The New Lie to Justify Endless War

Around 70 percent of Americans oppose the war in Iraq and want U.S. troops home. But less than half that number support immediate withdrawal. Most people say they want a phased withdrawal from Iraq–to prevent chaos from erupting in the wake of a U.S. pullout.

This gap shouldn’t be so surprising. George Bush, leading Democrats and the media all predict catastrophe after an immediate withdrawal. “If we were to leave before the job is done, chaos would ensue, innocent people would lose their life, extremists would be emboldened,” Bush declared. “The countries of the Middle East would be endangered, and that would cause America to be endangered, as well.”

Neocons Robert Kagan and William Kristol challenged advocates of withdrawal, asking, “How would they respond to the eruption of full-blown civil war in Iraq and the massive ethnic cleansing it would produce? How would they respond to the intervention of Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran, Syria and Turkey?

“And most important, what would they propose to do if, as a result of our withdrawal and the collapse of Iraq, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups managed to establish safe haven from which to launch attacks against the United States and it allies.”

In fact, with each one of the original justifications for the Iraq war now in tatters, predictions of a disaster to come if the U.S. leaves have become the principle justification for continuing the occupation.

Far from dissenting, Democratic Party leaders say much the same about Iraq. At a recent debate, Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama and John Edwards all refused to promise that U.S. troops would be out of Iraq by the end of their first term–all, apparently, because of the ominous dangers of withdrawal.

Some of their justifications for continued occupation are just plain bizarre.

Remember, for example, that there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq until after the U.S. occupation began. Iraq didn’t have a sectarian civil war between its people until the U.S. pitted Kurds, Shia and Sunni against one another to maintain its grip on the country.

And the U.S. has done much, much more to destabilize the region. It went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. It endorsed Israel’s war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. It backs Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine. And it is rallying the region’s Sunni states for a possible war on Iran.

Just as they lied to get support for the war in the first place, the leaders of the U.S. political and military establishment are lying to rally support for a continued occupation.

What are the facts about the situation in Iraq?

To listen to U.S. officials tell it, you would think that al-Qaeda is the main element of the Iraqi resistance to the U.S. occupation–and if the U.S. were to withdraw, al-Qaeda would establish a Sunni caliphate in Iraq and threaten the region and beyond. “Leaving Iraq now,” Bush warns, would “allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan…People aren’t just going to be content with driving America out of Iraq. Al-Qaeda wants to hurt us here.”

This couldn’t be more wrong. Al-Qaeda is a minority of the resistance. Some U.S. generals estimate it only has some 500 fighters. Most Sunni and all Shia resistance organizations have repeatedly denounced al-Qaeda.

As antiwar writers Raed Jarrar and Joshua Holland put it, “Al-Qaeda is universally detested by large majorities of Iraqis of all ethnic and sectarian backgrounds because of its fundamentalist interpretation of religious law and efforts to set up a separate Sunnis state. Its only support–and it obviously does enjoy some support–is based solely on its opposition to the deeply unpopular U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.”

A BBC poll of Iraqis confirms this picture. Almost half said they approved of al-Qaeda’s attacks on coalition troops, but only one in 100 support its fundamentalist and separatist agenda.

Qasim Al-Jumali, a former member of Falluja’s city council, argues that in an independent Iraq, support for al-Qaeda would evaporate. “If the U.S. was to pull out from Iraq and Iraqis have a national government instead of the puppet one now, Iraqis with their government and tribal leaders would quickly eliminate al-Qaeda from all Iraq,” he said.

The claim that al-Qaeda will use Iraq as a base to harm Americans is even more far-fetched. “Many people worry that once a large number of suicide terrorists have acted, it is impossible to wind it down,” Robert Pape, the author of a book on suicide bombers, said in an interview with the American Conservative. “The history of the last 20 years, however, shows the opposite. Once occupying forces withdraw from the homeland territory of the terrorists, they often stop–and often on a dime.”

The best way to stop terrorism is remove the causes of it–most of all, the U.S. government’s occupations, bases and imperial adventures throughout the Middle East.

The claim that Iraq will descend into an all-out civil war is equally wrong. It relies on a racist myth that Iraqis have always been divided by ancient hatreds, and only a U.S. presence can contain and repress them.

While it would be wrong to say that there is no history of Sunnis oppressing Shia or Kurds in Iraq, there is a strong history of Iraqi nationalism and working-class solidarity that overcame these divisions.

In fact, the U.S. exploited the conflicts to maintain its rule. As Robert Dreyfuss writes in the Nation magazine:

The Catch-22 of the American occupation is this: Iraqi nationalism is the only political force capable of uniting Sunni and Shiite Arabs and thus putting an end to the sectarian civil war, but for the past four years, the United State has systematically worked to suppress nationalism.

