Since the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, 1,524 US soldiers have died (as of March 22, 2005), and 11,220 US soldiers have been wounded in action (as of February 26, 2005).1 Iraqi casualties are even larger. A study published in The Lancet last November estimated at least “100000 excess deaths” in Iraq since March 20, 2003.2
Who is killing Iraqis? The White House would have us believe, through the “Good News” propaganda planted in the media by the Pentagon and the State Department,3 that the US military is only protecting Iraqis and reconstructing Iraq. Nothing is further from the truth. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health’s statistics, “operations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis — most of them civilians — as attacks by insurgents.”4 The Lancet study confirms the ministry’s findings: “Violent deaths were widespread . . . and were mainly attributed to coalition forces. Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children.”5
The Iraqi elections in January, through which Washington hoped to divide and conquer Shiites and Sunnis and to gain a fresh start to present itself as the selfless protector of an elected Iraqi government, have not changed the reality of unequal power between the occupier and the occupied. Many refused to participate in the undemocratic “demonstration elections” organized by the occupier, and the Shiites who did vote for the United Iraqi Alliance, in the hope that the UIA would fulfill its electoral promise of “[a] timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq,”6 were disappointed. George W. Bush reiterated his rejection of a timetable for US exit: “Our troops will come home when Iraq is capable of defending herself.”7 The Shiite notables and clerics who head the UIA, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, could not defy Bush’s intransigence without risking Washington’s wrath, which had already reduced Falluja to utter ruins, making an example of it to demonstrate the costs of resistance to Iraqis.
Essentially, the linchpin of the White House’s program remains the same as before the Iraqi elections: to win over a select few Iraqis who would cut lucrative deals with Western oil companies and remake Iraq in Washington’s neoliberal image8; and, taking a page from the failed “Vietnamization,” to build up Iraqi security forces to protect the aforementioned deals. That is a vain hope. Only “[f]ewer than 30 percent of the 136,000 Iraqi security forces” are capable of counter-insurgency, and Iraqi Army units have “absentee rates of up to 40 percent at any given time,” according to General Richard Myers and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.9 Buried deep in Bush’s supplemental budget request is a direr diagnosis: “All but one of these 90 battalions, however, are lightly equipped and armed, and have very limited mobility and sustainment capabilities.”10
Meanwhile, the “coalition of the willing” has shrunken further. Italy, joining 14 other countries that have already pulled out from Iraq and two that have set down their exit plans, announced that it will withdraw its troops from Iraq by September.11
Washington is unable to cajole or coerce Iraqis or others to fight for its self-serving goals. Therefore, it has and will be US soldiers who bear the burden of fighting the deadly war and US workers who shoulder the costs of financing it. The costs of the Iraqi War are $157.8 billion and counting — the money that could have been spent, for instance, to insure 94.5 million children for one year or provide four-year scholarships at public universities for 7.7 million students.12 On March 16, 2005, the House approved $81.4 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which threatens to bring emergency war spending since March 2003 to a whopping $300 billion. That’s a sum that the United States can ill afford, when its economy is made more fragile than ever by the widening budget and trade deficits as well as the housing bubble that masks mounting personal debts (made worse by the bankruptcy “reform” that transforms courts into collection agencies), liable to trigger a run on the dollar any time.13
How do we resist the ruinous war in a way that makes the difference? Washington can’t fight any war without troops. Support the soldiers who refuse to serve and working-class youths who say no to military recruitment. Here are examples of working-class refusal. Reservists of the 343rd Quartermaster Company defied orders to go on a “suicide mission” delivering fuel without armor last October.14 Then, eight soldiers filed a federal lawsuit on December 6, 2004 challenging the “stop-loss” policy, i.e. the backdoor draft.15 The Army National Guard fell “30 percent below recruiting goals” at the end of last year,16 and recruitment is “just 75 percent of the target for the first quarter of fiscal 2005′”17 Black volunteers for the Army have fallen 41 % (from 22.7% to 13.9%) since 200018 — a severe blow to the Army that depends upon Black men and women to supply nearly a quarter of its active-duty troops. Seattle Central Community College students threw out military recruiters from campus.19 Military Families Speak Out, Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, the American Friends Service Committee, and others began a campaign to question the use of the National Guard in Iraq — the campaign that already succeeded in having 50 town meetings in Vermont pass resolutions to study its impact and urge Bush to bring the troops home.20 Among the largest anti-war rallies on March 19, 2005, the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, was one organized by veterans and military families in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Ft. Bragg.
Keep in mind that the anti-war movement today has many strengths that the movement against the Vietnam War did not enjoy. According to MFSO, their “membership currently includes over 2,000 military families, with new families joining daily.” That is a historically unprecedented success. IVAW was established in August 2004,21 whereas Vietnam Veterans Against the War was not founded until 1967. In other words, Iraq veterans, even though they were all volunteers rather than draftees, managed to organize an anti-war veterans’ group faster than Vietnam Veterans, because they had the benefit of a strong foundation built by VfP, VVAW, and other activist veterans’ organizations. We also possess another priceless legacy of the movement against the Vietnam War: the power elite’s fear of political costs of the draft. The power elite are afraid of backlashes against the draft inside and outside the military,22 so they have hesitated to reinstate it, but they have no recent experience of using a volunteer military in a brutal counter-insurgency war, and it is not clear if they really can for long. The stop-loss policy and other administrative changes — signs that true volunteers alone do not suffice for a deadly and protracted colonial war — turned many volunteers into reluctant volunteers, which should fuel the growth of MFSO, IVAW, and like organizations and decrease military recruitment further.
