The debate over Iraq has shifted significantly over the past few months. The central issue has become the withdrawal of the occupation forces in Iraq.
Even the US Pentagon is desperate to drastically to cut down the number of troops the US has in Iraq. Having 150,000 combat troops tied down in Iraq is seriously restricting the US’s ability to project power elsewhere in the world.
The problem is that reducing the US military commitment in Iraq is dependent on the puppet army taking on a frontline role. United Press International reported last week:
“There is now a widespread recognition shared among senior uniformed US military officers and foreign policy analysts that plans to rapidly build up the Iraqi army as a new, independent effective fighting force have failed disastrously.
“The senate heard testimony last week from some of America’s top generals that the war in Iraq is going worse than ever and that only one out of 119 Iraqi army and security battalions can operate by itself in combat.”
The report goes on to describe the growing political crisis: “Just as hawkish Republicans like senator [John] McCain are now openly criticising administration policy on Iraq, Democratic groups are taking much stronger positions in advocating major or even full withdrawals of US troops.”
Yet many on the left are reluctant to call for an end to the occupation.
Most of these are not neo-con turncoats such as Christopher Hitchens and Nick Cohen who delude themselves that the Iraqi “government” that is trying to rig next week’s constitutional referendum is really made up of heroic democrats.
More common is the idea that Iraq would descend into sectarian chaos if the troops were withdrawn. People who believe this often argue that if the US and Britain pulled out, a force controlled by the United Nations (UN) should take over.
There are two things wrong with this argument. The first is that bloody and increasingly sectarian chaos is already engulfing Iraq.
This chaos is a direct consequence of the invasion and conquest of Iraq. Before 20 March 2003 Iraq was ruled by a cruel dictator and was being starved by sanctions imposed by the same UN that some want to see take over.
But people were not being bombed and shot every day. They also enjoyed better public services than they now receive. People are dying in Iraq now because the occupiers are trying to hold onto what they seized by armed force and because Iraqis are trying to drive them out.
It is simple logic that the best way to end the bloodshed is to remove its cause — the occupation.
Ah, defenders of the occupation object, but how do you know that, if we did withdraw, the bloodshed would stop? Of course, no one can be absolutely certain of what would happen.
But the second flaw in the argument for continued foreign control of Iraq is that it assumes that the Iraqi people are incapable of ruling themselves.
Iraq is a country where, despite its very complex ethnic and religious composition, different political movements have been able to mount powerful and united mobilisations.
Why shouldn’t Iraqi people of different identities be able to cooperate and reach agreement on how to govern themselves? The assumption that they can’t without foreign guidance is at best anti-democratic and at worst racist.
The longer the occupation goes on, the more likely it is that it will end in sectarian bloodshed. This is because, the stronger the resistance, the more the occupiers try to divide Iraqis along religious and ethnic lines.
The only reliable units in the puppet security forces are Kurdish and Shia Muslim militias. Faced with defeat in Iraq, the US and Israel would probably encourage the northern Kurdish protectorate to break away.
So people are right to fear that sectarian bloodshed may be Iraq’s future, but they fail to see that the cause is the US occupation. The quicker foreign troops get out, the greater the Iraqi people’s chance of having a different — and better — future.