is how many more Iraqis and how many more U.S. soldiers will die before the U.S. is defeated in Iraq.

All the signs suggest that the endgame in Iraq is likely to be long and very bloody. Iraq and the Middle East are so strategically important to the United States that neither the Republicans or the Democrats are willing to withdraw and admit defeat.

What else to read

Anthony Arnove's Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal will be republished in January in an updated paperback edition, with a new introduction by Howard Zinn. Anthony is also editor of the book Iraq Under Siege and coeditor, with Howard Zinn, of Voices of a People's History of the United States.

Anthony writes regularly for the International Socialist Review--see his recent contribution, with Tariq Ali, titled "Iraqis must decide how to resist occupation."

For an indispensable source of reports and analysis about unfolding events in Iraq and the wider Middle East, read Dahr Jamail's MidEast Dispatches Web site.

Riverbend, a young Iraqi woman, has written an Internet blog called Baghdad Burning throughout the U.S. occupation, offering an eyewitness account of what life is like for ordinary Iraqis. Her commentaries have been collected into the books Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq and Baghdad Burning II: More Girl Blog from Iraq.


A defeat in Iraq would be more disastrous for the United States than its defeat in Vietnam, especially given the claims that the Iraq invasion would bury once and for all the Vietnam Syndrome. Washington also claimed that Iraq would be part of a regional transformation of the entire Middle East.

Having invaded Iraq intending to weaken Iran and Syria, and to strengthen its position and that of Israel and its Arab allies in the region, the United States instead has achieved the opposite.

THE MAIN suggestion from the Iraq Study Group (ISG) seems to be that the U.S. should threaten to withdraw economic and military support from the Iraqi government if it fails to establish security in the country. What do you think of this suggestion?

READING THE Iraq Study Group report feels at times like reading the notes that a school principal sends home about a kid who is misbehaving at school. The level of condescension is stunning.

The ISG report explicitly states that "the absence of national reconciliation" is "the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq." Actually, the main source of violence in Iraq today is not the absence of national reconciliation--it is the occupation, which distorts every aspect of Iraqi society.

On one hand, this is simply blame-the-victim politics. On the other hand, the ISG is clearly looking to provide cover for the failures of the Bush administration.

The racist story now being prepared is that the United States intervened to bring democracy to Iraq, but we were overly ambitious. Iraqis--and Arab and Muslims more generally--we are told, "have no tradition of democracy," are from a "sick society," a "broken society."

In a much-lauded speech, Sen. Barack Obama, the great hope of liberal Democrats, couched his criticism of the Bush administration's policy in a call for "no more coddling" of the Iraqi government. The United States "is not going to hold together this country indefinitely," he explained, adding, "We should be more modest in our belief that we can impose democracy."

Richard Perle, former chair of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, one of the main neoconservative enthusiasts of the invasion of Iraq, now says that he "underestimated the depravity" of the Iraqis.

The ISG report chides that "the Iraqi people and their leaders have been slow to demonstrate their capacity or will to act," and therefore, the U.S. "must not make an open-ended commitment" to them. What this also ignores, of course, is that the vast majority of Iraqis have made it known that they want U.S. troops to leave.

THIS SEEMS to be one thing the Republicans and Democrats agree on--that Iraqis themselves are to blame for sectarian violence, not anything the U.S. has done.

RATHER THAN stemming civil or sectarian conflict, the occupation is spurring it. And rather than being a source of stability, the occupation is the major source of instability and chaos in Iraq.

As Michael Schwartz points out, "Instead of entering a violent city and restoring order, [U.S. forces] enter a relatively peaceful city and create violence."

Even the ISG report notes that Operation Together Forward II, which redeployed thousands of U.S. troops to Baghdad in August 2006, achieved the opposite of its stated goal: "Violence in Baghdad--already at high levels--jumped more than 43 percent between the summer and October 2006."

The U.S. set up a political framework in Iraq that has entrenched and intensified sectarian identities. It has also armed militias and disguised some of its own operations as those of religious groups, sowing more enmity and encouraging reprisal attacks. Each day the occupation continues, civil and sectarian conflict in Iraq gets worse.

WHAT ABOUT the proposal for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, but an increase in U.S. trainers and advisers embedded with Iraqi military forces?

THE IDEA that the training of Iraqi troops can be improved, a major recommendation of the ISG report, suggests that the solution to the crisis of the U.S. occupation in Iraq is technical.

But the root of resistance to U.S occupation is political. As long as the U.S. remains an occupying power, the police and military will continue to be seen as collaborators and illegitimate. No amount of trainers can change that. The timetable of the ISG report also suggests that more trainers can somehow do in one or two years what the U.S. military has been completely unable to do in the last three years.

But even these proposals are so conditional that they allow for U.S. combat troops to remain in Iraq indefinitely, under the cover of so-called rapid reaction, counter-terrorism or force protection operations.

The ISG report explicitly rejects setting any deadline or timetable for withdrawal of troops and asserts the need for a "considerable military presence in the region, with our still significant force in Iraq and with our powerful air, ground and naval deployments in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, as well as an increased presence in Afghanistan" for years to come.

ANOTHER FEATURE in the ISG report is the idea that the U.S. should use diplomacy to get Iraq's neighbors, especially Iran and Syria, to use their influence to quell the violence in Iraq.

IT'S WORTH pointing out that Bush immediately rejected the report's call to negotiate with Iran and Syria. As the Wall Street Journal reported: "A senior administration official said the White House doesn't feel bound by the report and is unlikely to implement many of its recommendations, especially regarding calls for diplomatic outreach to U.S. foes Syria and Iran."

The idea behind the ISG recommendation of engaging Iraq's neighbors is that that the root of resistance to U.S. occupation in Iraq is foreign, rather than indigenous--much as we were told that the popular resistance of the Vietnamese to U.S. state terrorism was directed by Moscow and Beijing.

