By Remi Kanazi
America has lost the war in Iraq. The chance for victory vanished long ago with the hearts, minds, arms, legs and lives of the Iraqi people. The insurgence hasn’t won; rather the American government never obtained the formula to win. America, led by war-bent hawks (Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz) entered this war with many interests. Among them, the control of a major supply of Mideast oil, military bases, reconstruction contracts for cronies (i.e. Halliburton and Bechtel), a new ally/puppet in the region, securing Israeli dominance, showcasing new products for the arms community, and the greater concept of making Baghdad a haven for US corporate expansion (thereby planting a McDonalds and Starbucks on every street corner). In this excess of interests, the US neglected a major factor in the equation—the Iraqi people. Every time another suicide bomber enters the marketplace, Iraqis are reminded of the utter failure and incompetence of the US government. Nonetheless, those war-bent hawks couldn't pass up the idea of a cheap war coupled with a swift victory. What they didn't realize (or refused to listen to) was that after decades of heartbreak and struggle under Saddam Hussein, the last thing Iraqis needed was to get "liberated" for an era of struggle under US occupation.
The Iraqi people know what to expect from occupation. They remember the 1982 Israeli siege of Beirut, the 22 year Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon, and the 38 years of oppression that continues to plague the lives of Palestinians. Iraqis also witnessed the US bombing campaign of 1991, the reneged US support of a postwar Shia uprising, and the sanctions that left Iraqi women and children forgotten. While the West mainly erases these events from their minds, the people of the Middle East, and more specifically Iraqis, must endure the consequences of these events.
If the Bush administration interviewed my father, a 59 year old, Christian Republican Arab doctor living in the US, they would have realized, “Arabs don't like to be occupied.” Arabs—be it Sunni, Shia, Coptic, Orthodox or Maronite—don't want to be invaded by a Western force capable of bombing Baghdad to oblivion. Nevertheless, many Muslim and Christian Arabs in the Middle East send their children to Western schooling and profoundly appreciate Western Culture. As James Zogby—president of the Arab American Institute—pointed out on CNN, Americans can see the integration of US based multinational food chains and stores in Saudi Arabia. More than 70 McDonalds and 32 Pizza Huts spread across the country, while a 69,000 sq ft Chuck E. Cheese opened in Jeddah in 2001, with bumper cars, a bowling alley and a new ice rink. There is thirst for American culture within Saudi society, without the aggression and ramifications of US foreign policy.
Where America Went Wrong
US President George Bush and his administration thought they could have it both ways; fulfilling their interests while containing the resistance in Iraq. But “winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis” proved to be unprofitable in postwar Iraq. Consequently, the Bush administration didn’t center on reconstruction and ensuring the stability of Iraqi society. It is not enough to say that the US forces “liberated” Iraq. For example, after the fall of Saddam, many Iraqis supported the American presence, but when the deterioration of living conditions set in and security declined, the support for the American presence faltered. The Institute for Foreign Policy (IPS) documented that 48 suicide attacks a month occurred in 2004 compared with 20 suicide attacks in 2003. By the same token, the Baghdad morgue is on pace to record more deaths attributed to unnatural causes this year than in 2004.
In August of 2003 a poll conducted by Zogby International and American Enterprise showed that nearly two thirds of the Iraqis wanted US troops to stay for at least another year. Just seven months later a poll administered by USA Today/CNN/Gallup revealed that only one third of Iraqis believed the American presence was doing more harm than good and 57 percent wanted an immediate pullout.
Governmental corruption, lack of electricity, high unemployment, and rising poverty diminishes the prospect for stability in Iraq. Veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn asserted that one billion dollars was “plundered from the Iraq’s defense ministry.” He also noted that during the interim Iraqi government’s rule in 2004, as much as 2 billion dollars may have gone missing from their ministries. The US appointed the interim government.
