Ryan Harvey

Iraq: Withdrawing By Localizing The War

In News on September 7, 2010 at 11:12 pm

As the “new” U.S. “non-combat:” Troops begin their first combat operations in Iraq, a new round of the U.S. occupation has begun, the exit phase.

Let’s be clear here: The U.S. is withdrawing from Iraq, because they want to. They may end up back in full-combat roles if the Iraqi state cannot fulfill it’s promises to the U.S., but it seems likely that the U.S. is slowly ending it’s troop-presence, which is what they want at this point.

The Iraq war has not been a total success for the strategists of U.S. policy, though it was surely intended do be. Though there is much profit to be made, it must be acknowledged that we played a role in making this war shorter than it could have been.

Governments do not go to war “by mistake”, they are led there by the interests of people within their ranks and from the ranks of the military and corporate sectors. There’s no doubt that they have read Sun Tzu’s prophetic line “There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.”

The anti-war movement, both in the U.S. and internationally, has a lot to do with this, though the Iraqi resistance certainly factors heavier. The U.S. probably did not intend to produce such a strong, armed movement. No doubt certain members of the government and certainly many from civil society predicted this and warned against it, but those behind the buttons were banking on a fully “shocked and awed”, defeated people.

But this did not happen, not in Iraq nor in the U.S. As the war unfolded, the percentage of the U.S. population that stood opposed to it grew. With each IED, each fallen American soldier, each new offensive in a city supposedly “pacified”, more people woke up to the reality that the Iraqis were not in favor of being attacked and occupied. This is happening now in Afghanistan as well, the American people are beginning to recognize the obvious similarities between the occupations and their identical human results.

But let’s us make sure we are not eating too much of the bait here. The U.S. is withdrawing enough to save their image, which has to be a significant amount. They are trying to “end the war”, but they have no intention of ending their forced influence over the Iraqi economy, which I believe we can rightly call an economic occupation.

The terrain has shifted beneath our feet here in the anti-war movement. There is much less of a “war” in Iraq to oppose, and it will become much more difficult to organize Americans around something they believe is “winding down”. But let’s keep in mind that it is not “winding down”, it’s crumbling down like the charred remains of a bombed out building, creating new disasters with each breeze. Iraq is in a crisis, and that crisis was largely the result of U.S. policy: first the sanctions and then the war. Iraq is an open wound.

We have wounds to heal too. They live in the tens of thousands of maimed soldiers who have returned from this tragedy, and in the minds of the hundreds of thousands of veterans for whom the war never ended. Record-breaking suicide rates among the military are directly linked to the increasing stress of multiple deployments. Time Magazine recently reported that the Army “has been battling a rising suicide rate for the past six years; June saw 32 suspected suicides, one of the highest monthly totals in Army history. Of those, 22 had served in combat, including 10 who had deployed two or more times.”

Time then explains the connection to multiple-deployments; “The root cause is no mystery: repeat deployments drive up cases of posttraumatic stress, which makes soldiers six times more likely to kill themselves.”

These wounds must be healed if we are to learn from the violence we unleashed in Iraq.

But let’s not be deceived by those who would tell us that the Iraq war was a “mistake”, it was not. It was a very intentional scheme devised by very influential, well-entrenched members of the U.S. government, military, and corporate structures. It was planned and discussed long before 9/11 and, arguably, long before Bush even ran for President the first time.

The only “mistake” on their part was that it got too unpopular both in Iraq and abroad. This happened for a majority of reasons, but mainly, it was too devastating, it was too transparent in that every one knew this was largely an oil war, and the economic conditions that have come out of it are too in the interests of those long-accused of being behind the war; big gas and energy companies.

What has happened before our eyes is the largest and most violent attempt yet by the United States, their economic institutions, and their corporate counterparts, to force a country into economic arrangement designed to benefit multinationals.

The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) role in the economic policies that really lit the fire of the insurgency and their subsequent role in shaping the highly opposed Oil Law would be the subject of globally scrutiny by people’s movement if they were just being conducted as usual, in closed-door meetings with unpopular leaders. But in this case, not only did the aggressor nation bomb, invade, and occupy the country, they then appointed the unpopular leader and co-wrote a good portion of his economic policies. It’s corporate globalization at the point of a gun, or rather, at the point of hundreds of thousands guns, tanks, helicopters, battle ships, fighter jets, and more.

For those of us who have been active in the anti-war movement, our role now, while continuing to face Afghanistan, is to approach Iraq with the understanding that things are changing there in specific ways. What this means is there is an increasing shift in the way the occupation is playing out and we need to keep up on this and respond to it in strategic ways.

Iraq is in a water crisis and lacks a lot of basic health needs, which has largely been the case since the first Gulf War. But we have a responsibility now to follow through in this regard. One notable case in this sector of organizing is happening right now between the national Iraq Veterans Against the War, the veterans of the Wikileaks unit Bravo Company 2-16, and Iraqi Health Now.

Iraqi Health Now was started by an Iraqi doctor who resides in both Basra and Kalamazoo, Michigan. He and his family run the grassroots program, which establishes direct links with families, communities, hospitals, and health centers in Basra to address their needs. They organize hospitals and other healthcare facilities to donate or offer deals on the needed equipment and goods, and raise money to purchase those products they cannot get donated. Now veteran’s organizations have teamed up with them to send a large shipment in January of 2011.

Another aspect of the shifting work for us lies in labor solidarity. US Labor Against the War and labor/veteran project Citizens for a Sovereign and Democratic Iraq have been working hard to bring to the light the crises facing the organized workers of Iraq. With the U.S. withdrawal has come an increasing repression against labor leaders in Basra

Independent journalist David Bacon’s recent article Is the U.S. Pulling the Plug on Iraqi Workers explains the situation in detail; “In just the last few months, the Maliki government has issued arrest warrants for oil union leaders and transferred that union’s officers to worksites hundreds of miles from home, prohibited union activity in the oil fields, ports and refineries, forbade unions from collecting dues or opening bank accounts, and even kept leaders from leaving the country to seek support while the government cracks down.”

More information on supporting Iraq’s labor leaders can be found on US Labor Against the War’s website.

What is happening here is that the repression formerly carried out by U.S. soldiers and their overwhelming presence is being “localized”, that is to say, the U.S. is funding, training, and/or actively strategizing with Iraqi “strongmen”, soldiers and police officers to do their job. This might not seem controversial if the government was accountable and supported by the people, but it has become increasingly unpopular. Iraq has been officially in government-limbo for over a half year now as the much-triumphed elections failed to solidify a Prime Minister.

So the Iraq war is shifting into more of a classic U.S. proxy-government like they helped establish across Latin America in the 1980s. A “local” government is, by coincidence, carrying out many of the policies the U.S. wants to see, and the people who oppose it, who happen to rank in the majority, are repressed by “local” and “sovereign” soldiers, cops, and paramilitaries.

Our work is still ahead of us. We must not turn our attention from Iraq because we think things are being taken care of; they are not. Soldiers withdrawing does not put more medical supplies into the hands of Iraqi doctors, and it does not put decent jobs and standards of living into the lives of the average Iraqi. It is just the beginning of the end of this nightmare we have played the major role it creating.

We have a massive debt to pay, and we will likely pay it slowly through grassroots efforts and, hopefully, by larger but transparent, Iraqi-run, and dignity-fulfilling projects.


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