Where To Go From Here
By: Timothy Rodriguez
On Democracy Now!, a headline for March 20, 2008 read "Bush, Cheney Dismiss Iraq War Opposition," and under it they gave an excerpt of an interview of Vice President Dick Cheney by ABC’s Good Morning America’s Martha Raddatz that read as follows:
"Vice President Dick Cheney: ‘On the security front, I think there’s a general consensus that we’ve made major progress, that the surge has worked. That’s been a major success.’
Martha Raddatz: ‘Two-third of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.’
Raddatz: ‘So? You don’t care what the American people think?’
Cheney: ‘No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls’ " (1)
This comes a day after the five year mark of the occupation in Iraq. It is this type of undemocratic, arrogant, empirical, and unlawful mentality that forced us into Iraq and that continues the atrocities today.
Camilo Mejia, a "former staff sergeant who served six months in Iraq in 2003 with the Florida National Guard" (2) sums up what is happening in Iraq at the Winter Soldier Hearings held in March, where soldiers who fought in Iraq spoke out against the occupation, as he says "we have a whole new generation – we have over a million Iraqi dead. We have over five million Iraqis displaced. We [the U.S.] have close to 4,000 dead. We [the U.S.] have close to 60,000 injured, both by combat injuries and non-combat injuries, coming back from this war. That’s not even counting the post-traumatic stress disorder and all the other psychological and emotional scars . . . so all that just to say that war is dehumanizing a whole new generation of this country and destroying the people in the country of Iraq." The number that Mejia gives of over one million Iraqi people dead is never mentioned in the mainstream media. Patrick McElwee, a "policy analyst and national co-coordinator of Just Foreign Policy" (3) and writer in Extra! Magazine points out that "a recent Associated Press article (12/3/07) reported that Iraqi civilian deaths are ‘estimated at more than 75,000, with one controversial study last year contending there were as many as 655,000.’ No major errors have been found in the Johns Hopkins study. It is ‘controversial’ merely because its results are unacceptable." The Johns Hopkins study he refers to, along with a poll from a British firm called Opinion Research Business, he explains that "both indicate that over a million Iraqis have now been killed." He goes on to say that "the Johns Hopkins study estimated that, as of July 2006, 655,000 Iraqis had been killed." Furthermore, McElwee explains that "the Johns Hopkins studies employ the method accepted around the world to measure birth and death rates in the wake of natural and man-made disasters: a cluster study. It is the same method that was used to estimate that 200,000 have been killed in Sudan’s Darfur region." The number for the genocide in Darfur is widely accepted. Furthermore, it is widely accepted that the events in Darfur is genocide, yet why isn’t the illegal occupation of Iraq labeled as genocide? After all the U.S. did invade unilaterally and illegally and continues to kill unprecedented amounts of innocent civilians as the studies show.
We are also hearing a lot of talk about the "surge." Has it been "successful" or hasn’t it? First, it’s a loaded question because what could "success" possibly mean unless we imply that progress is toward increasing the occupation, creating a long term presence, and lengthening the amount of time the atrocities will continue. Regarding the decrease in violence because of the surge, Kevin Young, a writer for Z Magazine points out that "while the figures do suggest a recent decline in violence, the massive publicity accompanying that decline is highly misleading on two fronts. First, it hides the fact that violence has only decreased relatively from its astronomical levels of 2006 and the first half of 2007; by most statistics, violence remains at levels similar to those observed in the first two years of the war . . . Iraqi civilian casualities have also declined recently, but fall 2007 estimates suggest that the level of civilian deaths is similar to the levels recorded throughout 2005."(4) Secondly, "the number of ‘enemy-initiated attacks’ has fallen, but only to pre-2006 levels. That is, while the swell in sectarian violence that started in early 2006 seems to have abated at least temporarily, the number of monthly insurgent attacks is still at or above the average for 2003 through 2005." Young also points out that "few Iraqi civilians (18 percent) believe that the surge has helped reduce violence and political tensions," along with the unsurmountable evidence that the presence of the U.S. escalates violence and most Iraqis approve of attacks against the U.S. forces. Young also quotes Patrick Cockburn, "a veteran journalist who has lived in Iraq throughout most of the war" saying that the decrease in violence has "’much to do with the battle for supremacy between the Sunni and Shia communities.’" Young continues by saying "many Sunni militants – including a significant number of former al Qaeda members – have turned against al Qaeda as a temporary strategic alternative to fighting the U.S. (who now pays them nicely for their cooperation despite their membership in al Qaeda until very recently). The decision of many Sunni fighters to align temporarily with the U.S. does not signal any lessening of Sunni animosity toward the U.S.: an outstanding 93 percent of Sunni citizens still approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces." So, there is no proof that the surge was responsible for decreasing violence or that it is really so dramatic of a decrease. The Bush Administration also says that safety is increasing and people from, as Young points out, the estimation from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) from Iraq of "around 4.1 million Iraqi refugees, 2.2 million outside Iraq, and 1.9 million within the country," are going back to their homes. Young quotes "UN spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis [noting] that ‘there is no sign of any large-scale return to Iraq as the security situation in many parts of the country remains volatile and unpredictable.’"
