Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
Disclaimer: In accordance with title 17 u.s.c. section 107, this material is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.
The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
This article, by Saad Shalash and Waleed Ibrahim, was distributred by Reuters, October 25, 2009
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two suicide bombs tore through Baghdad on Sunday, killing 132 people, wounding more than 500 and leaving mangled bodies and cars on the streets in one of Iraq's deadliest days this year.
The two blasts shredded buildings and smoke billowed from the area near the Tigris River. The first bomb targeted the Justice Ministry and the second, minutes later, was aimed at the nearby provincial government building, police said.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office said that the bombs were meant to sow chaos in Iraq similar to attacks on August 19 against the finance and foreign ministries, and were aimed at stopping an election in January.
"It is the same black hands who are covered in the blood of the Iraqi people," a statement from Maliki's office said. "They want to cause chaos in the nation, hinder the political process and prevent the parliamentary election."
U.S. President Barack Obama said the bombings were outrageous and the White House said he had called Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to pledge to "stand with the Iraqis."
"These bombings serve no purpose other than the murder of innocent men, women and children, and they only reveal the hateful and destructive agenda of those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that they deserve," Obama said in a statement.
Violence has fallen since U.S.-backed tribal sheikhs helped wrest control from al Qaeda and Washington sent extra troops.
But attacks are still common in a nation trying to rebuild from years of conflict and prepare for the election at the same time as U.S. forces start to withdraw.
Officials have blamed unnamed neighbours for not stopping the attacks -- a reference to Iraqi complaints that Syria provides a safe haven for former Baathists while citizens of other Sunni Muslim states help fund the insurgency in Iraq. Iran, meanwhile, has been accused of funding and arming Shi'ite militia.
"The neighboring and distant countries should immediately refrain, forever, from harboring, financing and facilitating forces that openly proclaim their hostility to the Iraqi state," Talabani said in a statement.
Attacks could rise in the run-up to the election -- the second national vote since U.S. troops invaded in 2003 -- as forces in and around Iraq jockey for influence over the world's third largest oil reserves.
Some lawmakers criticized the security forces for failing to stop the attack. Government officials blamed the bombings on al Qaeda or remnants of former leader Saddam Hussein's Baath party. "Big Failure"
The area near the provincial building was flooded and fire fighters pulled charred and torn corpses off the streets. Burned cars piled up nearby. Workers on cranes combed the broken facade of the Justice Ministry, pulling out bodies wrapped in blankets.
"I don't know how I'm still alive. The explosion destroyed everything. Nothing is still in its place," shop owner Hamid Saadi told Reuters by telephone from near the Justice Ministry.
U.S. forces provided forensics teams and bomb experts.
Police sources said the bombs were carried in vans driven by suicide bombers while others said a truck and car were used.
The al-Mansour hotel, which houses the Chinese embassy and several foreign media groups, was also damaged.
U.S. officials say the attacks are aimed at reigniting the sectarian conflict that gripped Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion that deposed Saddam, or at undermining confidence in Maliki before the parliamentary poll.
Maliki is widely expected to campaign on improved security. The attacks were launched as his government tries to sign multi-billion dollar crude deals, expected to turn Iraq into the world's third largest oil producer.
The bombings raise doubts about the Iraqi forces' ability to take over overall security from U.S. soldiers who pulled out of Iraqi city centers in June ahead of the complete withdrawal from the country by the end of 2011.
"This breach is a big failure of the security forces who are responsible, along with the security officials, for what happened," said Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer, who heads the parliamentary bloc of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of Maliki's main Shi'ite rivals in the coming election.
The following article was posted to CNN online, October 1, 2009
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It isn't clear whether the United States will ever be able to declare victory in Iraq, the top U.S. commander there said Thursday.
'm not sure we will ever see anyone declare victory in Iraq, because first off, I'm not sure we'll know for 10 years or five years," Army Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters at the Pentagon.
About 123,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq now, and President Obama says all combat forces will be gone by the end of August 2010, leaving as many as 50,000 noncombat troops to advise and train Iraqi forces before leaving by the end of 2011.
Odierno has said he wants to draw down the U.S. forces at a faster rate than planned if the security situation allows it. On Thursday, he said he expected the number of U.S. troops to drop to 120,000 by the end of October, and to as few as 110,000 by the end of 2009.
"What we've done here is we're giving Iraq an opportunity in the long term to be a strategic partner of the United States, but more importantly, be a partner in providing regional stability inside of the Middle East," Odierno said.
Odierno also highlighted continuing security issues inside the country, saying Iraqi security forces have recently seized several "very large" caches of Iranian-made rockets and armor-piercing munitions known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs.
"If you're training people ... in Iran to come back into Iraq, and you're providing them rockets and other things, I call that significant because it still enables people to conduct attacks not only on U.S. forces but on Iraqi civilians," Odierno said.
At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Odierno said the main threat to stability in Iraq are Arab-Kurd tensions, adding there has been difficulty bringing the two sides together for possible joint patrols.
"We've had some very good meetings," he said. "But we still have some ways to go on that."
This article, by Heath Druzin, was published in Stars and Stripes, September 19, 2009
BAGHDAD — With more than two years left in the slow, regimented ending to a chaotic war, new rules placing tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops under virtual house arrest on their bases mean the American military increasingly finds itself a symbolic force in Iraq.
Whether it’s symbolic of a problem or a solution depends on whom you ask.
Many inside and outside the U.S. military are now calling for the United States to hasten its withdrawal from this still-fragile country. They point to a newly assertive Iraqi national government that has significantly curtailed the U.S. forces’ mission, an Iraqi public largely hostile to U.S. troops and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan urgently seeking more soldiers to wage the increasingly intractable war there.
About 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq — twice the size of the force in Afghanistan — but many have been moved from the combat outposts that were so key to Gen. David Petraeus’ "surge" strategy. Instead, under the terms of a security agreement worked out between the U.S. and the Iraqi government that pulled back American troops from Iraqi cities, the U.S. forces remain largely confined to sprawling bases resembling fortified towns, such as Baghdad’s Victory Base Complex.
Generally forbidden to patrol, the troops fill their days with training, maintaining equipment and packing up unneeded material for shipment out of Iraq.
Iraqi security forces still have the option to conduct joint patrols with Americans or to request their help, but it almost never happens. American troops are almost invisible in Iraqi cities, moving in the dead of night, and then only with Iraqi permission.
The U.S. is providing behind-the-scenes help with intelligence, training and air support, but day-to-day security is almost entirely an Iraqi enterprise.
"The thing is that we don’t really need the Americans to help us in the cities," said Lt. Gen. Ali Qaidan Majeed, commander of Iraqi ground forces.
U.S. Army Col. Timothy Reese, chief of the Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team, argued in a recent memo titled "It’s Time for the U.S. to Declare Victory and Go Home" that the United States has done all it can for Iraq and should accelerate its scheduled withdrawal from the country to August 2010 — 16 months earlier than now planned.
"As the old saying goes, ‘guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,’ " Reese wrote. "Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose."
Reese continued: "Our combat operations are currently the victim of circular logic. We conduct operations to kill or capture violent extremists of all types to protect the Iraqi people and support the [Iraqi government]. The violent extremists attack us because we are still here conducting military operations."
In Baghdad, many troops echo Reese’s concerns, privately questioning how much more the U.S. can offer the Iraqi security forces. But they say that expressing such views publicly would threaten their military careers.
"I agree with [Reese] 100 percent, but you can’t say that out loud," said one officer who has worked closely with Iraqi security forces and who asked to remain anonymous. ‘Rethink the mission’
Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst and author of the Brookings Institution’s authoritative Iraq Index, agrees that the U.S. is overmanned for its new, limited missions.
But O’Hanlon does not endorse accelerating the withdrawal as quickly as Reese, citing the U.S. role in bolstering intelligence and training and mediating ethnic tensions in northern Iraq.
"It is true, at the moment we have too many troops for the missions we’re being allowed to perform," O’Hanlon said. "However, the right solution might be to rethink the mission set and consider at least temporarily expanding it somewhat."
U.S. commanders are increasingly walking a political tightrope, praising the competence of Iraqi forces and downplaying their own security role while simultaneously endorsing the decision to keep a mid-sized city’s worth of troops on standby. Some speculate that the troops are being kept as backup for an expected increase in violence during Iraq’s national elections, scheduled for January.
Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, commander of Multi-National Corps–Iraq, said at a recent news conference that there are no plans to accelerate the U.S. withdrawal.
"We’re happy with our current schedule; we think our strategy is sound," Jacoby said. "We’re enabling and assisting [the Iraqis] as they ask. They don’t need our combat forces in the city."
Yet, a recent spike in violence, punctuated by devastating truck bombs last month outside two Iraqi ministries in Baghdad that killed about 100 people, has renewed doubts about the ability of Iraqi security forces to deal with an insurgency that appears bent on rekindling sectarian violence.
August was one of the deadliest months for Iraqi civilians in the past year, according to an Associated Press tally.
There is also concern about continuing violence in northern areas claimed by both Kurds and Arabs, where insurgents have staged bombings in Kurdish towns in hopes of triggering ethnic reprisals.
Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has proposed a more active role for U.S. troops there, including trilateral patrols grouping Kurdish, Arab and American soldiers. But that idea is still in the planning stage and Iraq is not much nearer to solving the territorial dispute than it was at the beginning of the war.
Many U.S. troops who have worked closely with their Iraqi counterparts scoff at the idea that the Iraqis are capable of standing up to the insurgency, citing infiltration, corruption and a general lack of discipline. One lieutenant in Baghdad said his Iraqi counterpart openly skims between 20 and 30 percent of his soldiers’ salaries off the top, a practice difficult to track in Iraq’s cash economy. Slower pullout?
