Over the last few weeks, Iraq coverage in the U.S. media has focused on funding. On May 1, Bush vetoed the Iraq spending supplemental because it would necessitate an “artificial withdrawal.” Then last week, Democrats, while simultaneously declaring victory, caved in to Bush’s aggression and provided more war-funding than he requested. Congress’ lone requirement was mandating benchmarks for the Iraqi government, however, the funds will be available regardless of Iraqi governmental performance. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continued the anti-war rhetoric, saying “I think the president’s policy is going to unravel now,” but the words seem empty.
Away from the media’s gaze toward partisan politics, however, a much more significant story was developing in Baghdad that essentially went unreported. On May 8, a majority of Iraq’s parliament signed a petition demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops.
But the United States isn’t listening to that message, much less heeding it. Press briefings at the State Department and the White House haven’t touched on the topic. In lockstep with the Bush administration, the U.S. media ignored the story until some reporting in the alternative media such as AlterNet and criticism on blogs finally compelled them to report it. Five days after the fact, the New York Times buried the story in the middle of its front section and focused on secondary points of the petition – specifically, the readiness of Iraqi security forces – that cast the parliament more in line with the Bush administration than the Democratic Party.
Nearly as swiftly as the majority petition was signed, and in fear that U.S. support in Congress was waning, an opposing Iraqi delegation of U.S.-friendly senior officials and ministers was dispatched to lobby some of the most influential foreign policy members of Congress for continued military presence. Not surprisingly, the U.S. media reported this immediately.
The parliamentary petition is the first step in making the initiative binding. Under Iraqi law, the speaker of the parliament must present a binding resolution for a parliamentary vote when a majority of lawmakers pass a petition. Up to this point, petitions on withdrawal have fallen just short of the 138 votes required to pass. The most recent attempt occurred last fall when the parliament was able to capture only 131 signatures. (The U.S. media was quick to report that failure.) The push over the threshold this time indicates that the parliament is catching up with Iraqi citizens who, according to multiple public opinion polls, overwhelmingly want the United States out of Iraq. A poll from the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes found 71 percent of Iraqis want the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The Bush administration ignoring the petition calls attention yet again to that it is arrogant enough to leave Iraqis out of the decision-making of their own country. And by deeming irrelevant the elected officials who put the petition in motion, the administration contradicts its only remaining argument for invading Iraq in the first place – to bring democracy to the Middle East, starting with Iraq.
More tellingly, disregarding the petition – and constantly threatening to veto any legislation that mandates withdrawal – highlights the Bush administration’s intent to stay. Withdrawal is a question not worth contemplating as far as the administration is concerned and isn’t on the table for earnest discussion. This explains why the administration sidestepped the Iraqi parliament’s petition and why Bush absolutely refused to accept any legislative oversight of the occupation’s progress.
Consider the evidence. More than a dozen extensive military bases are being built. Meanwhile, the soon-to-be-completed U.S. embassy in Baghdad, consisting of 27 buildings on more than 100 acres, has more employees than all of the other U.S. embassies around the world combined. Up to this point, according to the Government Accountability Office, the U.S. has spent more than $300 billion in military operations in Iraq. This year alone, the United States is spending $10 billion each month and conservative estimates indicate that over the next 10 years more than an additional $500 billion will be spent.
These are not the costs and plans for an overnight stay. Or even a five-year program abroad. These are the price tags of empire building.