The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Iraq War:
Five Years ... and How Many More?

Apr 15, 2008

In his April report to Congress on Iraq, General David Petraeus admitted, “We haven’t turned any corners. We haven’t seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle has been pushed to the back of the refrigerator. And the process, while fragile, is reversible.”

In other words, the end of the U.S. occupation of Iraq is nowhere in sight.

At the end of July, 20,000 troops, who will be ending their rotation, are scheduled to be withdrawn. After that? Petraeus would only say that all withdrawals would be suspended for 45 days – after which time, he would need an “indefinite” period of time to evaluate what happened.

How long is an “indefinite evaluation”? Well, that same term was used when the “surge” was announced – originally presented as lasting only six months, followed by an indefinite period of evaluation. It has now gone on for 17 months, with no end in sight.

And how many troops will be in Iraq – assuming the scheduled troop “withdrawals” happen by the end of July? Petraeus says that this will leave 140,000 troops in Iraq. Well, when the “surge” started, there were 128,000 troops in Iraq. In other words, they’re not even back to where things were at the start of the “surge.”

Petraeus wouldn’t even rule out sending more troops back to Iraq, saying only that it would be “a pretty remote thought in my mind.”

On March 7, this year, the U.S. and Iraqi governments worked out a draft agreement authorizing the stationing of U.S. troops in Iraq. The agreement, of course, said that U.S. troops are to be there on a “temporary” basis – the occupation has been called “temporary” from the beginning. But there are no time limits set in the agreement, no limits on the number of troops the U.S. can base in Iraq, no restrictions on their powers over Iraqi citizens. It’s quite simply an agreement for an unending U.S. occupation of Iraq.

This agreement was not made public by the U.S. or Iraqi governments – it was leaked in April to the press by someone who clearly disagreed with it.

Yes, there is “no light at the end of the tunnel,” no end in sight – with everything that means for the Iraqi people, for U.S. troops and for the U.S. population at home.

There Is No More Time

Bush, speaking after Petraeus appeared before Congress, said, “I’ve told him he will have all the time he needs.”

But “time” is exactly what the people of Iraq do not have. Over four million people have already been driven from their homes – most of them during the last year and a half of the “surge.” Nearly half have fled the country. The other half were driven to live in sectarian and ethnic enclaves, controlled by the various militias, which exert a mafia-like control over their own areas. This is one of the vicious results of the surge. And it’s not over. People continue to be rounded up and put in walled off areas. Baghdad is divided up into a series of what might well be called prison camps.

Petraeus told Congress violence is on the decline. Obviously, the deaths of Iraqi civilians don’t count as “violence” in his book. Even the Iraqi government, closely working with Petraeus, was forced to admit that more civilians had been killed in March than at any time since last summer. But then Petraeus knew that – it’s why the charts and graphs he showed to Congress stopped at February!

Violence on the decline? Tell that to the civilians ground up in the fighting in Basra two weeks ago or in Baghdad’s Sadr City today. Tell that to the people in these ethnic and sectarian camps who can’t get out to go to a market. Time has run out for them.

And “time” is exactly what U.S. troops in and out of Iraq don’t have – the more than 4,000 who have already been killed in Iraq and the larger number who killed themselves after leaving Iraq and coming back “home.” The 35,000 who have suffered permanent injuries. The tens of thousands of them back in the U.S. who can’t get a job. Those already out in the streets, homeless. The hundred thousand and more who have psychiatric problems because of what they did, saw and had done to them during the war – and can’t get an appointment at a veteran’s hospital.

Three Candidates: Not One Who Proposes an End to the War

When Petraeus testified, all three presidential candidates – Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain – rushed back to Washington, showing up to take advantage of the 15 minutes allotted them to ask a few questions and make a statement, and then rush off again.

McCain, who has already said that he could envision U.S. troops in the region for the next 100 years, declared, “the dramatic reduction in violence has opened the way for a return to something approaching normal political and economic life for the average Iraqi.” A “normal” life! More than one sixth of the population has been driven from their homes, living in what approaches prison camps. According to a U.N. survey, five million people depend on government rations to live – but two million of them live in areas so dangerous rations can’t be delivered. According to Oxfam International, about 70% of the population lives without access to clean water, meaning that diseases are rampant. Even Petraeus had to admit that people in Baghdad had only a few hours of electricity a day, if that. But, for McCain, that’s normal!

Aping George Bush, McCain went on to say: “We must once again reject, as we did in early 2007, the calls for a reckless and irresponsible withdrawal of our forces just at the moment when they are succeeding.”

Clinton responded to McCain, saying his policy would mean “four more years of the Bush-Cheney-McCain policy of continuing to police a civil war while the threats to our national security, our economy, and our standing in the world mount.”

Obama made a similar attack on Bush and McCain, trying to put the blame for the war on them, as well as on Clinton for voting for the war. But then, what different policy would either of them propose?

Obama told Petraeus he didn’t blame Petraeus for the situation in Iraq, since he hadn’t been involved in the decision making: “You are cleaning up the mess afterwards.”

All of Obama’s policy is in those friendly words to the general: the war needs to go on until the “mess” is cleaned up! Concretely, what would Obama do to clean up the mess? “I believe we are more likely to resolve it if we are applying increased pressure in a measured way, which, in my mind, includes a time-table for withdrawal.

Just in case anyone missed that he had no intention to end this war anytime soon, Obama reiterated the point, saying he favored a “measured not a precipitous” withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

That’s what Petraeus said he’s in favor of, “measured, not precipitous.” For that matter, so did Bush and McCain.

And Clinton, too: “I think it’s time to begin an orderly process of withdrawing our troops, start rebuilding our military and focusing on the challenges posed by Afghanistan.”

“Begin”? When, with what, how many troops, ending when?

Clinton and Obama are trying to take the presidency by riding the population’s disgust for Bush with this war. But even in the midst of the election, they are very careful not to commit to ending the war.

Clinton, in her 15-minute turn, specified why she wants to remove troops from Iraq – so they can be sent to Afghanistan, something Obama has already called for, and something that Bush had concretely proposed: he wants 5,000 troops sent to Afghanistan as soon as they can be spared from Iraq.

In other words, unwilling even to promise an end to this war, they are preparing the next one.

Bush may have planned, lied and schemed to carry out this war in the interests of big U.S. oil companies. But the Republican Party and the Democratic Party alike share responsibility for this crime. And candidates who today, five years later, cannot say clearly, precisely and concretely that they will stop it, cannot be depended on to stop it.

The worst thing for the population that wants an end to this war would be to sit back and wait on the election – and that’s true even if one of the candidates were clearly saying that he or she would immediately bring all U.S. troops out of Iraq as quickly as they could be put on ships and planes.

Waiting on the election means waiting until November, then until January 20, when the new president takes office, then waiting on that president to begin to discuss, to negotiate, to ponder, to debate – and all the other bureaucratic maneuvering that goes on inside government. And that’s if they had the intention to stop it.

How many more lives will be lost by waiting, how much more money wasted that should be spent on constructing things here, not destroying things in Iraq?

Any of these three candidates could be forced to stop the war immediately – but only if the population doesn’t wait on them to do it, only if the population forces the issue, increasing its protests, reinforcing all those troops who have made it clear they aren’t ready to fight any more in Iraq.