Despite his confidence that his troops can stand on their own, Majeed, the Iraqi ground forces commander, says he still needs U.S. backup, even leaving the door open to a longer-than-planned U.S. commitment if Iraqi forces prove unready by the time remaining U.S. combat forces pull out.
The agreement between Washington and Baghdad calls for the withdrawal of American combat forces by the end of August 2010 and of all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.
"If it doesn’t happen by 2011, we would have to find a new mechanism to work with the Americans," he said.
In the end, the U.S. may not have much say in the matter.
Iraqi voters are scheduled to vote in January whether to rescind the status of forces agreement that allows the U.S. military to operate in the country. The Iraqi parliament would then need to ratify the results of the referendum and order the complete U.S. withdrawal to be sped up by a year.
The outcome of that popular vote is not in much doubt. With the exception of the Kurdish north, anti-American sentiments are widespread in Iraq. Iraqis may be unsure of their country’s fledgling security forces, but they have grown increasingly weary of the U.S. presence, which many remember for heavy-handedness and the daily frustrations of passing through checkpoints and enduring long traffic jams behind slow-moving military convoys.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for the same time as the January referendum, and candidates are finding anti-occupation platforms popular with Iraqis.
Elected officials and military commanders frequently challenge the Americans. For example, U.S. convoys are now regularly stopped at Iraqi checkpoints, a source of irritation for many American troops.
If Iraqis do decide to boot out the U.S. a year ahead of schedule, it would require a complete focus on the logistics of leaving at the expense of other tasks, such as sharing intelligence and training, said Brig. Gen. Heidi Brown, who is overseeing the exodus of U.S. equipment and troops.
"Is [a rapid redeployment] doable? Yes, but you pay the price," she said.
During a visit to Baghdad on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. would follow the lead of Iraqi officials regarding the timetable for the pullout.
"Whatever the Iraqi people decide," Biden told reporters, "we will abide by it."
This article, by Conn Hallinan, was posted to Foreign Policy in Focus, September 10, 2009
One of the oddest — indeed, surreal — encounters around the war in Afghanistan has to be a telephone call this past July 27. On one end of the line was historian Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History. On the other, State Department special envoy Richard Holbrooke and the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. The question: How can Washington avoid the kind of defeat it suffered in Southeast Asia 40 years ago?
Karnow did not divulge what he said to the two men, but he told Associated Press that the "lesson" of Vietnam "was that we shouldn't have been there," and that, while "Obama and everybody else seems to want to be in Afghanistan," he, Karnow, was opposed to the war.
It is hardly surprising that Washington should see parallels to the Vietnam debacle. The enemy is elusive enemy. The local population is neutral, if not hostile. And the governing regime is corrupt with virtually no support outside of the nation's capital.
But in many ways Afghanistan is worse than Vietnam. So, it is increasingly hard to fathom why a seemingly intelligent American administration seems determined to hitch itself to this disaster in the making. It is almost as if there is something about that hard-edged Central Asian country that deranges its occupiers. Delusion #1 In his address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Obama characterized Afghanistan as "a war of necessity" against international terrorism. But the reality is that the Taliban is a polyglot collection of conflicting political currents whose goals are local, not universal jihad.
"The insurgency is far from monolithic," says Anand Gopal, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor based in Afghanistan. "There are shadowy, kohl-eyed mullahs and head-bobbing religious students, of course, but there are also erudite university students, poor illiterate farmers, and veteran anti-Soviet commanders. The movement is a mélange of nationalists, Islamists, and bandits...made up of competing commanders and differing ideologies and strategies who nonetheless agree on one essential goal: kicking out the foreigners."
Taliban spokesman Yousef Ahmadi told Gopal, "We are fighting to free our country from foreign domination," adding, "Even the Americans once waged an insurgency to free their country."
Besides the Taliban, there are at least two other insurgent groups. Hizb-I-Islam is led by former U.S. ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyer. The Haqqani group, meanwhile, has close ties to al-Qaeda.
The White House's rationale of "international terrorism" parallels the Southeast Asian tragedy. The U.S. characterized Vietnam as part of an international Communist conspiracy, while the conflict was essentially a homegrown war of national liberation. Delusion #2
One casualty of Vietnam was the doctrine of counterinsurgency, the theory that an asymmetrical war against guerrillas can be won by capturing the "hearts and minds" of the people. Of course "hearts and minds" was a pipe dream, obliterated by massive civilian casualties, the widespread use of defoliants, and the creation of "strategic hamlets" that had more in common with concentration camps than villages.
In Vietnam's aftermath, "counterinsurgency" fell out of favor, to be replaced by the "Powell Doctrine" of relying on massive firepower to win wars. With that strategy the United States crushed the Iraqi army in the first Gulf War. Even though the doctrine was downsized for the invasion of Iraq a decade later, it was still at the heart of the attack.
However, within weeks of taking Baghdad, U.S. soldiers were besieged by an insurgency that wasn't in the lesson plan. Ambushes and roadside bombs took a steady toll on U.S. and British troops, and aggressive countermeasures predictably turned the population against the occupation.
After four years of getting hammered by insurgents, the Pentagon rediscovered counterinsurgency, and its prophet was General David Petraeus, now commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia. "Hearts and minds" was dusted off, and the watchwords became "clear, hold, and build." Troops were to hang out with the locals, dig wells, construct schools, and measure success not by body counts of the enemy, but by the "security" of the civilian population.
This theory impelled the Obama administration to "surge" 21,000 troops into Afghanistan, and to consider adding another 20,000 in the near future. The idea is that a surge will reduce the violence, as a similar surge of 30,000 troops had done in Iraq. Delusion #3 But as Patrick Cockburn of The Independent discovered, the surge didn't work in Iraq.
With the possible exception of Baghdad, it wasn't U.S. troops that reduced the violence in Iraq, but the decision by Sunni insurgents that they could no longer fight a two-front war against the Iraqi government and the United States. The ceasefire by Shi'ite cleric and Madhi Army leader Muqtada al-Sadr also helped calm things down. In any case, as recent events have demonstrated, the "peace" was largely illusory.
Not only is a similar "surge" in Afghanistan unlikely to be successful, the formula behind counterinsurgency doctrine predicts that the Obama administration is headed for a train wreck.
According to investigative journalist Jordan Michael Smith, the "U.S/ Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual" — co-authored by Petraeus — recommends "a minimum of 20 counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents. In Afghanistan, with its population estimated at 33 million, that would mean at least 660,000 troops." And this requires not just any soldiers, but soldiers trained in counterinsurgency doctrine. The numbers don't add up. The United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies currently have about 64,000 troops in Afghanistan, and that figure would rise to almost 100,000 when the present surge is completed. Some 68,000 of those will be American. There is also a possibility that Obama will add another 20,000, bringing the total to 120,000, larger than the Soviet Army that occupied Afghanistan. That's still only a fifth of what the counterinsurgency manual recommends.
Meanwhile, the American public is increasingly disillusioned with the war. According to a recent CNN poll, 57% of Americans oppose the war, a jump of 9% since May. Among Obama supporters the opposition is overwhelming: Nearly two-thirds of "committed" Democrats feel "strongly" the war is not worth fighting. Delusion #4 Afghanistan isn't like Iraq because NATO is behind us. Way behind us.
The British — whose troops actually fight, as opposed to doing "reconstruction" like most of the other 16 NATO nations — have lost the home crowd. Polls show deep opposition to the war, a sentiment that is echoed all over Europe. Indeed, the German Defense Minister Franz-Joseph Jung has yet to use the word "war" in relation to Afghanistan.
That little piece of fiction went a-glimmering in June, when three Bundeswehr soldiers were killed near Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. Indeed, as U.S. Marines go on the offensive in the country's south, the Taliban are pulling up stakes and moving east and north to target the Germans. The tactic is as old as guerrilla warfare: "Where the enemy is strong, disperse. Where the enemy is weak, concentrate."
While Berlin's current ruling coalition of Social Democrats and conservatives quietly back the war, the Free Democrats — who are likely to join Chancellor Angela Merkel's government after the next election — are calling for bringing Germany's 4,500 troops home.
The opposition Left Party has long opposed the war, and that opposition gave it a boost in recent state elections.
The United States and NATO can't — or won't — supply the necessary troops, and the Afghan army is small, corrupt and incompetent. No matter how one adds up the numbers, the task is impossible. So why is the administration following an unsupportable course of action? Why We Fight There is that oil pipeline from the Caspian that no one wants to talk about. Strategic control of energy is certainly a major factor in Central Asia. Then, too, there is the fear that a defeat for NATO in its first "out of area" war might fatally damage the alliance.
But when all is said and done, there also seems to be is a certain studied derangement about the whole matter, a derangement that was on display July 12 when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told parliament that the war was showing "signs of success."
British forces had just suffered 15 deaths in a little more than a week, eight of them in a 24-hour period. It has now lost more soldiers that it did in Iraq. This is Britain's fourth war in Afghanistan.
The Karzai government has stolen the election. The war has spilled over to help destabilize and impoverish nuclear-armed Pakistan. The American and European public is increasingly opposed to the war. July was the deadliest month ever for the United States, and the Obama administration is looking at a $9 trillion deficit.
What are these people thinking?
This article, by Geoff Millard, was posted to the IVAW website, September 9, 2009
It has been nearly four years sense my return from Iraq and yet some days I feel like I am still in the ROC at FOB Speicher. Last night was one of those nights.
As I sat and listened to the Iraqi trade unionist talk during part one of last nights program I was trying to balance listening to what they were saying with preparing my own remarks. I listened as they talked about lack of power, clean water, and security much the same as was the case four years ago while I was in Iraq. I heard these things but it was not their words that put me back there.
I kept nervously shuffling through my pocket and playing with my Washington DC drivers license. I felt the smooth edges and ran my fingers across the face until it reached a corner whose own face has begun to peel. As I flicked the peeling facade of my ID with my finger I looked up and was bad in the ROC. I could hear MAJ M not the presenter. I strained to hear through the crackle of the radio, not the interpreter.
A few minutes later I had to take the stage and try to tell the audience in our nations capital what IVAW was doing to end the occupations. More over I had to look these Iraqis in the eyes and say; "I was one of those who occupied your country. I am one of those that helped to kill your people. And this is what I am doing to try and make sure it ends."
I talked about the Field Organizing Program, the work it is and will be doing. I talked about the unique place that IVAW has in the antiwar movement. But, the entire time that those Iraqis stared up at me from the front row all I wanted to do was to scream my apologies, beg forgiveness, and plead with them until I no longer was associated with the occupation. I wanted to but what good would it have done? I may feel a bit better in the moment if a small group of Iraqis tells me that "it's ok" but unless I am ending the war I am not making it right.
When it comes down to it the reason why I do this work is because the best thing that we as veterans can do to help the people of Iraq is to get our friends home alive. They are not wanted there and every Iraqi I have ever met in my travels wishes for the same thing. The work that IVAW does to bring our brothers and sisters in arms home alive is the most important thing any of us can be doing. The small things that sometimes distract us are gone in the moment when face to face with a group of Iraqis that smile and welcome you despite the fact that I have helped to ruin their lives.
To morrow night these same Iraqis will have dinner at the IVAW DC house. Maybe then they will see that what I do now is with as much sorrow and regret as it is with love and solidarity.
This video is a mix of the Army Strong video produced by the army to entice young women and men to join the military. The other video is produced by Displaced Films which is a series of films produced for the Iraq Veterans Against the War http://ivaw.org/wintersoldier
The series of films can also be seen here http://www.vimeo.com/5448532
You can make a donation to Jeriko Films here http://jerikofilms.wordpress.com/about/
The military has a budget of $459 million in advertising revenue which is the amount it spent in 2005. Please help us provide an honest picture of war by making a donation. Here is further information from, David Zeiger who requested we include the following information.
Hello Cindy and All
I am so happy that you used episodes from our series, This is Where We Take Our Stand, for your Army Strong video. It's incredibly powerful, and getting out to a lot of people. You did a great thing with it, and this is what the series is for.
I have a very important request, though. Please make it much more clear on your site and in the piece that the material is from the web series This is Where We Take Our Stand, and that the entire series can and should be seen at http://thisiswherewetakeourstand.com/ There are still two episodes that will be posted this monday and in two weeks, and then the entire series will be available as a single piece as well.
First of all, it's important that people see the whole series. But along with that, it's been a tremendous struggle to get the story made and told, and we are still in the midst of trying to get the funds to complete a television film as well. So it is crucial that both the name of the series and the people who made it be very prominent whenever it is used. It's also important to include that it is from the people who made Sir! No Sir! I'm sure you understand all of this.
We are linking Army Strong to http://thisiswherewetakeourstand.com/, and will do what we can to help get it out there.
The following interview, with Paul Wolfowitz, wasx braodcast on Weekend All Things Considered, September 5, 2009.
Some issues of the past still affect the present. Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz sat down Friday with former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the man widely known — fairly or not — as the "Architect of the Iraq War."
Wolfowitz has written a spirited attack on the so-called "realists" of the foreign policy world, including those who support President Obama, in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine.
Raz asked Wolfowitz about his view of realism but also about issues he was somewhat reluctant to discuss: Iran and the Iraq war.
Foreign policy realists, in simple terms, believe the United States should only act when it serves its own interests. Many of them opposed the invasion of Iraq.
In his article, Wolfowitz writes that President Obama is not a classic realist.
Paul Wolfowitz: If you wanted to find a realist, as someone who believes foreign policy should support American interests, then I know of very few people who wouldn't associate themselves with that view. And certainly I do, and I'm sure President Obama does. The question is what are American interests? And there is a school of thought — and it's a fairly influential one — that says American interests should concern themselves only between external conduct of countries and external relations between states, and that we have no business getting involved with their internal affairs. And in fact, that's interference. And it's beyond our capacity. And my basic point is that, first of all, it is our business: The internal affairs of other countries has a big impact on American interests. To me, the evidence on that is dramatic, and we have an ability to influence more in some places than some others.
Guy Raz: Is that — when do you pick and choose? PW: Well, you tailor what you can do according to the circumstances. GR: Because you can't apply it consistently. PW: Look, I think the notion that there's a dogma or doctrine of foreign policy that gives you a textbook recipe for how to react to all situations is really nonsense. GR: But I want to ask you about President Obama, because you say that he is not a "realist." You argue that he is something else PW: Look, they made me take the quote marks out. It bothers me that the so-called "realists" have appropriated this term, "realism." Obama is, I think, a realist. GR: By "realist," you're referring to people like professor Stephen Walt from Harvard, John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago ... PW: I'm not trying to refer to a particular individual; I'm referring to people who believe in a doctrine that the internal affairs of countries is not our business, OK, and if people want to say there's no such person, then fine, that argument is over. I don't think that's true, actually, but I'm not really interested in individuals; I'm interested in saying we have a record over 25 years where American promotion of freedom and Democratic institutions — and, by the way, the rights of women, which is part of that — and if you look ahead, and Muslim countries, I believe, and improving the condition of women is not only something one should do because it's right, but it's in American interests and I think Mrs. Clinton — Secretary Clinton, excuse me — has that piece of the agenda correct, and I think she's being a realist. I think someone who puts themselves in a doctrine that says the way Saudi Arabia treats its women is no concern of ours. They may call themselves realists, but I think they're very unrealistic. GR: In defense of the argument that foreign policy realists are making, they're not saying that democracy promotion shouldn't happen; I think the argument they're making is it shouldn't happen at the point of a gun. PW: There's no argument that you don't do it at the point of a gun, and one of the points I make in that article is despite a lot of inaccurate representations — including this use of the word "architect" to describe me, I'm sorry — we went to war in Iraq, those of us who supported because we believed — GR: I mean, you were described that way in 2004 and — PW: You're not the only one who did it, but I don't want to get into an argument about why I did. The real point is this: Look, people who supported it, including me, did it because we believed Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and not because we believed we needed to go to war to install a democracy in Iraq. GR: In a response to your piece in Foreign Policy, one of the best known realists, Harvard professor Stephen Walt writes, "Idealistic wars of choice like Iraq invariably force policymakers to engage in threat inflation and deception, and Wolfowitz was an able practitioner of this art." There are so many unanswered questions about Iraq. First, your response to Stephen Walt. PW: Look, I didn't do this Q&A in order to argue about the Iraq war. I did this Q&A precisely for the opposite reason, which is to say that — GR: But this is a response to your — PW: Let me finish — which is precisely to say, don't confuse the Iraq war with promoting democracy peacefully, and that is an extremely important part of American foreign policy, and I personally don't think we should use force to promote democracy. Maybe there's someone around who does, but the real point is, we can have a lot of argument about Iraq, and a lot of people can feel very strongly that it was the wrong thing to do, and I'm just, in effect, pleading: Don't let that carry over to saying we should abandon anything that looks like, quote, interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. Don't abandon the cause of women's rights. Don't abandon the cause of people pushing for freedom and democracy in Iran GR: But surely you can understand the skepticism of those like Walt who say we need to be very careful now because of the mistakes of Iraq. PW: We need to always be very careful about the use of force. There is no question about that, but I don't think it applies to being, quote, very careful about supporting democratic reformers in the Arab world. GR: The question is not about supporting democracy in the Arab world but what Walt in his argument calls "idealistic wars" — PW: I'm sorry, that isn't the issue. I'm not arguing for "idealistic wars," so we have no argument about that. If that's what the issue is — and if he thinks nobody is questioning support for Democracy — then there's no issue with him. But there are people who in fact believe that we have no business getting involved in internal affairs. GR: But there are clear examples of when you were trying to connect Iraq and al-Qaida — you've seen the Pentagon inspector general's report that was released by the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2007. I mean you write to Doug Feith, "We are not pulling together these links." I mean, can't you understand PW: Look, you want to re-debate the Iraq war, that's a different subject. But when I no, look — GR: — This is one of the most important foreign policy decisions taken in the last 30 years — PW: — But the issue that I'm trying — GR: — That you were a major part of.
