Iraq: When Should US Troops Leave?

[This is the footnoted version of a presentation given to the Bloomfield/Glen Ridge Caucus organized by Bloomfield and Glen Ridge Peace Action, February 2, 2008]

Everyone who isn’t a total flunky of the Bush administration knows that the war in Iraq has been based on lies.
In fact, according to a recent study by the Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism, in the two years following 9-11 top administration officials told 935 lies about the national security threat posed by Iraq.1
But many people of good will wonder: even if the war was the result of lies, even if the US invasion was unjust and illegal, what do we do now? Does the "Pottery Barn rule" so often mentioned by Colin Powell — we broke it, we own it — apply. And if we own it, what do we do with it?
Well, in fact the Pottery Barn denies it has such a rule, but in any case the so-called Pottery Barn rule has no moral standing. The colonial powers ravaged Africa: but that didn’t give them the right to own it and decide its future. The Soviet Union invaded Hungary and Czechoslovakia, but this didn’t give them right to decide the fate of those countries.
As Noam Chomsky has noted, an invader has no rights, only obligations.2 The only people with rights in Iraq are the Iraqi people. What do they think should happen? This ought to be at least the starting point for our inquiry.
Now the problem of course is that it’s not so easy to ascertain the views of Iraqis — after all, Iraq today is a non-functioning society, in the midst of massive violence, with more than one out of every seven Iraqis displaced — either within the country or as a refugee. Town meetings are not easily organized in Iraq. Participatory democracy doesn’t flourish amidst car-bombs and air-strikes.
Nevertheless, we do have some indication of what Iraqis think. For example, focus groups of Iraqis were organized for the U.S. military this past November. According to a report in the Washington Post, which was able to obtain a summary of the results,
"Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of ‘occupying forces’ as the key to national reconciliation…."3
Pentagon analysts said they thought this was good news because it indicated that Iraqis held some "shared beliefs" that might eventually allow them to surmount the divisions that have led to a civil war. It is indeed good news for Iraqis, but needless to say it’s not much of an endorsement of the US military presence.
We don’t have many details of the focus group findings, but there have been a variety of public opinion polls that have been carried out in Iraq — by different polling companies — that are consistent with one another and with the US military focus group results.
If you look at the tables I distributed, you’ll see (in Table 1) that as of the latest poll in August 2007, 47 percent of Iraqis want US forces to leave immediately4; more than half of the Arab population — that is, the Sunni Arabs and the Shia Arabs, excluding the Kurds — supports immediate withdrawal,5 and the Kurds of course are the one group who do not have US troops in their region. The sentiment in favor of withdrawal is strongest in Anbar province, where US officials are so proud of their new relationship with some Sunni tribes.6 Table 2 shows that 79 percent of the population, including 84 percent of the Shiite Arabs and 98 percent of the Sunni Arabs, oppose the presence of "coalition" forces in Iraq.
Table 1: Iraqi Public Opinion, August 2007
How long do you think US and other coalition forces should remain in Iraq? They should:
Leave now
Remain until security is restored

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