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The Logic of Withdrawal (cont’d)

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Iraq has never been the center of a terrorist threat to the United States. Each month, further evidence emerges that the Bush administration went to great lengths to suppress facts that undermined its case for war, while touting bogus evidence in its support. As the New York Times reported in November 2005, “A top member of Al Qaeda in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency document.”

Al-Qaeda made its first appearance in Iraq only after the invasion, a predictable outcome of the U.S. occupation. In reality, the United States engaged in state terrorism under the pretext of fighting a terrorist threat that did not exist in Iraq, and in the process greatly increased the likelihood of individual and organizational terrorist acts targeting the United States or its proxies abroad.

Even more circular is the idea that the United States has to stay in Iraq until it “defeats” the resistance to the occupation. The occupation itself is the source of the resistance, a fact that even some of the people responsible for the war have been forced to acknowledge.


One of the most cynical reasons for staying in Iraq was advanced by President Bush in response to the growing public criticism over the mounting deaths of U.S. soldiers and the deliberate campaign by the administration to suppress images of the returning coffins. Speaking to a carefully targeted audience in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he fled to escape the protest of Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son, Casey, in Iraq on April 4, 2004, Bush made a rare public acknowledgment of the number of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We owe them something,” he said. “We will finish the task that they gave their lives for. We will honor their sacrifice by staying on the offensive against the terrorists.”

Sheehan herself had the best response to this attempt to manipulate people into supporting continued occupation, asking, “Why should I want one more mother to go through what I’ve gone through, because my son is dead?… I don’t want him using my son’s death or my family’s sacrifice to continue the killing.”

The soldiers in Iraq have not died for a “noble cause,” as Bush claims. Whatever personal motivations may have brought them into the military, they died for oil, for empire, for power and profit. More deaths and injuries of Iraqis and of U.S. soldiers will only compound the tragedy of the numerous lives already lost.


The contractors now in Iraq are not there to help the people of Iraq but to help themselves, drawing on their close ties to influential politicians to secure contracts and profit from what Pratap Chatterjee rightly calls the “reconstruction racket.”

The reality is, Halliburton, Bechtel, and the other companies in Iraq are looting the country far more than they are rebuilding it. Iraqis have been forced to pay elevated prices to import oil, benefiting corporations like Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root, while ordinary Iraqis have to stand in lines sometimes for days to buy gasoline. Project after project remains unfinished. Hospitals are in shambles. Electricity is still at woefully inadequate levels.

As the journalist Naomi Klein eloquently observes, “The United States, having broken Iraq, is not in the process of fixing it. It is merely continuing to break the country and its people by other means, using not only F-16s and Bradleys, but now the less flashy weaponry” of economic strangulation.

The Iraqi people are perfectly capable of rebuilding their own society, in fact far more so than foreign soldiers or contractors. To the extent that there have been any social services or security in the last two years, it is primarily Iraqis who have provided it. During the years of sanctions, Iraqis also showed their immense resourcefulness in holding together their badly damaged infrastructure. Iraqi engineers, teachers, and doctors have long been among the most educated and best trained in the Arab world. It is ultimately a racist worldview that believes Iraqis cannot rebuild or run their own country.


Understandably, many opponents of the war now believe that the United States has an obligation to the Iraqi people and therefore has to stay to “clean up the mess it has created.”, which grabbed headlines and signed up millions of online members with its anti-Bush campaigning, refuses to call for withdrawal of troops from Iraq because, in the words of its executive director, Eli Pariser, “There are no good options in Iraq.” Using this same logic, leading anti-sanctions and antiwar groups such as the Education for Peace in Iraq Center have formally adopted positions in support of occupation, if somehow a more enlightened occupation, and therefore against immediate withdrawal.

We must confront the bizarre logic of saying that the people who have devastated Iraq, who encouraged and enforced sanctions that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in the last decade, who have failed at even the most basic responsibilities as an occupying power, who are the source of the instability in Iraq today, are the only ones who can protect Iraqis from hunger and anarchy. In no other area of our lives do we accept such logic, but when it comes to the crimes of empire, we are supposed to continually ignore history. The “doctrine of good intentions” exculpates all crimes.

The reality, however, is that the U.S. occupation, rather than being a source of stability in Iraq, is the major source of instability and ongoing suffering.

Moreover, those calling for immediate withdrawal do not advocate a position of isolationism and of simply walking away from any obligation to the Iraqi people. Does the U.S. government have an obligation to the Iraqi people? Absolutely. An obligation for the crimes Washington supported for years when Saddam Hussein was an ally. For arming and supporting both sides in the brutal Iran-Iraq War. For the destruction of the 1991 Gulf War. For the use of depleted uranium munitions, cluster bombs, daisy cutters, and white phosphorus. For the devastating sanctions. For the humiliation and deaths caused by the 2003 invasion, and for the great damage the occupation has caused since.

But the first step in meeting this obligation is to withdraw immediately.

If there were any genuine justice for the people of Iraq, not only would the politicians responsible for this unjust war face prosecution for their crimes, but the U.S. government would be required to pay reparations to the Iraqi people and to the families of U.S. soldiers who have been maimed and killed by its criminal actions.

In demanding an end to the U.S. occupation, we do not need to call for some other occupying power to replace the United States. We should allow the people of Iraq to determine their own future. This means, as Naomi Klein has argued, that in addition to calling for an end to military occupation, we should be calling for an end to the economic occupation of Iraq and the cancellation of all debts that Iraq still owes from the previous regime (many of which still have not been forgiven). If the Iraqis ask for outside assistance, that is their prerogative. But it is their decision, not ours, to make, and that decision can only be freely made if the United States, United Kingdom, and other occupying armies withdraw completely and end their economic, political, and military coercion of Iraq.

This article is adapted from Anthony Arnove’s forthcoming book Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, due out on April 18 from The New Press.

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