Last not the least, the Iraq War cannot be separated from Washington’s larger goal of maintaining its spheres of influence from Asia to Africa, Europe to Latin America to the Middle East, to make the world safe for domination of multinational corporations. To take the most obvious example, the invasion of Iraq and pressures on Syria and Iran are both motivated by the same goal of supporting the Israeli power elite, who are in turn expected to use the strongest military in the Middle East at their disposal as deterrence to Arab aspirations.23 By the same token, Israeli refusers, now numbering 1,396,24 and American refusers (among whom are Camilo Mejia, Jeremy Hinzman, Brandon Hughey, Abdul R. Henderson, and Kevin Benderman)25 can grow stronger and more numerous in solidarity with each other. No troops, no wars — in Iraq and Israel/Palestine. The struggle to end the Iraq War, one link in Washington’s imperial chain of power projection, is tied up with struggles to break other links of the chain. The more we understand where the Iraq War fits in Washington’s empire, the better chance we have of making allies to attack its base from many different directions.
YOSHIE FURUHASHI is an activist in Columbus, Ohio and author of the blog Critical Montages.
1. Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, icasualties.org/oif.
2. Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi, and Gilbert Burnham, “Mortality before and after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: Cluster Sample Survey,” The Lancet 364.9448 (November 20, 2004).
3. David Barstow and Robin Stein, “Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged Television News,” New York Times 13 Mar. 2005.
4. Nancy A. Youssef, “More Iraqis Killed by U.S. than by Terror,” Detroit Free Press 25 Sep. 2004.
5. Roberts, et al.
6. Juan Cole, “Platform of the United Iraqi Alliance,” Informed Comment 31 Dec. 2004.
7. “Transcript: Bush News Conference,” Washington Post 16 Mar. 2005.
8. Antonia Juhasz, “Of Oil And Elections,” AlterNet 27 Jan. 2005; and Laurence Frost, “Oil Companies Hopeful on Iraqi Politics,” Associated Press 14 Mar. 2005.
9. Eric Schmitt, “Iraq Security Forces Only 30% Trained,” New York Times/International Herald Tribune 4 Feb. 2005.
10. Qtd. in Fred Kaplan, “Supplemental Insecurity,” Slate 15 Feb. 2005.
11. YOSHIE FURUHASHI, “Italy: Troop Withdrawal and Electoral Fortune,” Critical Montages 16 Mar. 2005.
12. Cost of War, costofwar.com.
13. YOSHIE FURUHASHI, “Deficits, the Dollar, and IEDs,” Critical Montages 30 Jan. 2005; and YOSHIE FURUHASHI, “Wolfowitz at the World Bank: An Empire without a Global Economic Policy?” Critical Montages 17 Mar. 2005.
14. YOSHIE FURUHASHI, “Losing the Hearts and Minds,” Critical Montages 4 Jan. 2005.
15. Center for Constitutional Rights, “Eight Soldiers Sue U.S. over ‘Stop Loss’ Policy,” December 2004; and Center for Constitutional Rights, “Judge Rules on ‘Stop Loss’ Policy that Soldiers Cannot be Held in Active Duty Without Notification,” December 2004
16. Eric Schmitt, “Guard Reports Serious Drop in Enlistment,” New York Times 17 Dec. 2004.
17. Ann Scott Tyson, “Two Years Later, Iraq War Drains Military: Heavy Demands Offset Combat Experience,” Washington Post 19 Mar. 2005.
18. Tom Philpott, “Military Update: Black Army Recruits Down 41 Percent since 2000,” The Daily Press 6 Mar. 2005; YOSHIE FURUHASHI, “Black Army Recruits Down 41% since 2000,” Critical Montages 8 Mar. 2005.
19. YOSHIE FURUHASHI, “Seattle Central Community College: A Crucible of Organic Intellectuals?” Critical Montages 22 Jan. 2005.
20. Vermont Network on Iraq War Resolutions, IraqResolution.org; and Pam Belluck, “Vermonters Vote on Study of National Guard’s Role,” New York Times 2 Mar. 2005.
21. Derrick O’Keefe, “Amadee Braxton” [an interview], Seven Oaks Magazine, 16 Feb. 2005 .
22. Joel Geier, “Vietnam: The Soldier’s Revolt,” International Socialist Review 9 (August-September 2000).
23. YOSHIE FURUHASHI, “Why the Anti-War Movement Must Confront Bipartisan Support for the Twin Occupations,” Critical Montages 10 Mar. 2005.
24. Refuser Solidarity Network, refusersolidarity.net.
25. Monica Davey, “Un-Volunteering: Troops Improvise to Find Way Out,” New York Times 18 Mar. 2005; Citizen Soldier, citizen-soldier.org; and “U.S. War Heroes of the Iraq War: War Resisters from within the Military,” Tom’s Place. See, also, Kathy Dobie, “AWOL in America: When Desertion is the Only Option,” Harper’s Magazine 310.1858 (1 Mar. 2005).