Either way, as Young shows, UNICEF reports explain that "key indicators of public health and well-being like water availability, electricity levels, access to medical care, employment, and quality and availability of education remain at very low levels." Young also shows that "overall, 72 percent of Iraqis stated that U.S.-led reconstruction efforts had been ‘quite ineffective’ or ‘very ineffective,’ and 80 percent said that the U.S. had done ‘quite a bad job’ or a ‘very bad job’ with respect to its ‘responsibilities’ since the invasion. To add further insult to the pathetic state of ‘reconstruction’ in Iraq, the U.S. Defense Department announced in December 2007 that ‘Iraq will now be required to fund most future reconstruction projects.’" It seems to me that Vice President Dick Cheney is misinforming the public when he said "there’s a general consensus that we’ve made major progress, that the surge has worked." Maybe only within the Bush Administration is there a consensus.
Outside The Occupation
There is considerable amount of work being done by people to stop the war, bring about repurcutions, and educate others on happenings in the occupation. A current peak came about on the dawn of the fifth year in Iraq. Democracy Now! headlines on March 20, 2008 reported that "more than 200 people were arrested nationwide Wednesday in dozens of protests marking the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In San Francisco, at least 140 protesters were jailed, many of them in front of the offices of Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein. In Washington, 32 people were arrested after they tried to block an entrance to the IRS . . . Also in the nation’s capitol, protesters blocked traffic at a busy downtown intersection. Others marched from Arlington Cemetery wearing white ‘death masks’ bearing the names of people killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than a hundred members of Veterans for Peace also held a march denouncing the Iraq Occupation . . . five people were also arrested in Boston after they lay on the ground blocking access to a military recruitment center. In Chicopee, Massachusetts, eight people were arrested blocking the entrance to Westover Air Force Base . . . Other cities hosting actions included Cincinnati, where protesters set up a two-mile display of 1,000 t-shirts meant to symbolize the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq." Even in places near me such as Syracus, New York, mass gatherings are happening with rallies, marches, and organizing with anti-war groups. Some places in particular go a step further. In Brattleboro, Vermont, for instance, "the townspeople decided to arrest President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, should they visit."(5) Or in Olympia, Washington where anti-war activists "stopped the flow of military weapons and cargo being unloaded from a Navy ship from Iraq."(6) Then you have the historical Winter Soldier Hearings, with soldiers coming forth to tell their first-hand accounts in Iraq. Statements such as Mike Totten, a "former US army specialist who served with the 716th MP Battalion in the 101st Airborne and was deployed to Iraq in April 2003 until April 2004," saying "General Petraeus, you may not remember me, but you once led me. You’re no longer a leader of men. You’ve exploited your troops for your own gain and have become just another cheerleader for this occupation policy that is destroying America. General Petraeus, you pinned this on me in Babylon in 2003 following the October 16th incident. I will no longer be a puppet for your personal gain and for your political career," as Totten proceeded to rip up the medal that Petraeus pinned on him, make most anti-war activists hopeful and excited. It is exciting that people are becoming activated politically on the issue and are having the courage to come forth and stand against the empire.
Where To Go From Here
Yet, more needs to be done. Is the story of the occupation only similar to others that the United States has been involved in, such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Kosovo, Peru, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bolivia, Libya, and countless others. The occupation in Iraq is unique in that it has brought about a lot of political energy. Yet, the energy seems to be heading for only a quick, temporary fix of ending the War in Iraq instead of realizing that these types of atrocities happen under every president and that it is the system of plutocracy and the framework of the US empire that is the cause of these disasters. If that is not realized we will continue to struggle. There is energy from other political activists such as on the issue of climate change where we find the same problem. The energy is great and also must continue to increase, yet instead of dissolving, it must evolve into realizing that all activists and people are in the same situation and face similar problems, and that the energy, just as great revoluationaries before us such as Emma Goldman realized, must be used to formulate a more democratic and just society. That is if we are all standing for what our rhetoric spews out. If not, I fear the story of what is unraveling in Iraq and has unraveled in countless other places will play itself back out similarly in the future.
1) Democracy Now!. 2008. Daily Headlines. http://www.democracynow.org/2008/3/20/headlines
2) Democracy Now!. 2008. http://www.democracynow.org/2008/3/19/half_a_decade_of_war_five_years_after_iraq_invasion_soldiers_testify_at_winter_soldier_hearings.
3) McElwee, Patrick. January/February 2008. "A Million Iraqi Dead?." Extra! Magazine.
4) Young, Kevin. 2008. "The Effect of the U.S. Occupation of Iraq." Z Magazine Online.
5) Goodman, Amy. 2008. "As Goes Vermont." http://www.democarcynow.org/blog/weekly_column.
6) Bohmer, Peter. February 2008. "Two Weeks That Shook Olympia." Z Magazine.
Inside the Occupation
Inside and Outside The Occupation of Iraq: