As the United States and its allies debate how to salvage the disastrous occupation of Iraq, many ideas have been put forward of how to move forward, from sending more troops, to partitioning the country, to redeploying all troops to Kurdistan or to neighboring countries.
But the one option no one is seriously considering is the one that makes the most sense: withdrawal and an end to the occupation.
The reality is, the longer the occupation continues, the worse things get for most Iraqis. Rather than being the solution to Iraqi troubles, the occupation is the problem. Indeed, The arguments for why the Unites States and its partners cannot leave Iraq are just as specious as the claims that were used to get us into Iraq in the first place.
The occupation is not preventing civil war from breaking out, but instead is fueling sectarian conflict and increasing the chance of the current low-level civil war breaking out into afar more bloody one.
And the coalition is not fighting terrorism in Iraq, but fueling reactionary and fundamentalist currents that will encourage terrorism, while also routinely using terrorist methods against Iraqi civilians, as we have seen not only in Haditha, Mahmoudiya, and Abu Ghraib but in the two sieges of Falluja.
Despite all the rhetoric about spreading democracy, the actual U.S. interests in Iraq are different. Washington is constructing the largest U.S. embassy in the world in Baghdad, is building bases it hopes will be permanent, and has already rewritten Iraq’s laws to favor long-term economic penetration of the country, which sits in a region with two-thirds of global oil reserves and high concentrations of natural gas reserves, as well.
So far, the U.S. goal of establishing a stable client regime in Iraq and using that as a base from which to project power in the region, and globally, has backfired badly. Tens of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of U.S. and British soldiers have lost their lives needlessly, and, today there is less electricity, less access to safe drinking war, less security than under sanctions and dictatorship.
But we should not count on the war’s managers to see the folly of their project on their own accord.
By 1968, especially after the Tet Offensive, it was clear to many that the United States had been defeated in Vietnam. Rather than retreat, the U.S. escalated its violence against the people of Vietnam, expanded the war to Laos and Cambodia, and continued to prosecute the war for years more, with disastrous consequences.
We now see a similar logic motivating the recent US support for Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, and the mounting threats against Iran and Syria. The US is pursuing a policy of regional destabilization, hoping to shirt the regional balance of power to one more favorable to its interests.
But today much more is at stake in Iraq than was at stake in Vietnam in 1968. War planners who hoped its invasion of Iraq would bury the so-called Vietnam syndrome once and for all now worry that a defeat in Iraq would create a far greater impediment to Washington’s ability to impose its will around the globe.
We are likely, therefore, to see more troops going to Iraq, despite the optimistic projections of troop reductions this year, more deadly counterinsurgency operations, and greater use of air power. These tactics will in turn only increase Iraqi suffering and anger.
Meanwhile, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have made the world a more dangerous and unstable place, not a safer one. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has fueled a global arms race, as countries seek to develop a deterrent to regime changes engineered in Washington, bringing us closer to the likelihood of nuclear war or accident.
It is now clear that immediate withdrawal is the only sensible solution.
The demand to end the occupation of Iraq needs to be coupled with a demand for reparations. The West’s debt stems not only from the destruction caused by the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation but the years of sanctions that harmed ordinary Iraqis not elites, and the years before that when Western governments supported Saddam Hussein as he carried out his worst human rights abuses.
The people of Iraq can do a far better job rebuilding their country than Kellogg Brown & Root and the other contractors profiting from the occupation.
To those who say withdrawal will lead to chaos and civil war, the question is: if this is not chaos and civil war, what is?
Anthony Arnove is the author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, available January 2007 in paperback from Metropolitan Books.