1. PW: What I'm trying to say is no matter how much you detest the Iraq war, no matter what you want to say about arguments that I made, the fact is that it remains in our interest to do the kind of thing that we did with Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, that we did with Chun Doo Hwan in Korea, that we did with the whole Eastern Europe/Soviet Union, that we've done since then with promoting democracy in places like Serbia. Look at the change that's taken place in the Balkans because of the political change in Belgrade. GR: There's some testimony you gave to the House Budget Committee in 2003 shortly before the war, and I want to play that for you:
Recording of Wolfowitz in 2003: "It's been a good — a good deal of comments, some of it quite outlandish, about what our post-war requirements might be in Iraq. Some of the higher-end predictions that we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark. First, it's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine." GR: Not hard to imagine today. PW: Well, look, even at the height of the surge, I believe we got 180,000 American troops, and I don't think we'd have had to do that if we had built up the Iraqi security forces from day one the way we should have — but look, you're sort of illustrating, it seems to me, an obsession and I understand it, I'm not trying — I understand why people want to debate the past, but what I'm trying to say is, in terms of making policy today, whatever you think about the past, let's try to come to some agreement if we can that in fact it is in America's interest to promote reform in the Arab world and to do it peacefully. GR: But knowing what you know now about what happened in Iraq, would you have done it in a different way? I mean, you say — PW: You can't leave Iraq alone. GR: I mean is it more difficult for us to go to a country like Saudi Arabia and say, "We want you to do X, Y and Z, and we want you to follow these democratic principles in light of allegations of torture, in light of the mistakes made in Iraq — PW: You know, it's interesting, it's interesting — GR: I mean, isn't it hard to make — PW: No it isn't. It isn't. And it's especially not hard for this president. I mean, this president has a bully pulpit like no other, and whether it's fair or unfair, George Bush would have had a problem. Barack Obama has an incredible opportunity because he has a clean slate, because of who he is, because of what he represents about the best of America. GR: Do you believe Iran poses a threat to the United States? PW: I think on the track they're on, I think it's a very dangerous country. GR: I'm wondering, if you think it's a dangerous country, can you understand the skepticism that many Americans would have, particularly because of Iraq and because many Americans were led to believe Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States, that they would be skeptical about whether Iran poses the same kind of threat? PW: Look, I think Iraq was dangerous. I think a country that defies 17 U.N. resolutions and, which, the day after 9/11 Saddam Hussein says 'Until Americans suffer the way they've made other people suffer,' that its government will never change its policy it was a dangerous country. Some people misread the danger by the way, it wasn't just George Bush, Bill Clinton was the one who said, I think in 1998, 'I guarantee you someday they'll use these weapons.' GR: But he didn't invade Iraq. PW: He bombed it for four days. I think he thought that might bring them around. GR: But there's a difference — we're talking now about a war that's cost $800 billion — 4,300 lives. PW: I'm not saying it hasn't been costly and difficult but George Bush made that decision after many more years of frustration and after an unbelievable demonstration of what terrorism could mean and what weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists could mean. I mean, we're going to probably debate the Iraq war for at least as long as I'm alive — GR: — And you can understand why. PW: — I can understand why. What I'm trying to say is, don't confuse everything that President Bush was in favor of with the Iraq war that you may not like. GR: You have no regrets about what happened. PW: That's not true, but I didn't come here — look, there were a lot of mistakes that were made and some of them, I would say I identified and some of them I didn't, and I'm not the "architect," I'm not the sole author here, but that's not the point. The point here is we have a long record of American support for democratic institutions and for freedom, and we shouldn't give that up because we think it's somehow the Iraq war. GR: Ambassador Paul Wolfowitz is the former deputy defense secretary and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Thanks for coming in. PW: Thank you.
This article by James Petras, was posted to Information Clearing House, August 21, 2009
The US seven-year war and occupation of Iraq is driven by several major political forces and informed by a variety of imperial interests. However these interests do not in themselves explain the depth and scope of the sustained, massive and continuing destruction of an entire society and its reduction to a permanent state of war. The range of political forces contributing to the making of the war and the subsequent US occupation include the following (in order of importance):
The most important political force was also the least openly discussed. The Zionist Power Configuration (ZPC), which includes the prominent role of long-time, hard-line unconditional Jewish supporters of the State of Israel appointed to top positions in the Bush Pentagon (Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz ), key operative in the Office of the Vice President (Irving (Scooter) Libby), the Treasury Department (Stuart Levey), the National Security Council (Elliot Abrams) and a phalanx of consultants, Presidential speechwriters (David Frum), secondary officials and policy advisers to the State Department. These committed Zionists ‘insiders’ were buttressed by thousands of full-time Israel-First functionaries in the 51 major American Jewish organizations, which form the President of the Major American Jewish Organizations (PMAJO). They openly stated that their top priority was to advance Israel’s agenda, which, in this case, was a US war against Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, occupy the country, physically divide Iraq, destroy its military and industrial capability and impose a pro-Israel/pro-US puppet regime. If Iraq were ethnically cleansed and divided, as advocated by the ultra-right, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and the ‘Liberal’ President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and militarist-Zionist, Leslie Gelb, there would be more than several ‘client regimes’.
Top Zionist policymakers who promoted the war did not initially directly pursue the policy of systematically destroying what, in effect, was the entire Iraqi civilization. But their support and design of an occupation policy included the total dismemberment of the Iraqi state apparatus and recruitment of Israeli advisers to provide their ‘expertise’ in interrogation techniques, repression of civilian resistance and counter-insurgency. Israeli expertise certainly played a role in fomenting the intra-Iraqi religious and ethnic strife, which Israel had mastered in Palestine. The Israeli ‘model’ of colonial war and occupation – the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 – and the practice of ‘total destruction’ using sectarian, ethno-religious division was evident in the notorious massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, which took place under Israeli military supervision.
The second powerful political force behind the Iraq War were civilian militarists (like Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney) who sought to extend US imperial reach in the Persian Gulf and strengthen its geo-political position by eliminating a strong, secular, nationalist backer of Arab anti-imperialist insurgency in the Middle East. The civilian militarists sought to extend the American military base encirclement of Russia and secure control over Iraqi oil reserves as a pressure point against China. The civilian militarists were less moved by Vice President Cheney’s past ties with the oil industry and more interested in his role as CEO of Halliburton’s giant military base contractor subsidiary Kellogg-Brown and Root, which was consolidating the US Empire through worldwide military base expansion. Major US oil companies, who feared losing out to European and Asian competitors, were already eager to deal with Saddam Hussein, and some of the Bush’s supporters in the oil industry had already engaged in illegal trading with the embargoed Iraqi regime. The oil industry was not inclined to promote regional instability with a war.
The militarist strategy of conquest and occupation was designed to establish a long-term colonial military presence in the form of strategic military bases with a significant and sustained contingent of colonial military advisors and combat units. The brutal colonial occupation of an independent secular state with a strong nationalist history and an advanced infrastructure with a sophisticated military and police apparatus, extensive public services and wide-spread literacy naturally led to the growth of a wide array of militant and armed anti-occupation movements. In response, US colonial officials, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agencies devised a ‘divide and rule’ strategy (the so-called ‘El Salvador solution’ associated with the former ‘hot-spot’ Ambassador and US Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte) fomenting armed sectarian-based conflicts and promoting inter-religious assassinations to debilitate any effort at a united nationalist anti-imperialist movement. The dismantling of the secular civilian bureaucracy and military was designed by the Zionists in the Bush Administration to enhance Israel’s power in the region and to encourage the rise of militant Islamic groups, which had been repressed by the deposed Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. Israel had mastered this strategy earlier: It originally sponsored and financed sectarian Islamic militant groups, like Hamas, as an alternative to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization and set the stage for sectarian fighting among the Palestinians.
The result of US colonial policies were to fund and multiply a wide range of internal conflicts as mullahs, tribal leaders, political gangsters, warlords, expatriates and death squads proliferated. The ‘war of all against all’ served the interests of the US occupation forces. Iraq became a pool of armed, unemployed young men, from which to recruit a new mercenary army. The ‘civil war’ and ‘ethnic conflict’ provided a pretext for the US and its Iraqi puppets to discharge hundreds of thousands of soldiers, police and functionaries from the previous regime (especially if they were from Sunni, mixed or secular families) and to undermine the basis for civilian employment. Under the cover of generalized ‘war against terror’, US Special Forces and CIA-directed death squads spread terror within Iraqi civil society, targeting anyone suspected of criticizing the puppet government – especially among the educated and professional classes, precisely the Iraqis most capable of re-constructing an independent secular republic.
The Iraq war was driven by an influential group of neo-conservative and neo-liberal ideologues with strong ties to Israel. They viewed the success of the Iraq war (by success they meant the total dismemberment of the country) as the first ‘domino’ in a series of war to ‘re-colonize’ the Middle East (in their words: “to re-draw the map”). They disguised their imperial ideology with a thin veneer of rhetoric about ‘promoting democracies’ in the Middle East (excluding, of course, the un-democratic policies of their ‘homeland’ Israel over its subjugated Palestinians). Conflating Israeli regional hegemonic ambitions with the US imperial interests, the neo-conservatives and their neo-liberal fellow travelers in the Democratic Party first backed President Bush and later President Obama in their escalation of the wars against Afghanistan and Pakistan. They unanimously supported Israel’s savage bombing campaign against Lebanon, the land and air assault and massacre of thousands of civilians trapped in Gaza, the bombing of Syrian facilities and the big push (from Israel) for a pre-emptive, full-scale military attack against Iran.
The US advocates of sequential and multiple simultaneous wars in the Middle East and South Asia believed that they could only unleash the full strength of their mass destructive power after they had secured total control of their first victim, Iraq. They were confident that Iraqi resistance would collapse rapidly after 13 years of brutal starvation sanctions imposed on the republic by the US and United Nations. In order to consolidate imperial control, American policy-makers decided to permanently silence all independent Iraqi civilian dissidents. They turned to the financing of Shia clerics and Sunni tribal assassins, and contracting scores of thousands of private mercenaries among the Kurdish Peshmerga warlords to carry out selective assassinations of leaders of civil society movements.