According to the BBC on March 16, 2005, Transparency International stated in its Global Corruption Report 2005 that foreign contractors should abide by anti-corruption laws and that the revenues streaming in from Iraq oil “needed to be much more transparent and accountable.” The BBC continued with a quote from Transparency International’s chairman Peter Eigen, “Corruption doesn't just line the pockets of political and business elites, it leaves ordinary people without essential services and deprives them of access to sanitation and housing," In the BBC article, Transparency International directly criticized the US for awarding companies contracts in a process that was “secretive and favoured a small number of firms.” As this corruption became more commonplace, the resistance towards the occupation surged.
Instead of starting a massive campaign to empower and employ the Iraqi people, the Bush administration protected US corporate interests, including close administration allies such as Halliburton and Bechtel. Figures of unemployment in Iraq reach as high as 60 percent. If the US heavily integrated Iraqi companies and workers from the outset, the reconstruction process would have stimulated the Iraqi economy. According to IPS, nearly 60 percent of Iraqis rely on food handouts. The average Iraqi income in 2004 was 800 dollars compared with 3000 dollars in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the UN sanctions severely weakened the Iraqi economy only to then have the US invasion exacerbate the dilemma.
The US Forces are Part of the Problem
The US troops created an environment of tension and animosity. The infrastructural destruction and casualties of the US invasion are compounded by mass arrests for indefinite periods of time without charge, widespread claims of torture, the mishandling of civilians in house raids, shootings at checkpoints, and the confirmed use of chemical weapons on insurgents and civilians in Fallujah.
Incidents such as the torture at Abu Ghraib, the killing of an unarmed “fighter” in Fallujah (as was filmed on camera last year) and claims that American forces bombed weddings cripple the support for American forces.
In the 2004 siege of Fallujah—aptly titled “shake and bake”—the US military used phosphorous bombs against insurgents. The military originally claimed the bombs were used to “illuminate the battlefield.” A defense website, GlobalSecurity.org, contends white phosphorus can burn “to the bone.” The BBC reported that white phosphorous “ignites on contact,” and “burns until deprived of oxygen.” The result of this Saddam style attack trumps the scandal of Abu Ghraib and other highly scrutinized actions by US forces. American forces using the same procedures as Iraq’s former dictator may cause increased support for attacks against Americans, higher recruitment for foreign fighters seeping across the borders, and international condemnation.
The condition of the checkpoint system poses a serious threat to the daily travelers in Iraq. On June 17 2005, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote an open letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donal Rumsfeld, “Checkpoint shootings have sparked outrage among Iraqi citizens, undermining public confidence in the U.S. military.” The two groups claim the procedures of the American Forces are insufficient and “endanger civilians, including journalists, as well as U.S. service members.”
Mass arrests continue to cause deep concern for Iraqi families and the rule of law. Author Aaron Glantz documented a troubling account in his book, How America Lost Iraq. In the village of Abu Siffa, the townspeople alleged that coalition forces arrested 83 Iraqi men and boys. One of the townspeople said that three of the detained were under the age of sixteen, and fourteen were over the age of sixty, while three men were lawyers and ten were secondary school teachers. A fifteen year old boy, arrested and released, said that the detainees were not charged, not given a lawyer, and allowed no visitors. When Glantz interviewed the boy, only one other detainee had been released. According to Glantz, Colonel Nate Sassaman “indicated that the raids and detentions were necessary for ‘national security.’ But after two months, U.S. forces admitted that the detainees were only guilty by association because they lived in the same village as the Ba’ath official.” Glantz asked a schoolteacher, Nasser Jassem Hussein, if he was a member of the Ba’ath Party, “Of course…We’re all members of the Ba’ath Party here, but that doesn’t mean involved in the resistance.” While the detainees were only “guilty by association,” only one more person had been released after the two months, leaving eighty detainees in US custody. Similar accounts have been frequently covered in the international press.
The Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights revealed in an October 2005 report that occupation forces held about 11,500 of the nearly 24,000 detainees. The report stated, “There is an urgent need to provide remedy to lengthy internment for reasons of security without adequate judicial oversight.”