This is an echo of Bush's delusional world view, in which Iran and Syria, and groups such as al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, are the main source of violence in Iraq. This baseless theory then leads to the equally baseless idea that the U.S. will somehow stabilize Iraq through talks with two governments it is committed to overthrowing.

Bush has repeatedly said that a precondition for talking to Iran is a suspension of the country's legal nuclear enrichment program, something that Iran has no reason to agree to in advance of negotiations.

At any rate, even if talks do take place, Iran and Syria are not the master of events in Iraq, which are driven by the internal politics and the dynamics of the U.S. occupation.

WHAT DO you think of the proposal put forward by some Democrats for redeployment of U.S. troops "over the horizon"? Should the antiwar movement look favorably on this proposal?

REDEPLOYMENT IS a dangerous proposal that the antiwar movement should reject. It merely means shifting some U.S. personnel to other military bases in the region--where they can be quickly mobilized for action in Iraq--and most likely shifting to greater reliance on air power in Iraq and the region to pursue U.S. imperial objectives.

As defined by some proposals, "redeployment" also envisions continued military presence in Iraq itself.

On November 14, Sen. Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat considered to be at the extreme left end of the party's elected officials, introduced a bill "requiring U.S. forces to redeploy from Iraq by July 1, 2007."

But the plan itself calls for keeping troops in Iraq, and continuing the occupation. "My legislation," Feingold wrote, "would allow for a minimal level of U.S. forces to remain in Iraq for targeted counterterrorism activities, training of Iraqi security forces, and the protection of U.S. infrastructure and personnel."

What "U.S. infrastructure" is there in Iraq? This is imperialist doublespeak at its worst.

ONE PROPOSAL that doesn't seem to get much play in the study group report is the idea that Iraq should be partitioned--into a Kurdish north, a Shia south and a Sunni area, with a weak central government, or no central government at all. What do you think of this idea?

ALTHOUGH THE ISG didn't recommend partition as a strategy, it remains a real possibility as the crisis in Iraq unfolds, and as the U.S. looks for various ways to manage its defeat.

The deteriorating situation on the ground has encouraged some analysts and politicians--including Sen. Joseph Biden, who will be chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January--to call for the breakup of Iraq into three independent countries, or three relatively autonomous territories within a loosely federated state.

But such a division of Iraq could only be accomplished by massive ethnic cleansing. The largest urban concentration of Kurds in Iraq is not in the northern zone that would likely make up a future Kurdish enclave or state, but in Baghdad. Most cities described by reporters as "Sunni strongholds" or "Shia townships" have mixed populations, with significant minorities of Sunni, Shia, Turkmen, Kurds or Assyrians.

Also the Sunni state that would likely emerge from the division of the country would be significantly impoverished compared to its oil-rich southern and northern neighbors, a recipe for ongoing war.

SOME PEOPLE who are genuinely opposed to what the U.S. has done in Iraq nevertheless believe it should maintain some kind of presence, to clean up the mess it caused. What do you think of this idea?

THIS IS the idea that "we broke it, we fix it." But all that continued occupation is doing is breaking the country even further.

"Iraq is the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world," according to Refugee International: Nearly 2 million Iraqis have fled the country entirely, while at least another 500,000 are internally displaced.

Basic foods and necessities are beyond the reach of ordinary Iraqis because of massive inflation. "A gallon of gasoline cost as little as 4 cents in November," the New York Times notes. "Now, after the International Monetary Fund pushed the Oil Ministry to cut its subsidies, the official price is about 67 cents. The spike has come as a shock to Iraqis, who make only about $150 a month on average--if they have jobs."

October 2006 proved to be the bloodiest month of the entire occupation, with more than 6,000 civilians killed in Iraq--most in Baghdad, where thousands of additional U.S. troops were sent in August with the claim that they would restore order and stability.

United Nations special investigator Manfred Nowak notes that torture "is totally out of hand" in Iraq. "The situation is so bad that many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein."

And none of the reconstruction money is actually going to rebuild schools or hospitals or roads. It's just lining the pockets of corporate contractors with close ties to the Bush administration. The level of corruption of foreign contractors in Iraq is stunning.

That does not mean that the United States has no obligation to the Iraqi people. It absolutely does. It can fulfill that obligation by, first, ending the occupation--and then by a serious and generous program of reparations to the Iraqi people, who are far better able to rebuild their own country than Halliburton or KBR.

ANTIWAR ORGANIZATIONS are looking ahead to a national demonstration in Washington on January 27, and there seems to be more energy since the November elections. What do you think the next steps are for the movement?

JANUARY 27 will be a very important chance to demand immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. We have to be sure we do not for one moment let the Democrats off the hook.

The public did not vote for more money for the Pentagon (as incoming Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada immediately promised, announcing a plan to give $75 billion more to the Pentagon), for more "oversight" of the war (the main Democratic Party buzzword these days), or for more troops (as Texas Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes, the incoming chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has demanded), but to begin bringing the troops home.

We are still only at the beginning of organizing the kind of opposition we need to affect the course of the war decisively. But the conditions exist for building a mass movement.

A clear majority of active-duty U.S. troops want to come home, as a much-ignored Zogby International poll found in early 2005, with 72 percent saying they wanted to be out of Iraq by the end of 2006. Groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War are pushing for immediate withdrawal, as well as reparations. We need to support their work and also those individual soldiers who are speaking out.

We need to keep up our pressure on military recruiters, which has already had an impact of the military's ability to prosecute and expand the war. And we need to raise the costs of this war for U.S. elites, to the point that they recognize they are not only losing this war in the streets of Baghdad and Basra, but of Baltimore and Birmingham.

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