The US created and trained a 200,000 member Iraqi colonial puppet army composed almost entirely of Shia gunmen, and excluded experienced Iraqi military men from secular, Sunni or Christian backgrounds. A little known result of this build up of American trained and financed death squads and its puppet ‘Iraqi’ army, was the virtual destruction of the ancient Iraqi Christian population, which was displaced, its churches bombed and its leaders, bishops and intellectuals, academics and scientists assassinated or driven into exile. The US and its Israeli advisers were well aware that Iraqi Christians had played a key role the historic development of the secular, nationalist, anti-British/anti-monarchist movements and their elimination as an influential force during the first years of US occupation was no accident. The result of the US policies were to eliminate most secular democratic anti-imperialist leaders and movements and to present their murderous net-work of ‘ethno-religious’ collaborators as their uncontested ‘partners’ in sustaining the long-term US colonial presence in Iraq. With their puppets in power, Iraq would serve as a launching platform for its strategic pursuit of the other ‘dominoes’ (Syria, Iran, Central Asian Republics…).
The sustained bloody purge of Iraq under US occupation resulted in the killing 1.3 million Iraqi civilians during the first 7 years after Bush invaded in March 2003. Up to mid-2009, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has officially cost the American treasury over $666 billion. This enormous expenditure attests to its centrality in the larger US imperial strategy for the entire Middle East/South and Central Asia region. Washington’s policy of politicizing and militarizing ethno-religious differences, arming and encouraging rival tribal, religious and ethnic leaders to engage in mutual bloodletting served to destroy national unity and resistance. The ‘divide and rule’ tactics and reliance on retrograde social and religious organizations is the commonest and best-known practice in pursuing the conquest and subjugation of a unified, advanced nationalist state. Breaking up the national state, destroying nationalist consciousness and encouraging primitive ethno-religious, feudal and regional loyalties required the systematic destruction of the principal purveyors of nationalist consciousness, historical memory and secular, scientific thought. Provoking ethno-religious hatreds destroyed intermarriages, mixed communities and institutions with their long-standing personal friendships and professional ties among diverse backgrounds. The physical elimination of academics, writers, teachers, intellectuals, scientists and professionals, especially physicians, engineers, lawyers, jurists and journalists was decisive in imposing ethno-religious rule under a colonial occupation. To establish long-term dominance and sustain ethno-religious client rulers, the entire pre-existing cultural edifice, which had sustained an independent secular nationalist state, was physically destroyed by the US and its Iraqi puppets. This included destroying the libraries, census bureaus, and repositories of all property and court records, health departments, laboratories, schools, cultural centers, medical facilities and above all the entire scientific-literary-humanistic social scientific class of professionals. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi professionals and family members were driven by terror into internal and external exile. All funding for national, secular, scientific and educational institutions were cut off. Death squads engaged in the systematic murder of thousands of academics and professionals suspected of the least dissent, the least nationalist sentiment; anyone with the least capacity to re-construct the republic was marked. The Destruction of a Modern Arab Civilization
Independent, secular Iraq had the most advanced scientific-cultural order in the Arab world, despite the repressive nature of Saddam Hussein’s police state. There was a system of national health care, universal public education and generous welfare services, combined with unprecedented levels of gender equality. This marked the advanced nature of Iraqi civilization in the late 20th century. Separation of church and state and strict protection of religious minorities (Christians, Assyrians and others) contrasts sharply with what has resulted from the US occupation and its destruction of the Iraqi civil and governmental structures. The harsh dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein thus presided over a highly developed modern civilization in which advanced scientific work went hand in hand with a strong nationalist and anti-imperialist identity. This resulted especially in the Iraqi people and regime’s expressions of solidarity for the plight of the Palestinian people under Israeli rule and occupation.
A mere ‘regime change’ could not extirpate this deeply embedded and advanced secular republican culture in Iraq. The US war planners and their Israeli advisers were well aware that colonial occupation would increase Iraqi nationalist consciousness unless the secular nation was destroyed and hence, the imperial imperative to uproot and destroy the carriers of nationalist consciousness by physically eliminating the educated, the talented, the scientific, indeed the most secular elements of Iraqi society. Retrogression became the principal instrument for the US to impose its colonial puppets, with their primitive, ‘pre-national’ loyalties, in power in a culturally purged Baghdad stripped of its most sophisticated and nationalistic social strata.
According to the Al-Ahram Studies Center in Cairo, more that 310 Iraqi scientists were eliminated during the first 18 months of the US occupation – a figure that the Iraqi education ministry did not dispute.
Another report listed the killings of more than 340 intellectuals and scientists between 2005 and 2007. Bombings of institutes of higher education had pushed enrollment down to 30% of the pre-invasion figures. In one bombing in January 2007, at Baghdad’s Mustansiriya University 70 students were killed with hundreds wounded. These figures compelled the UNESCO to warn that Iraq’s university system was on the brink of collapse. The numbers of prominent Iraqi scientists and professionals who have fled the country have approached 20,000. Of the 6,700 Iraqi university professors who fled since 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported than only 150 had returned by October 2008. Despite the US claims of improved security, the situation in 2008 saw numerous assassinations, including the only practicing neurosurgeon in Iraq’s second largest city of Basra, whose body was dumped on the city streets.
The raw data on the Iraqi academics, scientists and professionals assassinated by the US and allied occupation forces and the militias and shadowy forces they control is drawn from a list published by the Pakistan Daily News (www.daily.pk) on November 26, 2008. This list makes for very uncomfortable reading into the reality of systematic elimination of intellectuals in Iraq under the meat-grinder of US occupation. Assassinations
The physical elimination of an individual by assassination is an extreme form of terrorism, which has far-reaching effects rippling throughout the community from which the individual comes – in this case the world of Iraqi intellectuals, academics, professionals and creative leaders in the arts and sciences. For each Iraqi intellectual murdered, thousands of educated Iraqis fled the country or abandoned their work for safer, less vulnerable activity.
Baghdad was considered the ‘Paris’ of the Arab world, in terms of culture and art, science and education. In the 1970’s and 80’s, its universities were the envy of the Arab world. The US ‘shock and awe’ campaign that rained down on Baghdad evoked emotions akin to an aerial bombardment of the Louvre, the Sorbonne and the greatest libraries of Europe. Baghdad University was one of the most prestigious and productive universities in the Arab world. Many of its academics possessed doctoral degrees and engaged in post-doctoral studies abroad at prestigious institutions. It taught and graduated many of the top professionals and scientists in the Middle East. Even under the deadly grip of the US/UN-imposed economic sanctions that starved Iraq during the 13 years before the March 2003 invasion, thousands of graduate students and young professionals came to Iraq for post-graduate training. Young physicians from throughout the Arab world received advanced medical training in its institutions. Many of its academics presented scientific papers at major international conferences and published in prestigious journals. Most important, Baghdad University trained and maintained a highly respected scientific secular culture free of sectarian discrimination – with academics from all ethnic and religious backgrounds.
This world has been forever shattered: Under US occupation, up to November 2008, eighty-three academics and researchers teaching at Baghdad University had been murdered and several thousand of their colleagues, students and family members were forced to flee. The Selection of Assassinated Academics by Discipline
The November 2008 article published by the Pakistan Daily News lists the names of a total of 154 top Baghdad-based academics, renowned in their fields, who were murdered. Altogether, a total of 281 well-known intellectuals teaching at the top universities in Iraq fell victim to the ‘death squads’ under US occupation.
Prior to the US occupation, Baghdad University possessed the premier research and teaching medical faculty in the entire Middle East attracting hundreds of young doctors for advanced training. That program has been devastated during the rise of the US-death squad regime, with few prospects of recovery. Of those murdered, 25% (21) were the most senior professors and lecturers in the medical faculty of Baghdad University, the highest percentage of any faculty. The second highest percentage of butchered faculty were the professors and researchers from Baghdad University’s renowned engineering faculty (12), followed by the top academics in the humanities (10), physical and social sciences (8 senior academics each), education (5). The remaining top academics murdered at Baghdad University spread out among the agronomy, business, physical education, communications and religious studies faculties.
At three other Baghdad universities, 53 senior academics were slaughtered, including 10 in the social sciences, 7 in the faculty of law, 6 each in medicine and the humanities, 9 in the physical sciences and 5 in engineering. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s August 20, 2002 pre-invasion joke, “…one has to assume they (scientists) have not been playing ‘tiddlywinks’(a child’s game)”( justifying the bloody purge of Iraq’s scientists in physics and chemistry. An ominous signal of the academic bloodletting that followed the invasion.
Similar bloody purges of academics occurred in all the provincial universities: 127 senior academics and scientists were assassinated at the various well-regarded universities in Mosul, Kirkuk, Basra and elsewhere. The provincial universities with the highest number of murdered senior faculty members were in cities where the US and British military and their Kurdish mercenary allies were most active: Basra (35), Mosul (35), Diyala (15) and Al-Anbar (11).
The Iraqi military and allied death squads carried out most of the killing of academics in the cities under US or ‘allied’ control. The systematic murder of academics was a nation-wide, cross-disciplinary drive to destroy the cultural and educational foundations of a modern Arab civilization. The death squads carrying out most of these assassinations were primitive, pre-modern, ethno-religious groups ‘set loose’ or instrumentalized by US military strategists to wipe out any politically conscious intellectuals and nationalist scientists who might pursue an agenda for re-building a modern, secular society and independent, unified republic.