In November of 2005, new allegations were made that US forces tortured two Iraqi prisoners. According to the Washington Post, two Iraqi men claim that “U.S. troops put them in a cage with lions, pretended to execute them in a firing line and humiliated them during interrogations at multiple detention facilities.” The Post quoted White House Spokesman Bryan Whitman’s response, "this is a legal matter, it will be handled as such, but it should not surprise anyone that detainees would make false allegations against their captors.” Nonetheless, Iraqis are more inclined to reject the administration’s questioning of events after the abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
Damning Effects of Troop Presence
Aaron Glantz’s wrote, “When you are a soldier in a war zone and you see a young boy standing in your peripheral vision, you don’t have time to notice whether he’s armed. You just shoot.” This dilemma illuminates the problem of the US presence. Securing and “liberating” a state is quite impossible, if “young boys” around you get thrown in with the “enemy.” Collateral damage is a term for militaries, not civilians trying to survive. Appropriately, Iraqis don’t react with a “take the good with the bad” attitude to collateral damage.
In Patrick Cockburn’s article, The War So Far: Worse Than Vietnam, explains the “unraveling” of the occupation:
Many innocent farmers were being shot dead….Ever since Saddam Hussein closed the banks in 1990….Iraqis kept their money at home in hundred dollar bills…Farmers feared robbers and were usually armed. When a U.S. soldier knocked at the door of a house in the middle of the night and saw an armed Iraqi in front of him he would open fire.
Furthermore, these incidents are underreported in the West as they fall into the category of “collateral damage.”
Cockburn continues, “Ordinary U.S. soldiers can shoot any Iraqi by whom they feel threatened without fear of consequences. With suicide bombers on the loose, the soldiers feel threatened all the time.”
Breaches in US ratified international treaties further exemplify the lost strategy of the US government and its ability to protect and “liberate” the nation of Iraq. Eric Seidman interviewed Patrick Resta, the New England organizer for Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), who stated, “Our supervisor told my platoon that ‘the Geneva Conventions don't exist in Iraq and that's in writing if any of you want to see it.’” Resta said that his commander didn’t create the idea, instead it was “policy put in place.” The IVAW organizer also said that they [the medics] were not allowed to tend to Iraqi civilians unless they were on the brink of death. Instead the civilians were expected to use their own hospitals, which in his area offer “only one type of antibiotic, no glass in the windows, little if any functioning diagnostic equipment, [and] reused surgical instruments without proper sterilization.” The US government ratified all four Geneva Conventions and all four apply to US forces in Iraq. Specifically, articles three and four address the issue of humane treatment of prisoners during war and treatment of civilians in a war zone.
The Iraqi Media
Satellite TV gives many Iraqis uncensored coverage of the mayhem. Unfortunately, American forces attacked a number of media outlets, which reinforces the notion that America is willing to stand in the way of the “free press” to preserve its own interests. Adam Gantz reported that the US Defense Department also joined the media circle in Iraq, founding a Baghdad TV station al Iraqiya, a newspaper al-Sabah, a pan-Arab radio station, Radyo Sawa, and a news channel for satellite TV, al-Hurra. These media projects came along pushing the American agenda during the same period that Al Jazeera’s offices were attacked by US forces and the Baghdad bureau was repeatedly shut down. In November 2005, the UK’s Daily Mirror published an article pertaining to a secret memo claiming that George Bush and Tony Blair met in April 2004 and discussed taking “military action” against Al Jazeera in the company’s base in Doha, Qatar. Since the article, the British government has put a gag order on discussing the secret memo.
In March of last year the US forces shut down Muqtada Al Sadr’s newspaper al-Hawza al Natiq for “inciting violence.” This double standard on “free press,” and disregard for democracy only reasserts the failure of the US.
In late November, the New York Times disclosed US plans to embark on a multimillion dollar secret project to “plant paid propaganda in the Iraqi news media and pay friendly Iraqi journalists monthly stipends.” This last ditch effort to win back the support of the Iraqi people is extremely revealing. The administration cannot even find Iraqis that are willing to support the occupation. Instead they are looking to feed the same “propaganda” to the Iraqi people that is being fed to Americans.
