Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 26 March 2007

Momentum grows to stop Iraq war

Last week’s vote in the US House of Representatives to set a deadline to withdraw American troops in Iraq signals a critical mass has been reached in the campaign against the occupation of that country.      


The campaign against the American occupation of Iraq took a step forward last Friday when the United States’ House of Representatives voted to set a timetable of 1 September 2008 for most American troops to be withdrawn from that country.

According to the bill, withdrawal could be even faster if certain benchmarks are not met, such as progress by the Iraqi government on beefing up security.

Troop withdrawal will not necessarily follow this bill’s passage. The Senate also has to adopt a similar bill and that may not happen.  Also, the U.S. President George Bush can veto the bill, and has already indicated he will do so.

And if he use his veto, each house of Congress needs a two-thirds vote to override it.  That kind of majority is unlikely.

There were only 218 votes for the bill, the minimum number needed to have it passed.  Nevertheless, last Friday’s vote has a huge symbolic significance.  It marked the determination of the Democrats, who narrowly control both houses, to make use of their new-found power to oppose Bush’s conduct of the war.

Even more, it signaled that American public opinion and protests against the war has reached a critical mass.  It is this mounting public pressure that pushed the Democrats to do something in Congress, after the anti-war sentiments got them the majority in both Houses in last year’s elections. 

The continued foreign occupation of Iraq must now be the most unpopular policy in the world. The fourth anniversary of the start of the invasion of Iraq was marked two weeks ago with demonstrations in many countries.

The situation remains deadly in Iraq.  Last week, the United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, on his visit to Baghdad, declared that the situation has improved. 

But his message was dramatically scuttled when a few seconds later he ducked as a mortar landed barely a hundred yards from where he was holding a press conference in the protected “Green Zone”.

The statistics tell an awful story.  Since 2003, between 58,000 and 655,000 Iraqis are estimated to have been killed, many more injured, and thousands imprisoned, while 4 million have left their homes (half of them having left the country).  Much of the infrastructure is in ruins, unemployment is high, and violence is prevalent.

Global public opinion is now impatient for the U.S. administration to admit that its Iraq adventure was a mistake and that it has a clear roadmap to end it quickly.

Four myths on why the U.S. should remain in Iraq have been countered by New York University professor Stephen Cohen in the latest edition of the New York-based magazine The Nation.

Firstly, it is not true that a US exit soon will result in a failed Iraqi state (plunging the country into civil war) because that has already occurred, precisely because of the U.S. invasion.

Secondly, it is said an American withdrawal must await US-led regional diplomacy to stabilize Iraq and have a wider Middle East settlement. But diplomacy cannot stop the violence in Iraq and few Arab governments can accommodate the U.S. when it remains in Iraq.  Thus useful diplomacy is possible only when withdrawal has begun.

Thirdly, some argue that US withdrawal will expand Iran’s influence and Iraq’s sectarian strife throughout the region.  But that too has already occurred, and U.S. withdrawal is needed to reverse these developments.

Finally, it is said America is morally obliged to “stay the course” to help the Iraqi people.  But given the horrors unleashed on those people since the invasion, the only moral course is withdrawal, with a pledge to fund reconstruction. Most Iraqi people favour an immediate US withdrawal and 80% in a survey believed it would reduce violence in their country.

However, instead of starting withdrawal, as advised by even senior U.S. establishment figures, Bush is sending even more troops.

In a cogent conclusion, Cohen says the real lesson of the tragedy is that the U.S. “does not have the right, wisdom or power to invade and occupy another country, still less an ancient civilization, with the ultimate purpose of redirecting the nation and its civilization.

“Such a mission will never result in any kind of victory, only the morally toxic political and humanitarian catastrophes we are witnessing and, if allowed to continue, crimes not soon forgotten or forgiven…Determined and complete withdrawal is now a moral imperative – the only way to begin redeeming our nation for its role in the death and destruction in Iraq.”

More Americans are now thinking like Cohen, and hopefully the numbers will grow until there is no option but for an end to the occupation of Iraq.