An examination of the arguments employed to convince Americans that U.S. must remain the occupying power in Iraq reveals that not only is there no truth to sustain them, but that the facts point to just the opposite conclusion.
There are many Americans who argue that U.S. forces must remain in Iraq. Even many who opposed the invasion on moral grounds have come to this conclusion, acting on similar moral principles. However, an examination of the arguments used in favor of continuing the occupation and the assumptions behind the views of many people who have in good faith come to espouse this belief reveals that it is a position grounded in a complete lack of understanding of the facts of the war and the situation on the ground.
One of the principle arguments used by proponents of continued occupation is that if U.S. forces leave, Iraq will become a “breeding ground” for terrorists. Just as Afghanistan had been a haven for terrorist training camps, so would Iraq become were the U.S. to withdraw.
This argument, though no doubt believed in good faith by many, is nonsense. It is the same kind of propaganda, based on lies and deceptions, that U.S. government officials and a complicit corporate media passed off to the American people that led to the war in the first place – indeed, which convinced 70% of the population, according to polls, that Saddam Hussein was involved in the terrorist attacks of September 11.
The fact is that the kind of terrorism that exists now in Iraq, the car bombings and suicide bombings that have ripped the country apart, were virtually unknown prior to the U.S. invasion. The terrorism that has come to Iraq is a direct consequence of the invasion and ongoing occupation.
And the notion that terrorist groups would overrun the country if the U.S. were to leave is belied by the fact that Sunni militias that had long been fighting the armed resistance to the U.S. presence began turning on other Sunni groups, such as al Qaeda in Iraq, which were responsible for committing acts of terrorism that served only to divide Iraqis against themselves.
In fact, much to his credit, Gen. David Petraeus was largely responsible for recognizing this growing trend amongst the Sunnis and encouraging the Iraqi people to crack down on the terrorist elements. The U.S. military actually began supporting its “enemy”, Sunni groups that became known as the “Awakening Councils”, in their struggle to root out al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist groups.
Furthermore, the argument ignores the very roots of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and the stated reasons for intended terrorist violence against the U.S. and its interests. We must bring the fight to the terrorists, we are told, and that is why we have to be in Iraq (never mind that the terrorists are in Iraq as a result of the invasion). Proponents of occupation state that terrorists would be encouraged to attack the U.S. on its own soil if it withdrew, because it would prove that the U.S. was weak and uncommitted.
On the contrary, a withdrawal, particularly if accompanied by the promise of reparations for having waged two wars and subjecting the Iraqi people to over a decade of draconian sanctions that resulted in over a million deaths, according to the U.N.’s own figures, including half a million children, would demonstrate to the people of the Middle East that the American people are not their enemy and that the U.S. is capable of change, capable of altering its foreign policies to better serve the interests of not only Americans, but of others around the globe.
Put simply, the notion that Iraq would become a terrorist breeding ground as a result of a U.S. withdraw is rooted in a total misconception of the situation in that country. It’s a belief grounded in propaganda and deception rather than knowledge of facts on the ground.
Another common argument for continuing the occupation is grounded in the belief that there would be a bloodbath were U.S. forces to leave. There will be sectarian violence, ethnic cleansing, civil war, even – as Republican presidential hopeful John McCain has warned – “genocide”.
One need only look at the assumption behind this argument – that U.S. forces are a stabilizing influence in Iraq – to recognize its absurdity.
The violence in Iraq is a consequence of the U.S. invasion and continuing presence. The argument that the U.S. must stay to maintain stability flips that reality on its head. It’s a matter of simple logic. One need only to look at the cause of the preponderance of the violence in Iraq and recognize that the best course of action to mitigate that violence is to remove the instigating factor. And that factor has been the U.S. military presence.
Proponents of the occupation will point to the U.S. troop “surge” and argue that the reduction in violence, particularly in the past year, is the result of this increased troop presence. In fact, this has become conventional wisdom in government statements and media accounts. It’s simply stated as fact without any second thought.
However, again, this assertion is not grounded in fact. It’s certainly true that the level of violence has gone down in the past few years.
But this is not because of the “surge”; it’s in spite of it.
The level of violence had begun to decline before the “surge”. This was in no small part due to the “Awakening Councils”, the Sunni militias working to return order to the country by rooting out terrorist elements, as already explained.
A second major factor was the decision last year by the influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to stand down his Mehdi Army and other militias under his sway. Sunni forces that had concentrated their efforts against U.S. force began shifting their attention to fighting terrorism while Shiite forces resisting the occupation and targeting Sunnis perceived to be collaborators put down their arms. A third factor was the withdraw of foreign occupying forces from the south of the country.
These, not the “surge”, are the primary factors behind the reduction in violence in Iraq, particularly over the course of the last year.
The commander of British forces explained the reasons for the withdraw of his forces from Basra in the south of Iraq in simple logic. 90% of the violence that was occurring in the city, he noted, was directed against occupying forces. If the British forces withdrew, he noted, they could expect to see a 90% drop in the level of violence. That is in fact what happened. Gen. Petraeus also noted in Congressional testimony that the level of violence in Basra plummeted as a direct result of the British withdrawal.
This should come as no surprise. It’s simple common sense – elementary logic that applies equally to Iraq as a whole as to Basra. Many Americans fail to see this logic, but it certainly doesn’t escape Iraqis themselves. Polls have consistently shown that the people of Iraq do not want U.S. forces there. One study, as reported by the Washington Post, showed that “Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of ‘occupying forces’ as the key to national reconciliation”.