In its panic to prevent the US invasion, the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate provided a list, which identified over 500 key Iraqi scientists to the UN on December 7, 2002. There is little doubt that this list became a core element in the US military’s hit list for eliminating Iraq’s scientific elite. In his notorious pre-invasion speech to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell cited a list of over 3,500 Iraqi scientists and technicians who would have to be ‘contained’ to prevent their expertise from being used by other countries. The US had even created a ‘budget’ of hundreds of millions of dollars, drawn from the Iraqi ‘Oil for Food’ money held by the United Nations to set up ‘civilian re-education’ programs to re-train Iraqi scientists and engineers. These highly touted programs were never seriously implemented. Cheaper ways of containing what one American policy expert termed Iraq’s ‘excess scientists, engineers and technicians’ in a Carnegie Endowment Paper (RANSAC Policy Update April 2004) became clear. The US had decided to adopt and expand the Israeli Mossad’s covert operation of assassinating selected key Iraqi scientists on an industrial scale. The US ‘Surge’ and ‘Peak Assassination’ Campaigns: 2006-2007
The high tide of terror against academics coincides with the renewal of the US military offensive in Baghdad and in the provinces. Of the total number of assassinations of Baghdad-based academics for which a date is recorded (110 known intellectuals slaughtered), almost 80% (87) occurred in 2006 and 2007. A similar pattern is found in the provinces with 77% of a total of 84 scholars murdered outside of capital during the same period. The pattern is clear: the murder rate of academics grows as the occupying US forces organize a mercenary Iraqi military and police force and provide money for the training and recruitment of rival Shia and Sunni tribesmen and militia as a means of decreasing American casualties and of purging potential dissident critics of the occupation.
The terror campaign against academics intensified in mid-2005 and reached its peak in 2006-2007, leading to the mass flight of tens of thousands of Iraqi scholars, scientists, professionals and their families overseas. Entire university medical school faculties have become refugees in Syria and elsewhere. Those who could not afford to abandon elderly parents or relatives and remained in Iraq have taken extraordinary measures to hide their identities. Some have chosen to collaborate with the US occupation forces or the puppet regime in the hope of being protected or allowed to immigrate with their families to the US or Europe, although the Europeans, especially the British are disinclined to accept Iraqi scholars. After 2008, there has been a sharp decline in the murder of academics – with only 4 assassinated that year. This reflects the massive flight of Iraqi intellectuals living abroad or in hiding rather than any change of policy on the part of the US and its mercenary puppets. As a result, Iraq’s research facilities have been decimated. The lives of those remaining support staff, including technicians, librarians and students have been devastated with few prospects for future employment.
The US war and occupation of Iraq, as Presidents Bush and Obama have declared, is a ‘success’ – an independent nation of 23 million citizens has been occupied by force, a puppet regime is ensconced, colonial mercenary troops obey American officers and the oil fields have been put up for sale. All of Iraq’s nationalist laws protecting its patrimony, its cultural treasures and national resources, have been annulled. The occupiers have imposed a ‘constitution’ favoring the US Empire. Israel and its Zionist flunkies in the Administrations of both Bush and Obama celebrate the demise of a modern adversary…and the conversion of Iraq into a cultural-political desert. In line with an alleged agreement made by the US State Department and Pentagon officials to influential collectors from the American Council for Cultural Policy in January 2003, the looted treasures of ancient Mesopotamia have ‘found’ their way into the collections of the elite in London, New York and elsewhere. The collectors can now anticipate the pillage of Iran.
Warning to Iran
The US invasion, occupation and destruction of a modern, scientific-cultural civilization, such as existed in Iraq, is a prelude of what the people of Iran can expect if and when a US-Israeli military attack occurs. The imperial threat to the cultural-scientific foundations of the Iranian nation has been totally absent from the narrative among the affluent Iranian student protesters and their US-funded NGO’s during their post-election ‘Lipstick Revolution’ protests. They should bear in mind that in 2004 educated, sophisticated Iraqis in Baghdad consoled themselves with a fatally misplaced optimism that ‘at least we are not like Afghanistan’. The same elite are now in squalid refugee camps in Syria and Jordan and their country more closely resembles Afghanistan than anywhere else in the Middle East. The chilling promise of President Bush in April 2003 to transform Iraq in the image of ‘our newly liberated Afghanistan’ has been fulfilled. And reports that the US Administration advisers had reviewed the Israeli Mossad policy of selective assassination of Iranian scientists should cause the pro-Western liberal intellectuals of Teheran to seriously ponder the lesson of the murderous campaign that has virtually eliminated Iraqi scientists and academics during 2006-2007. Conclusion
What does the United States (and Britain and Israel) gain from establishing a retrograde client regime, based on medieval ethno-clerical socio-political structures in Iraq? First and foremost, Iraq has become an outpost for empire. Secondly, it is a weak and backward regime incapable of challenging Israeli economic and military dominance in the region and unwilling to question the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian Arabs from Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Thirdly, the destruction of the scientific, academic, cultural and legal foundations of an independent state means increasing reliance on the Western (and Chinese) multinational corporations and their technical infrastructure – facilitating imperial economic penetration and exploitation.
In the mid 19th Century, after the revolutions of 1848, the conservative French sociologist Emil Durkheim recognized that the European bourgeoisie was confronted with rising class conflict and an increasing anti-capitalist working class. Durkheim noted that, whatever its philosophical misgivings about religion and clericalism, the bourgeoisie would have to use the myths of traditional religion to ‘create’ social cohesion and undercut class polarization. He called on the educated and sophisticated Parisian capitalist class to forego its rejection of obscurantist religious dogma in favor of instrumentalizing religion as a tool to maintain its political dominance. In the same way, US strategists, including the Pentagon-Zionists, have instrumentalized the tribal-mullah, ethno-religious forces to destroy the secular national political leadership and advanced culture of Iraq in order to consolidate imperial rule – even if this strategy called for the killing off of the scientific and professional classes. Contemporary US imperial rule is based on supporting the socially and politically most backward sectors of society and applying the most advanced technology of warfare.
Israeli advisers have played a major role in instructing US occupation forces in Iraq on the practices of urban counter-insurgency and repression of civilians, drawing on their 60 years of experience. The infamous massacre of hundreds of Palestinian families at Deir Yasin in 1948 was emblematic of Zionist elimination of hundreds of productive farming villages, which had been settled for centuries by a native people with their endogenous civilization and cultural ties to the soil, in order to impose a new colonial order. The policy of the total deracination of the Palestinians is central to Israel’s advise to the US policymakers in Iraq. Their message has been carried out by their Zionist acolytes in the Bush and Obama Administrations, ordering the dismemberment of the entire modern Iraqi civil and state bureaucracy and using pre-modern tribal death squads made up of Kurds and Shia extremists to purge the modern universities and research institutions of that shattered nation.
The US imperial conquest of Iraq is built on the destruction of a modern secular republic. The cultural desert that remains (a Biblical ‘howling wilderness’ soaked in the blood of Iraq’s precious scholars) is controlled by mega-swindlers, mercenary thugs posing as ‘Iraqi officers’, tribal and ethnic cultural illiterates and medieval religious figures. They operate under the guidance and direction of West Point graduates holding ‘blue-prints for empire’, formulated by graduates of Princeton, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Yale and Chicago, eager to serve the interests of American and European multi-national corporations.
This is called ‘combined and uneven development’: The marriage of fundamentalist mullahs with Ivy League Zionists at the service of the US.
This article, by Helena Cobban, was posted to Just World News, August 19, 2009
Pres. Obama gave a speech to the veterans of Foreign Wars annual convention on Monday in which he spelled out his view of the US's now-declining strategic stakes in Iraq and its continuing strategic stake in Afghanistan.
His words were considered and important.
On Iraq, he said,
In Iraq, after more than six years of war, we took an important step forward in June. We transferred control of all cities and towns to Iraq’s security services. The transition to full Iraqi responsibility for their own security is now underway...
But as we move forward, the Iraqi people must know that the United States will keep its commitments. And the American people must know that we will move forward with our strategy. We will begin removing our combat brigades from Iraq later this year. We will remove all our combat brigades by the end of next August. And we will remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. And for America, the Iraq war will end.
By moving forward in Iraq, we’re able to refocus on the war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan....
From one viewpoint, of course, what the US military has been doing in Iraq has been moving back, not forward, despite all of Obama's uses of the term "forward".
It's forward, I suppose, if you understand that he means that the US has been proceeding with its commitments under the November 2008 Withdrawal Agreement. And his mention of the end-of-2011 deadline buttresses that interpretation.
Also, if he wants to describe-- for this presumably very nationalistic US audience-- this very necessary move out of Iraq as a move "forward", let him do so, I say.
And then, remembering what he has just said about Iraq, let's see what he said about Afghanistan. He described his administration's "new, comprehensive strategy" in Afghanistan in the following terms:
This strategy acknowledges that military power alone will not win this war—that we also need diplomacy and development and good governance. And our new strategy has a clear mission and defined goals—to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies.
... These new efforts have not been without a price. The fighting has been fierce. More Americans have given their lives. And as always, the thoughts and prayers of every American are with those who make the ultimate sacrifice in our defense.
As I said when I announced this strategy, there will be more difficult days ahead...
But we must never forget. This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.
Steve Walt had an excellent critique of Obama's "war of necessity/ al-Qaeda safe haven" claim on his FP blog yesterday.
I want to take a slightly different tack. I want, first, simply to point out a few important things; and then I want to get more deeply into launching a "Just War theory" critique of the whole US military venture in Afghanistan.
So, the prefatory points I want to make:
1. Obama has made a significant and good shift from Bush's rhetoric on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Bush and his military commanders used to talk about "destroying" AQ and the Taliba. Obama is talking about "defeating" them. This is welcome and long overdue. British military doctrine has always been about "defeating" the enemy-- a goal that can be achieved in a number of different ways. Most US doctrine since the Cold War has been about "destroying" the enemy-- a doctrine that strengthens the tendency to "bring in the big battalions" and leads to a general over-reliance on the use of naked force.