Why America can’t militarily win
Militarily, the US forces cannot win. Of course, they will conquer Fallujah, Tal Afar, and any other area where confrontation takes place. However, the strategy of the insurgency is not to win the war head on, but rather to weaken the US forces by using guerilla warfare (car bombs, suicide bombs, and roadside bombs) and capitalizing on Iraq’s spiraling out of control. After the destruction of Fallujah, the insurgency fled quite quickly, avoiding direct confrontation with US forces. The infrastructural and economic destruction of Fallujah didn’t destroy the base of the insurgency. Ironically, the siege fueled recruitment, further isolated US forces from Iraqi civilians, and didn’t significantly enhance American control over the Sunni stronghold. The American forces eventually retreated, stating that the insurgency was conquered, only to lose control of Fallujah months after the battle. Keeping control of a country the size of Texas with 25 million residents is not feasible with 160,000 troops. If the US were to win militarily in Iraq, they would have to drastically step up their force count, probably in the range of 450,000 as some military analysts have suggested, and start rolling over the country. Under the guise of “liberation” the US forces would need to become the new Saddam Hussein, forcing Iraqis into submission and killing anyone that comes in their way. Moreover, since the military has such a low approval rating, finding people who are willing to rat out the insurgency has become increasingly difficult.
Losing the Hearts and Minds of Americans
This administration believed they could spin the events of Iraq to the American people. This was true in the beginning. The American people forgot about the promised weapons of mass destruction, the assurance that Iraqi oil would pay for the venture, and the guarantee that the people of Iraq would greet the US soldiers with open arms. The minds of Americans, however, started to change as soldiers came home in flag draped caskets and nearly 15,000 returned wounded, many in wheelchairs or prosthetics.
The continuing struggle in Iraq and the administrations misgivings, however, emboldened the anti-war coalition. According to CNN, Decorated Vietnam Vet and conservative democrat John Murtha stated, “It's time to bring the troops home.” He went on to say “Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence,” he said. Yahoo quoted him as saying, “The war in Iraq is not going as advertised…It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.”
While leading democrats are still too wary to call for an outright withdrawal, the American people may soon be calling for one. In a CNN/USA Today Gallup poll only 35 percent of Americans approve Bush’s handling of the war, while 54 percent think America shouldn’t have invaded Iraq. The numbers are also rising on troop withdrawal. Nearly one in five Americans want to see the troops come home today and 33 percent of those polled want the American forces home within a year’s time. Anti-war democrats like Murtha are starting to receive airtime on major media outlets such as CNN and MSNBC. If this trend continues, it will profoundly affect those on the fence in the US who are not getting a clear picture of the anti-war movement. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a US soldier killed Iraq and adamant anti-war critic, received noticeable airtime, but was painted as part of the “fringe left” in the mainstream press.
People like Murtha will reinforce the position of the anti-war movement considering his long-running history of being conservative and a friend to the White House. Until this point George Bush hasn’t felt the wrath of a fiery opposition. If the media continues to give the anti-war movement a platform, the American public will more quickly realize that we have lost the war in Iraq.
What has Become of Iraq?
The Iraqi Body Count (IBC) claims between 27,000 and 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the start of the war. In mid-December George Bush gave an estimate on the Iraqi death count for the first time, “I would say 30,000 more or less have died.” In a new report released by IBC, during the first two years of the war 20 percent of civilian deaths were women and children. Additionally, US forces accounted for 37 percent of civilian deaths, while insurgents accounted for only 9 percent of civilian deaths. Affirming the contention of lawlessness, “post-invasion criminal violence,” attributed to 36 percent of the civilian death toll. The numbers by IBC are thought to be conservative. Last year’s Lancet report estimated that 98,000 or more “excess deaths” of Iraqis may have occurred since the start of the US invasion.
Anguish and anger resonates within each Iraqi community. In October the British newspaper, the Sunday Telegraph, released information from a survey administered by the Iraqi university team which found that 45 percent of Iraqis support attacks on foreign troops. It is not just a case of Sunni resistance—which make up only 20 percent of the population—and Iraq’s Al Qaeda. There is a strong support for violence against foreign forces and the numbers are strengthening. Added to the growing unease in the Shia community in the South, it is apparent why aggression is effectively taken out against US forces and interests.
The primary focus of the US involvement in Iraq should be on the basic necessities of Iraqi society. Proper sewage and access to clean water are essential. The Ministry of Public Works believes that it may cost up to 10 billion dollars for Iraqis to access clean water. According to the website CorpWatch in April of 2005, the US cut the funding for water projects in Iraq from 4.3 billion to 2.3 billion—“with further cuts planned for the future.” Those “further cuts” were another 1.1 billion dollars. The Corvallis Gazette Times stated, “Three of the four major clean-water projects were cancelled.”
The reconstruction of water facilities is vital in delivering clean water to the 80 percent of families in rural areas that use unsafe drinking water. The postwar sewage systems must also be reconstructed, which according to the UN report, “seeps to the ground and contaminates drinking water systems.”
The UN development agency conducted a study, entitled Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004. The study found that 23 percent of children in Iraq suffer from chronic malnutrition, while 9 percent of Iraqi children experienced diarrhea, a leading “childhood killer,” in the two weeks prior to the survey.
Stability cannot be achieved without confronting basic health concerns. The US government spent more than 200 billion in Iraq, yet it continues to slash funding on projects that will further Iraqi society.
Can We Leave?
Over the last two years many prominent Republicans and Democrats professed, “We are there now, we can't just leave.” Nevertheless, if we want to uphold the values of democracy and desires of the Iraqi consensus, we can “just leave.” On October 23, the Sunday Telegraph disclosed the results of a poll which found that 82 percent of Iraqis "strongly oppose" foreign troops occupying their country. It's the one thing the majority of the country can agree on. The 160,000 soldiers are a driving force behind the resistance for Sunni fighters and Iraq’s Al Qaeda led by Musab Al Zarqawi. We can pull out, immediately.
While a much larger disparity in views exists between Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda, they do share a common cause—resisting the American occupation. If the US pulled out tomorrow, the Sunni insurgency would automatically be at great ideological odds with Zarqawi and his gang in Iraq. The Sunni insurgency is not fighting for Al Qaeda’s "greater Islamic vision," they are trying to make sure the country doesn't break up and in turn dominate the one-fifth Sunni minority. Even so, some Sunnis have not opposed sitting down at the negotiating table, so long as they do not receive the short end of the stick.
The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies revealed that between 12,000 and 20,000 hardcore insurgents remained in Iraq as of earlier this year. Diffusing the extreme elements of the insurgency is fundamental in the stabilization process. The main fuel to Al Qaeda's fire is undoubtedly the American occupation. While other factors add to its ease to operate, such as chaos, corruption, fear, and border security, the main source of motivation to gain new recruits would be stripped away. The pulling out of US troops alone would at least make the situation in Iraq more transparent.
The only way to bring Iraq forward is bringing them closer to independence and sustainability. The Iraqis were thrown into a whirlpool of violence and the presence of US forces is making the situation worse. In the Sunday Telegraph poll, only one percent of Iraqis in some areas feel that America increases security. This lack of confidence and opposition to the occupation damaged America's position in Iraq beyond recognition and their mission which has yet to be defined. The US government spent more than 200 billion dollars in Iraq over the last two and a half years and the Iraqi people have little to show for it. Of the 18 billion dollars appropriated for reconstruction, only 9 billion has been used, while corruption has tarnished its implementation.
The people of Iraq need security first and foremost, not only from insurgents, but from robbers and armed bandits as asserted by Patrick Cockburn. He reported, “Even during a quiet day as many as 40 bodies may turn up at Baghdad morgue.” Furthermore, the political process needs to take its course. It’s senseless to rush into to fixed dates so Iraqis can hold up their ink stained fingers while the situation on the ground is left in shambles. Finally, strong Iraqi leadership is essential in engaging the Iraqi people on a daily basis and not just on fixed "historic" dates that help out US poll numbers. The Iraqi people need to feel a sense of control of their society and future, and this is impeded by the presence of the American military.
These are the principals of democracy: letting the indigenous population rule as a sovereign nation. I always hear “bring the troops home.” Not only do it for the troops this time, do it for the Iraqi people.
*** Remi Kanazi is the primary writer for the political website www.PoeticInjustice.net. He lives in New York City as a Palestinian American freelance writer and can reached via email at email@example.com