There are many Americans who reject the opinions of Iraqis as to what’s best for their country. One can only observe the profound arrogance of this position. Yet the same individuals who would argue that Iraqis who want the U.S. out (the vast majority of them), who say Iraqis don’t know what’s good for them and that Americans know better what’s good for their country – are the same people who argue that this war is about “democracy”. One can only further observe the profound hypocrisy inherent in such a position.
A further argument for occupation that is put forward is the fear that Iran would gain great influence in Iraq. Iran, of course, is portrayed as a rogue nation governed by maniacal religious clerics who not only are working to acquire the nuclear bomb, but would be crazy enough to use it against the Israel, the U.S.’s greatest ally in the region.
It’s beyond the scope of our purposes here to engage in a detailed analysis of the situation in Iran, suffice to say that there’s an equal amount of propaganda produced on Iran as there is on Iraq.
To briefly address the issue, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has threatened to “wipe Israel off the map”, we’ve been told, in the same breath that we’re told Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. But what Ahmadinejad actually said (he did not use those words) was in the context of a speech about regime change in which he included Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Reza Shah Pahlavi’s Iran along with Israel as examples of oppressive nations whose governments should rightly be overthrown and replaced with ones that respect the principle of democracy.
As for the claim by the Bush administration that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, it is reminiscent of the claims it made with regard to Iraq and its alleged possession of WMD. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been monitoring Iran’s activities, has repeatedly stated that there is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. Moreover, it has enriched uranium only to low levels necessary for energy production – nowhere near the 90% level of enrichment required for the construction of nuclear weapons.
It is quite true, however, that the war in Iraq has resulted in Iran having greater influence in Iraq. This was not an unexpected consequence, but – like the increased threat of terrorism – was well predicted prior to the invasion.
Iraq is predominantly Shiite, as is Iran. They are the only two Muslim nations in the Middle East that do not have a majority Sunni population. Under the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein, Iran supported Shiite groups that sought to overthrow the tyrant. Saddam cracked down on these groups, including by executing prominent religious clerics – such as the father of Muqtada al-Sadr.
Iran thus gained considerable influence over some Shiite groups in Iraq. But what has Iran’s influence been in the war in Iraq? The example of Basra is once again instructive.
Earlier this year, the Iraqi government waged an offensive against the city. The offensive came at a time when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was under considerable pressure from the U.S. and was being blamed for all the U.S. failures in Iraq. He was an ineffectual leader, we were told, who needed to either step up and take action against the militias or be replaced.
Thus, Maliki ordered the invasion of Basra to challenge Sadr and his followers. The offensive resulted in an escalation of violence not only in Basra, but across the country as Iraqis protested the actions of the government. The violence continued to escalate until Sadr issued a statement ordering his followers to lay down their arms and not oppose the government forces. Maliki’s government welcomed this decision.
It then emerged that Sadr, who had been in Iran throughout the duration of the conflict, had been influenced by Iran to implement the stand down order. Iran, contrary to what we have been told, was not a factor in escalating the violence in Basra, but in mitigating it and helping to defuse the crisis.
Another common charge made against Iran is that it has supported attacks against U.S. forces, including by supplying militias with “explosively formed penetrators”(EFPs)that have been blamed for a great number of deaths among coalition forces. This is another common charge that has been accepted amongst politicians and media pundits as conventional wisdom. The only problem with the claim is that – like the charges against Iraq that led to the war – there’s no evidence to support it.
Sunni as well as Shiite militias have employed EFP devices against U.S. forces. This inconsistency forced administration officials to charge that Iran helped to arm Sunni as well as Shiite forces, just so long as it harmed the interests of the U.S.
That claim might perhaps be credible – Iran would not be the first nation to employ the logic that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” – except for the fact that to date, there is no evidence that the Iranian government has in any way been involved in attacks on occupying forces. In fact, a number of shops capable of manufacturing the devices have been found in Iraq. And parts ostensibly made in Iran could easily be purchased on the black market.
But this perhaps all beside the point. When you get down to it, the U.S. is claiming for itself the right to intervene in any country anywhere in the world. Even if we were to assume that Iran were so intervening in Iraq, it is hard not to be blinded by the glaring hypocrisy of pointing to the sliver in Iran’s eye when there is such a giant beam in our own.
The argument that Iran would gain greater influence over Iraq if the U.S. were to leave is not altogether without foundation, but neither is it a valid reason for why the U.S. should stay in Iraq. The fact is the invasion was predicted by every competent analyst to result in greater Iranian influence. After all, Iran and Iraq share a majority Shiite population, so this would only be natural. Bush administration officials, while cynically spewing rhetoric about “democracy” and “freedom” in speeches about the necessity of the war, in fact were reluctant to see democracy in Iraq just for that reason – it would inevitably result in the election of a predominantly Shiite government.
In sum, when one examines the arguments employed to convince Americans that U.S. must remain the occupying power in Iraq, not only is there no truth to sustain them, but the facts point to just the opposite conclusion. If Americans truly value principles such as self-determination, freedom, and democracy, and if Americans truly wish to see an end to the chaos and bloodshed that their government has brought to Iraq, then there can be no other alternative: the U.S. must withdraw its forces immediately from the sovereign nation of Iraq, in accordance with the wishes of its honorable and proud people.
It is up to the honorable and proud people of America to act to ensure that their government serves their own best interest in this regard; to ensure that their government upholds those noble principles upon which the United States was founded.