2. So the rhetorical shift has been good. But let's look at the contrast between what Washington (under both Bush and Obama) has done in Iraq and what Obama is still proposing to do in Afghanistan. In Iraq, under the political cover provided by talk of "surges" and such, the US military essentially started out cutting deals with the former insurgents by the liberal use of the money weapon. Then, the Bush administration quickly cut a deal with the Baghdad government-- which drove a pretty hard bargain and insisted that instead of Washington getting the open-ended SOFA it sought all that it ended up getting was an occupation termination notice with the fixed endpoint for complete withdrawal of December 31, 2011.
And the vast majority of people in both Iraq and the US seem very happy with that outcome. In the US, I am truly not hearing any talk about the fear that AQI people or other malcontents might "come over here and kill us in our beds." Though of course, there is a distrust of Iraqis-- all Iraqis-- in this country these days that is both deep and very wide. (Hence the tight restrictions on bringing many of them except with the strongest of credentials into the US as refugees... ) But still, there is no public talk here that the US's retreat "moving forward" in Iraq will worsen the security situation of Americans either at home, or elsewhere. I think that's significant.
Indeed, there is even talk in the US of pulling out the troops even faster than the Withdrawal Agreement mandates-- which might fit in very well with the proposals reported out of Baghdad that the election they're holding next January should be accompanied by a referendum on getting rid of all the occupying US forces much faster than the WA stipulates, possibly "forthwith."
... So can someone remind me again why it is assumed that the buying-off, deal-cutting-- including with some extremely violent, hostile, and unsavory characters-- and speedy troop-exit strategy that has been working so (relatively) well in Iraq should not be tried in Afghanistan?
I really don't believe it is because the AQ/Taliban people in Afghanistan are that much worse than the AQI and other former "bad guys" in Iraq who all got rebranded and befriended as the "Sahwa".
And I certainly don't believe that it's because Afghanistan, as a country, is "more vital" to supposed US "national interests" than Iraq.
I do have a sneaky suspicion that the reason Obama feels obliged to "stand and fight" in Afghanistan is because, as a relatively honorable man, he feels obliged to make good on the promises he made in this regard during his election campaign... And he made them then because, while he had a long and consistent record of opposing the US invasion of Iraq and wanting to see a speedy US exit from there, he most likely thought he needed to "cover his rear end" with a presumably nationalist and fairly militaristic electorate by saying, "Well, we'll pull out of Iraq but step up the fight in Afghanistan."
Being honorable in terms of fulfilling campaign promises is on the face of it laudable. But letting the concerns of his own political reputation get in the way of his ability to make a cool calculation of what is really best for America's citizens (including the members of the volunteer military), and for the chronically war-stressed people of Afghanistan, is another matter altogether.
My view of the engagement in Afghanistan is that it is already a disaster and it's perched on the brink of yet worse disasters.
3. And that's not just my view. Rory Stewart argued back in November that "Afghanistan does not matter as much as Barack Obama thinks." Now, he seems to be likening Pres. Obama's Afghanistan policy to a driver headed for a cliff.
And he made this important observation on the practice whereby policymakers frequently "consult" outside experts, along the way:
“It’s like they’re coming in and saying to you, ‘I’m going to drive my car off a cliff. Should I or should I not wear a seatbelt?’ And you say, ‘I don’t think you should drive your car off the cliff.’ And they say, ‘No, no, that bit’s already been decided – the question is whether to wear a seatbelt.’ And you say, ‘Well, you might as well wear a seatbelt.’ And then they say, ‘We’ve consulted with policy expert Rory Stewart and he says ...’”
In that great FT interview, the plain-speaking and wise-ways-beyond-his-years Stewart also said:
“The [current US] policy of troop increases will look ridiculous in 30 years... They’re not going to make America safer from al-Qaeda. The theory of state-building is suspect. I’m not sure that the state they aim for is conceivable, let alone achievable. We should be pursuing a much more conventional development strategy in Afghanistan. And, if you want to combine that with a Special Forces unit that would make things uncomfortable for Osama bin Laden, then so be it.”
Except, of course, Bin Laden is far more likely to be in Pakistan these days than he is in Afghanistan, which raises another entire hornet's next of issues and concerns...
Well, as most of the reports and analysis on FP's new "AfPak channel" indicate, things really are not going well for the US in the region.
And now is, obviously, a particularly crucial time because Afghanistan is staging its national elections tomorrow. On the AfPak channel, even Kimberley Kagan, the usually ebullient cheerleader for the US military, tells us that "The Taliban are winning." (Peter Bergen apparently disagrees.)
And Gilles Dorronsoro reports from on the ground in Kunduz that, "There is no way to stop the Taliban if they want to attack polling stations and block the road. There are over 200 polling stations in Kunduz. A low turnout is to be expected from the Pashtun at least..."
So I really do think that it's a good time to take a step back and reapply the criteria of St. Augustine of Hippo's "Just War" theory to this whole US (mis-)adventure in Afghanistan.
Everyone who's been reading JWN a while will know I'm a Quaker, and therefore deeply convinced that all wars and all violence are both (a) wrong and (b) ineffective (or actively counter-productive) for securing real, lasting improvements in the human condition.
But whether I like it or not, the dominant philosophical/ethical tools that most westerners bring to bear on the question of whether any proposed military effort is justified are those derived from St. Augustine's early fifth century (CE) works articulating a theory of "Just War."
Okay, so maybe Augustine's work was a clear deformation, in some important ways, of the original, pacifist teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. But still, Augustine was operating from some solid understanding of the intrinsically inhumane nature of warfare (based on the wars that the newly Christianized Roman Empire had recently suffered from), as well as from a thorough understanding of Christian teachings. So what he says about the justifiability of war-making still has considerable resonance and relevance today.
Including in the continuing discussions of whether the US and its NATO allies really should continue their present, nearly eight-year-old war in Afghanistan, and if so, with what actual goal in mind.
I started to articulate some of these thoughts in a comment on this thread over at Registan yesterday. But then I thought this topic is one that deserves quite a lot more attention, so I'll start to give it some here.
The first thing to understand about JW theory is that, since it is based on Jesus's teachings, it is essentially very conservative in terms of when it says that any particular war is justified.
As most readers probably already know, classical JW theory has two major parts: Jus ad Bellum, or those justice/justifiability issues around the act of launching a war, and Jus in Bello, which are the justice issues around how a war may be fought. In the modern era, most Jus in Bello issues are pretty adequately covered by the whole body of international humanitarian law, also known as the laws of war, a body of treaty-based international law that has grown up over the past 160 years.
It is in the realm of Jus ad Bellum that international law is still silent. The states that negotiated the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court did insert into it a clause that criminalized international aggression. But they were quite unable to come to any agreement on the definition of the "Crime of Aggression", so that clause of the Treaty remains inactive pending this agreement being reached. Thus, as of now, Rome and the ICC deal only with what are, essentially, Jus in Bello issues and associated atrocities like genocide and crimes against humanity.
Since the "international community" of states has not come to any agreement on the Jus ad Bellum issues, for guidance on them we are left to look to the various faith and other philosophical traditions from around the world to provide guidance on when the launching of a war can be considered morally (as opposed to "legally") justifiable. And one of the most robust and most widely used of these traditions is still the Christian tradition of Just War.
(Interestingly, some of the US intellectuals who have done the most work exploring the implications of JW theory in modern times have been Jewish-- like Michael Walzer, or Jean Bethke Elshtain. So if they can deploy these essentially Augustinian concepts in their arguments, why can't I?)
Wikipedia has a pretty good entry on Just War theory, which lays out the seven criteria any proposed war must fulfill if it is to be considered just.
Now, I know we are not talking about launching a US/NATO war in Afghanistan at this point. But Pres. Obama has already launched a significant escalation of the war effort there, and in our country-- and in many other NATO countries-- there is now a growing debate over (a) What the actual objectives of the war effort are, and (b) What price is worth paying to gain these objectives.
So this does now sound very like a reprised Just ad Bellum discussion. And anyway, as I argued over at Registan, you should be prepared to have a Jus ad Bellum discussion at any point throughout the war, and not simply in the run-up to it.
You could think of this as an opportunity for a sort of mid-course moral-issues check-in. Now, this kind of a check-in is probably not something that it's appropriate or even feasible to ask fighting generals and their officers to engage in. But it certainly is something that the citizens of a democratic state that's waging a war should be prepared to do at any point throughout the war, since we do, actually, bear all the responsibility for the war's continuation and for any harms (or benefits) that it may inflict on humankind.
So anyway, here are the seven JW criteria, as described by Wikipedia (but numbered by me):
1. Just cause: The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot therefore be solely for recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong; innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life. A contemporary view of just cause was expressed in 1993 when the US Catholic Conference said: "Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations."
2. Comparative justice: While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to override the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other...
. Legitimate authority: Only duly constituted public authorities may wage war.
4. Right intention: Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.
5. Probability of success: Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;
6. Last resort: Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical...
7. Proportionality: The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms. This principle is also known as the principle of macro-proportionality, so as to distinguish it from the jus in bello principle of proportionality.
Now, these JW criteria clearly have a lot in common with the "Powell Doctrine"
Here's how Wikipedia describes the Powell Doctrine:
The Powell Doctrine states that a list of questions all have to be answered affirmatively before military action is taken by the United States:
1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
7. Is the action supported by the American people?
8. Do we have genuine broad international support?
... Powell has expanded upon the Doctrine, asserting that when a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy, minimizing US casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate.
