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Second Reply to Juan Cole


[Note: Achcar first replied to a Sept. 23 entry by Juan Cole on his Informed Comment blog. Cole then responded. This is Achcar's second reply.]

 

 

Dear Juan,

 

Many thanks for your friendly and stimulating reply. Here are a few comments on your rejoinder, as a follow-up to our exchange.

 

1) You wrote: “I think the US peace movement will be more effective, and more useful to the Democratic Party, if it adopts a realistic and nuanced position rather than just chanting ‘US out Now!’”

 

Well, I don’t think that the US peace movement, which is a mass movement of citizens of various views and creeds, should be concerned with being “useful to the Democratic Party.” If anything, it is the Democratic Party — if it were ever to live up to its claims — that ought to be concerned with being useful to the mass movement and to the true interests of the US social majority. The US peace movement started chanting “US Out Now” many years ago, as you certainly recall: the Democratic Party was then in power under Lyndon B. Johnson, presiding over one of the most vicious wars in US history. (And, mind you, Johnson and his “Great Society” look quite “progressive” compared to the present Democratic leadership!)

 

2) You wrote: “The US has very possibly set Iraq on a course to civil war that will run regardless of whether the US is there or not. The question now is not just occupation (which will end sooner or later), but who will rule Iraq and how.”

 

I surely agree with the first sentence (as long as it states only a possibility, which is alas far too real). It is in itself a strong indictment of the US occupation. As for “who will rule Iraq and how,” I don’t believe that that it is the business of the US. The fact is that US management of Iraq has planted the seeds of civil war in that country and is cultivating it day after day. The demand for immediate US withdrawal from Iraq is but an attempt at limiting the damage.

 

3) “If the US just up and leaves now, the Sunni Arabs will consolidate their military assets and attempt to take and hold territory. This move will create a condition of dual sovereignty, i.e. a revolutionary situation and possibly large-scale civil war.”

 

I don’t need to repeat my own arguments regarding the possible scenarios in case of US departure from Iraq. The key difference between us on this issue is not the likelihood of this or that scenario. It is encapsulated in this sentence of my letter:I believe it is only fair to acknowledge that no one can really tell what would happen after the occupation ends.” No one, including the top brass in the Pentagon, nor, for that matter, any of the Iraqis themselves, is able to predict with any certainty what would happen in case of US evacuation of Iraq. Many scenarios are possible. There are already different predictions regarding the possible consequences of an announcement by the US of a withdrawal timetable. Some people claim that it will embolden the “insurgency” (from which they conclude, like Bush, that no timetable should be announced); others believe it will make true political reconciliation possible, given that even the hard-line Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars has repeatedly stated that, as soon as this condition is fulfilled, it will join wholeheartedly the political process.

 

Two things are certain on this specific issue: a) no one can be certain about the outcome; b) the situation has not stopped deteriorating in Iraq ever since the occupation began. If one adds to these two certainties the three points I made with regard to the same issue in my previous letter, there is only one sensible conclusion in my view: unless one harbors imperial designs over Iraq, one should call for “Out Now.”

 

4) “I was in Lebanon 1978-79 and aside from the brief Syrian bombardment of East Beirut in fall of 1978, which did not involve much in the way of casualties, there were no big battles going on then. So in two years the hot civil war had indeed subsided substantially. It is often now forgotten that by 1981-1982 the Lebanese economy was roaring back and the country was moving toward normalcy, when the Likud government in Israel launched a brutal and largely unprovoked attack on the country, throwing [it] into more years of instability.”

 

First, let me remind you that I myself have written that after “the political accord concluded between the Syrian regime and Yasir Arafat under Saudi sponsorship in October 1976 … Lebanon enter(ed) into a prolonged period of truce with Syrian forces deploying peacefully in the areas that were controlled by the Palestinian-Lebanese alliance.” When you referred to Lebanon, your point was to explain that the “the Syrians came in and stopped the big battles” — not, as you put it in your rejoinder, that “local militias can grow into armies that fight for territory on a national scale.” My reply was to say that the Syrian military intervention did not stop anything by itself: it only made things worse, until a political agreement opened the way to a prolonged lull. As I said already, an agreement of this kind, including acceptance of the presence of US forces, is hardly conceivable in Iraq.