Instead, beginning with Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003, the United States deliberately apportioned political posts using an ethnic- and sectarian-based formula. Since then, U.S. occupation authorities favored separatists…[who want] a separate Shiite enclave in the south, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which are angling for an independent state in Iraq’s north.

The best chance for dampening the conflict that the U.S. has stoked would be for Iraq to be free of U.S. manipulations. Without the occupation, Shia and Sunnis would be able to come to an accord. Without the occupation, it is unlikely that the Kurds would push for the ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Kirkuk, or necessarily push for a separate Kurdish nation that would antagonize Turkey, Syria and Iran, which all have restive Kurdish minorities.

Even as it has successfully manipulated sectarian tensions, U.S. actions–from Congress’ recent resolution in favor of partitioning Iraq, to the oil law to deregulate and privatize Iraq’s oil industry, to the Hunt oil contract with the Kurdish regional government–are triggering a groundswell of Arab nationalist opposition to the occupation. This, not the continued U.S. presence, holds the hope of overcoming sectarian conflict in Iraq.

Finally, the claims about a U.S. withdrawal causing a wider war in the region reek of hypocrisy. The U.S. government’s stated aim in launching the Iraq invasion was to begin the process of rearranging the entire Middle East on new terms.

The U.S. and its ally Israel are the chief aggressors in the region. All the other states, including members of the Arab League, fear instability. The quickest way to ensure that the war does not spread is for the U.S. to get out of Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.

The same applies to U.S. complaints about “foreign powers” interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs. The U.S., after all, has more than 150,000 occupying troops in Iraq, along with at least as many mercenaries and private contractors. It is the “foreign power” interfering in Iraqi affairs.

A few Democrats and some liberal opponents of the war agree that the U.S. should get out of Iraq right away, but say that peacekeeping forces from the UN or other countries in the region need to be mobilized in the interests of stability.

For example, Democratic presidential contender Bill Richardson supports such a plan–but for pro-war reasons. He thinks that if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, it can more successfully wage war against both al-Qaeda and Iran and strengthen American domination of the region.

It is important to remember that the UN isn’t a neutral force–that’s why the Iraqi resistance targeted it from early in the occupation. Why? Because the UN was used by the U.S. to administer sanctions that killed over a million people during the 1990s. The U.S. won UN approval for its 2003 invasion and continues to use it to advance its project in Iraq.

Other voices have called for peacekeeping forces from surrounding Muslim countries. United for Peace and Justice leader Leslie Cagan went so far as to advise “the world’s greatest superpower to encourage and cajole neighboring nations, including other countries of the Middle East, to a conference table to figure out how a multilateral solution could be worked out.”

In support of former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern’s plan for a regional occupation, Johann Hari argues, “The U.S. then needs to convene a regional conference, at which it pledges to pay full-whack for an international stabilization force to police Iraq, manned exclusively by Muslim countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan.”

The obvious problem is that all these countries are U.S. allies, and would only agree to a peacekeeping arrangement on U.S. terms. They are also dominated by Sunni Muslims, and their occupying forces would enflame Shia resentment, and thus encourage sectarian tensions.

Underneath all of these arguments lies an old imperialist idea: that colonized people are the “white man’s burden,” who need a stern overseer–and certainly aren’t capable of self-government.

This is why arguments in favor of a continued intervention of any sort, even when made by sincere opponents of the war, are wrong. The real issue is the right of Iraqis to determine their own future.

In a Project on International Policy that Iraqis what they thought would happen if the U.S. withdrew, “two-thirds said they thought the ‘day-to-day security of ordinary citizens’ would improve, a similar number predicted that ‘violent attacks’ would decrease, 61 percent said that ‘interethnic violence’ would drop, and 56 percent predicted that the number of ‘foreign fighters’ in Iraq would dwindle,” Jarrar and Holland reported.

“Iraqis by more than a two-to-one margin believe that a U.S. commitment to withdrawal will strengthen the Iraqi government and make a conciliation among ethnic and sectarian groups more likely.”

Only Iraqis–not the U.S., UN or any other power–can overcome the catastrophe that the U.S. has caused in Iraq. The damage will not be overdone overnight, but only Iraqis have the right to shape their society and overcome their divisions. The only role for the U.S. government is to pay unconditional reparations for the nightmare it has caused.

Ashley Smith is a writer and activist from Burlington, Vermont. He writes frequently for Socialist Worker and the International Socialist Review. He can be reached at Read other articles by Ashley.

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  1. Lloyd Rowsey said on October 25th, 2007 at 6:30am #

    Please see my post to today’s first article, above:

    Iraq’s Environmental Crisis
    by Jeffrey St. Clair & Joshua Frank / October 25th, 2007

    lloyd rowsey