Withdrawal from Iraq is already overdue

For many Iraqis, the occupation itself is as much of a nightmare as any imagined civil war might be. We can wait no longer.

by Nathan Paulsen

Politicians from the dominant political parties would have us believe that United States military forces are involved in a benevolent struggle to protect Iraq’s “fledgling democracy” from “terrorists and criminals.” The truth of the matter is that the occupation of Iraq is a war against the Iraqi people that is being waged with utter disdain for Iraq’s right of self-determination.

The occupation of Iraq rests on the same pervasive racism that disenfranchised blacks through Jim Crow segregation and rationalized a century of colonial domination in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Nearly every argument for the Iraq war has at its foundation the racist assumption that Iraqis are incapable of governing themselves without self-destructing in an orgy of violence. In fact, it is the United States occupation that stands in the way of Iraq’s democratic potential, not Iraqis. Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi-born novelist and former prisoner of Saddam Hussein’s regime, gives a poignant account of the anti-democratic nature of the Iraq occupation: “There have been protests, appeals, initiatives to set up a reasonable program for elections, the opening of human rights centers, lecturing at universities, even poetry writing. This torrent of activism is still being practiced by a broad variety of political parties, groups and individuals who oppose the foreign occupation. And they have been ignored. Newspapers were closed. Editors were arrested. Demonstrators were shot at, arrested, abused and tortured.”

For many Iraqis, the occupation itself is as much of a nightmare as any imagined civil war might be. The United States military is routinely engaged in large-scale offensives across Iraq’s central and northern provinces. Because of the resistance movement’s popular support, United States counter-insurgency campaigns frequently take the form of collective punishment, where the safety and security of Iraqi civilians are intentionally violated in the hopes of turning them against the resistance. Military operations intimately affect the daily lives of millions of Iraqis: checkpoints are erected, electricity is cut, curfews are imposed, homes are raided, family and friends are detained, neighbors are killed, businesses are destroyed and people are displaced. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died violent, premature deaths as a direct consequence of the United States military occupation of their country. Many more have suffered serious wounds, making the war-disabled an increasingly common sight and post-traumatic stress disorders rampant.

The largest political party supporting Iraq’s constitution is the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. SCIRI is affiliated with the Badr paramilitary organization, which is currently responsible for a significant part of Iraq’s security forces. SCIRI and the Badr Brigade were both founded in Iran with the support of Ayatollah Khomeini, the most celebrated leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Indeed, the Badr Brigade fought alongside the Iranian government during the Iran-Iraq war. The constitution currently endorsed by SCIRI and the Bush administration, and rejected by millions of Iraqis across sectarian lines, stipulates “no laws may contradict the fixed principles of Islam” and gives experts in Islamic law power to decide the constitutionality of Iraq’s legislation.

It is in this context of constant war and an emerging U.S.-backed Islamic state that the Bush administration claims Iraq is making progress on “the path to democracy.” Beyond the absurdity of declaring Iraqis free while they are living under conditions such as these, it is equally inane to suggest that Iraqis have control of Iraq’s political process. Paul Bremer, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, spoke candidly about the role of American power in occupied Iraq. “We dominate the scene,” he said, “and will continue to impose our will on this country.” Bremer evidently knew what he was talking about. After heavy involvement from U.S. officials, late drafts of Iraq’s constitution that called for extensive social welfare provisions, collective ownership of natural resources and a virtual ban on foreign military bases were scrapped. In their place came a neo-liberal document that will privatize Iraq’s economy and open the country for foreign investments.

To cite just one of many examples, Article 110 of Iraq’s proposed permanent constitution specifies that the development of Iraq’s oil and gas wealth will rely “on the most modern techniques of market principles and encouraging investment.” This language allows United States corporations unprecedented access to Iraqi oil and is in stark contrast to previous drafts that gave Iraq’s state control of those resources. Apparently an undemocratic Islamic regime closely allied with Iran is less of a concern for U.S. power brokers than an Iraq that remains open for business.

As long as the occupation continues, Iraqis will be denied their fundamental right of self-determination and the war will drag on. Instead of accumulating senseless casualties fighting a losing war, U.S. officials should stop meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign nations and begin addressing the serious class and race problems that exist at home.

Nathan Paulsen welcomes comments at [email protected]