 

Second, one more time, your record of Lebanese events proves faulty (you can be excused since you were there only in 1978-1979). You write that in 1981-1982, before the Israeli invasion in June 1982, Lebanon “was moving toward normalcy.” The truth is that heavy clashes occurred between Phalangist militias and Syrian troops in the spring of 1981, and the confrontation between these two forces remained on very tense standby until the Israeli invasion. Since the Israelis started a campaign of air raids from April 1981 onward, actually preparing the ground for their invasion, the Phalangists preferred to wait until their powerful allies occupied the country and installed them in power, instead of continuing to get pounded by Syrian missiles. The only real protracted period of peace in the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon (1990-2005) was made possible, above all, by the October 1989 political agreement, concluded again under Saudi sponsorship.

 

5) Your last argument is about “the consensus of the elected Iraqi leadership” as being “fairly similar” to your position on the immediate withdrawal of US troops. Well, I believe the issue to be more complex than that. Let’s put aside the Arab Sunni community who has not taken part in the January election and is not properly represented in the elected bodies. (Strangely, you put the Arab Sunnis now at 15% of the Iraqis — way below the common estimation of 20%, which they dispute vehemently as underestimating their true proportion of the Iraqi population.) To be sure, the elected officials that you mention, namely Talabani and Jaafari, are supportive of extended US presence in their country. But let’s move, if you please, beyond the surface of things.

 

I don’t doubt for one second that Talabani’s constituency in Kurdistan backs his position. But even this Talabani looked really pitiful when he had to contradict himself in the US on the issue of the withdrawal of US troops after Bush reprimanded him. This showed that on this issue, the so-called “sovereign” government of Iraq is politically hostage to US forces, as it is physically within the Green Zone. The same fact is demonstrated much more blatantly by Jaafari’s behavior: every honest person in Iraq will tell you — and I am sure you have read enough testimonies to this regard in the Iraqi and Arab press — that the so-called “sovereignty” of the “elected Iraqi leadership” is a very limited one. On many sensitive issues, especially everything related to security and military issues, the Iraqi government is tightly controlled, and often steered by US occupation representatives — who have become great experts at arm-twisting. The recent behavior of British troops in Basra was a clear illustration of how the occupiers respect Iraq’s “sovereignty.”

 

Since Jaafari’s stand is contrary to the electoral program of the mostly-Shiite United Iraqi Alliance that designated him as the head of the government — a program that included the demand for a timetable for the withdrawal of occupation troops — there is much less certainty that he represents his constituency in this regard than for Talabani. It is the contrary that is certain as a matter of fact: you recalled yourself, Juan, the fact that about 120 Iraqi MPs have called for the withdrawal of US troops. To be more accurate, they signed a petition (put forward by followers of Muqtada al-Sadr in the Parliament) demanding that the official request made by the Iraqi government to the UN Security Council to extend the presence of multinational forces be rescinded, that such issues be deferred to the Parliament and not decided by the government, and that a withdrawal timetable be set immediately.

 

Now let’s make a very simple calculation. There were 275 MPs elected to the Iraqi national Assembly. Out of those, there are little over 70 members of the Kurdish Alliance and little less than 40 MPs of the pro-US Allawi’s list. As you know, it is highly unlikely that any of those roughly 110 MPs signed the petition. This means that the overwhelming majority of the remaining 165 MPs, most of them UIA members, signed it. In other words, an overwhelming majority of the UIA, to which Jaafari belongs, has disavowed him on this issue. For a democrat (with a small d), no “consensus” involving the likes of Jaafari — i.e. members of an executive betraying the parliamentary majority which has designated them — can be regarded as representative of a people’s will. That’s why invoking this kind of support as an argument for the continued presence of US troops in Iraq — as Bush & Co. do regularly — is not acceptable in my view, and in the view of millions of Iraqi and US citizens.

 

With my best regards,

 

Gilbert

 

 

Gilbert Achcar is the author of The Clash of Barbarisms and Eastern Cauldron, both published by Monthly Review Press. He is a frequent contributor to Le Monde diplomatique.

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