We could call this last addendum, "Criterion #9."
So you can almost immediately see the numerous similarities between individual criteria in the two checklists. Powell-9 is similar to the first half of JW-5. Powell-4 is almost exactly the same as JW-6... And so on.
At the broad macro-level, both theories are essentially conservative regarding when they conclude that waging a war would be indicated, though the grounds on which each set of criteria is based are very different: moral/theological reasoning versus a very utilitarian form of practical reasoning.
Both, however, it seems to me, are alike based on a thorough understanding that warfare is essentially harmful and inhumane-- and also, that it is essentially unpredictable, uncertain, and "foggy".
I think that was what really piqued my strong interest in the contributions that Andrew Exum (who has followed the Israeli interrogators' long-held habit of giving himself an "Abu" name: in his case, the ironic--or something-- "Abu Muqawama") has been making on this subject in recent days.
In a comment on that Registan post Exum wrote,
It’s a matter of determining how much Afghanistan is worth to us. I do not have the answer there, but I will say that I’ll be a lot more sympathetic to critiques of the war in 18 months time — if there is no positive movement — than I am now.
So what he's doing is admitting to current incertitude on the answer but saying, in effect, "So let's fight on for another 18 months and by that time I might have an answer for you."
I find this completely immoral. Exum served as a junior officer in, I think, Afghanistan, some years back. So I'm assuming he is well acquainted with (and I hope appropriately disturbed by) the harms that warfare inflicts on everyone who is in the war-zone, whether civilian or military.
So because he can't actually right now, figure out "how much Afghanistan is worth to us", he proposes that the US and its allies should fight on there for another 18 months so he can reach clarity on the matter. (You can see my response to him there if you scroll on down a bit.)
But it's in dealing with this question of lack of cognitive clarity on whether any particular war is worth fighting (or continuing to fight) that Augustine's (and Powell's) wisdom comes in.
Augustine, like Powell, knew that every war contains its own generally huge quota of cognitive fogginess. Hence the precautionary principle that he articulated. In the Wikipedia version, JW-5 is rendered as "Probability of success: Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success." However, I think in the Augustinian original ithere was an even stronger application of the precautionary principle... something t the effect that, "Even if the casus belli seems compelling, you shouldn't launch a war unless you have a pretty strong certainty of winning."
This precautionary principle is, actually, rather similar to a combination of Powell-5 and Powell-9, with Powell-3 thrown in as an extra precaution, as well.
The justification for the precautionary principle here is that because war is by nature both (a) inhumane and (b) foggy regarding its course and its outcomes, then if you start a war where you have no clear and rationally understood chance of success, you risk getting drawn into a lengthy entanglement in which both your side and the other will, of necessity, be inflicting harm on other human persons... At which point the "compellingly just" nature of the casus belli for which you originally went to war itself become considerably muddied.
So Andrew Exum is currently unclear "how much Afghanistan is worth to us." (By the way, I join Registan's Joshua Foust in applauding Exum's frankness on this point.)
But given this lack of clarity, I think the only moral-- as well realistic-- thing to do is to apply the precautionary principle, rather than to advocate, as Exum does, that a further 18 months of fighting can make the answer clearer for him.
In my comment there, I described this as "reconnaissance by fire."
So at a policy level, what would application of the precautionary principle to the situation the US military faces in Afghanistan actually mean?
It would mean, first and foremost, that our president needs to start now exploring ways to move "forward" in Afghanistan in the same way we're doing it in Iraq, that is by getting out.
Yes, that exists as an option. Many, many other powers in the world would be happy to help a wise US president figure out how to do it.
All the other veto-wielding members of the Security Council's P-5 have strong stakes in Afghanistan-- two of them as fellow NATO members whose governments have a great fear of getting dragged down there; and two of them as neighbors or near neighbors of Afghanistan whose respective stakes in the stability of Afghanistan are, remember, exponentially stronger than the US's.
Most of the other neighbors of Afghanistan have similarly large stakes and would also be happy to help the US figure out how to withdraw.
And probably a large majority of the Afghan people would be happy to find a better way to rebuild their country than under the control of the hyper-armed and too often trigger-happy forces of NATO's culturally very distant countries.
So what are we Americans afraid of? What keeps us there? The fear of Al-Qaeda reconstituting its safe haven there if we leave? Really?
There are so many other ways to make sure that doesn't happen. Bring in JW-6.
This article, by Ernesto Londoño, was published in the Wahington Post, August 18, 2009
BAGHDAD, Aug. 17 -- U.S. troops could be forced by Iraqi voters to withdraw a year ahead of schedule under a referendum the Iraqi government backed Monday, creating a potential complication for American commanders concerned about rising violence in the country's north.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's move appeared to disregard the wishes of the U.S. government, which has quietly lobbied against the plebiscite. American officials fear it could lead to the annulment of an agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay until the end of 2011, and instead force them out by the start of that year.
The Maliki government's announcement came on the day that the top U.S. general in Iraq proposed a plan to deploy troops to disputed areas in the restive north, a clear indication that the military sees a continuing need for U.S. forces even if Iraqis no longer want them here.
Gen. Ray Odierno said American troops would partner with contingents of the Iraqi army and the Kurdish regional government's paramilitary force, marking the first organized effort to pair U.S. forces with the militia, known as the pesh merga. Iraqi army and Kurdish forces nearly came to blows recently, and there is deep-seated animosity between them, owing to a decades-long fight over ancestry, land and oil.
If Iraqi lawmakers sign off on Maliki's initiative to hold a referendum in January on the withdrawal timeline, a majority of voters could annul a standing U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, forcing the military to pull out completely by January 2011 under the terms of a previous law.
It is unclear whether parliament, which is in recess until next month, would approve the referendum. Lawmakers have yet to pass a measure laying the basic ground rules for the Jan. 16 national election, their top legislative priority for the remainder of 2009.
Before signing off on the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement last year, Iraqi lawmakers demanded that voters get to weigh in on the pact in a referendum that was to take place no later than last month. Because it did not happen, American officials assumed the plebiscite was a dead issue.
U.S. officials say they have no way to know how the referendum would turn out, but they worry that many Iraqis are likely to vote against the pact. Maliki billed the withdrawal of U.S. forces from urban areas at the end of June as a "great victory" for Iraqis, and his government has since markedly curbed the authority and mobility of U.S. forces.
Senior Pentagon officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Odierno probably will make an announcement later this week or early next week the accelerating the withdrawal of U.S. forces, which now stand at 130,000, by one or two brigades between now and the end of the year. Each brigade consists of about 5,000 troops. Odierno said Monday that he has not decided whether to speed up the plan, which he said remains on schedule.
The acceleration would still be much slower than if the referendum nullified the agreement.
Still, senior Pentagon officials played down Maliki's announcement, saying it was an expected part of Iraq's political process. Senior Iraqi officials did not raise the possibility of the referendum with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates when he visited the country earlier this month, Pentagon officials said.
Bahaa Hassan, who owns a mobile phone store in Najaf, south of Baghdad, said he would vote for a speedier withdrawal.
"We want to get rid of the American influence in Iraq, because we suffer from it politically and economically," he said. "We will vote against it so Iraq will be in the hands of Iraqis again."But many Iraqis, particularly Sunnis and Kurds, consider the presence of the U.S. military a key deterrent to abuses of power by the Shiite-led government.
"After six years of Shiite rule and struggle, we still have no electricity, so what will happen if Americans leave?" said Dhirgham Talib, a government employee in Najaf. "The field will be left to the Shiite parties to do whatever they want with no fear from anybody."
A poll commissioned by the U.S. military earlier this year found that Iraqis expressed far less confidence in American troops than in the Iraqi government or any of its security forces. Twenty-seven percent of Iraqis polled said they had confidence in U.S. forces, according to a Pentagon report presented to Congress last month. By contrast, 72 percent expressed confidence in the national government.
Zainab Karim, a Shiite lawmaker from the Sadrist movement, the most ardently anti-American faction, said she was pleasantly surprised that the government is backing the referendum.
"I consider this a good thing," she said. "But we have to wait and see whether the government is honest about this or whether it is electoral propaganda."
As the Iraqi government took steps to force U.S. troops out earlier than planned, Odierno said Monday that he would like to deploy American forces to villages along disputed areas in northern Iraq to defuse tension between Kurdish troops and forces controlled by the Shiite Arab-led government in Baghdad.
"We're working very hard to come up with a security architecture in the disputed territories that would reduce tension," Odierno told reporters. "They just all feel more comfortable if we're there."
Scores of Iraqis have been killed in recent weeks in villages along the 300-mile frontier south of the Kurdish region. U.S. military officials say the attacks bear the hallmarks of Sunni extremists, but local leaders have traded accusations to bolster their positions on whether specific areas should be under the control of Baghdad or the autonomous government of Kurdistan.
The pesh merga currently controls some villages that are nominally outside the three-province Kurdish region. The expansion of Kurdish influence in northern Iraq has prompted Maliki to deploy more troops loyal to Baghdad to northern provinces south of Kurdistan. The new provincial leadership in Nineveh province, the most restive among them, has made curbing Kurdish expansion its top priority and has called for the expulsion of pesh merga forces.
The tension, Odierno said, has created a security vacuum that has emboldened al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group that he said was almost certainly responsible for recent sensational bombings in the province. The number of civilian casualties in Iraq has increased since the urban pullout, Odierno said, largely as a result of attacks in the disputed territories.
What we have is al-Qaeda exploiting this fissure between the Arabs and the Kurds," he said. "What we're trying to do is close that fissure."