Iraq: 100 Days of Solidarity

by MEDEA BENJAMIN

This week marks the beginning of what is supposed to be the final 100 days of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. But if U.S. troops are to leave Iraq at the end of this year as promised – repeatedly – it will take grassroots pressure to counter the growing “occupy-Iraq-forever” chorus in Washington.

Despite the fact that there is a Bush-era agreement with the Iraqi government to leave, despite the fact that the majority of Iraqis and Americans don’t support a continued U.S. presence, and despite the fact that Congress is supposedly in an all-out austerity mode, strong forces – including generals, war profiteers and hawks in both parties – are pushing President Obama to violate the agreement negotiated by his predecessor and keep a significant number of troops in Iraq past the December 31, 2011 deadline.

It’s true there has already been a major withdrawal of U.S. troops, from a high of 170,000 in 2007 to about 45,000 troops today (with most of the troops being sent over to occupy Afghanistan instead). That number, however, doesn’t tell the whole picture. As the New York Times notes, “Even as the military reduces its troop strength in Iraq, the C.I.A. will continue to have a major presence in the country, as will security contractors working for the State Department,” the latter to defend a U.S. embassy that’s the same size as  the Vatican.

Back in 2007, candidate Obama pledged that the first thing he’d do as president would be to withdraw our troops from Iraq. “I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank,” the future president declared. So far, the only thing many Americans can take to the bank, however, is evidence their home was fraudulently foreclosed upon.

In spite of President Obama’s oft-repeated promises, his administration appears unwilling to withdrawal all U.S. troops, much less private contractors. Obama’s hand-picked Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, has already endorsed a plan that would see 3,000 to 4,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq indefinitely, ostensibly to “continue training security forces there.” The senior commander in Iraq, meanwhile, is pushing to keep as many as 18,000 troops there. And U.S. lawmakers, both Republican and Democratic, are echoing the call to stay.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham recently predicted leaving only 3,000 troops behind would be a “formula for disaster.” Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, meanwhile, warned it would be a mistake because Iraq was not yet fully secure. And in a FOX interview, Republican Sen. John McCain said, “I have talked to many military leaders who have specifically said around 13,000 troops would be a minimum. . . .I have never talked to a military leader that said that leaving only 3,000 is a good idea. I don’t know who came up with this idea.”

Somebody ought to tell McCain who came up with the idea – not of leaving 3,000 troops, but leaving none: the Iraqis. Removing all U.S. troops by the end of this year was agreed to by the very government that the U.S. helped install. And it came as the result of popular pressure – the way democracy is supposed to work. The agreement was codified in a 2008 Security Agreement signed between Washington and Baghdad. And any change in that agreed-upon deadline is supposed to come only at the request of the Iraqi government. So far, with less than 100 days left, no such request has been made.

Iraqi leaders, even those who owe their positions to the U.S. occupiers, know it would be political suicide to come out publicly in favor of keeping U.S. troops. Most Iraqis hate the American invaders who launched an illegal war of aggression that has killed well over 100,000 Iraqis. They blame the U.S. for setting off a civil war that forced more than 4.7 million Iraqis to flee their homes, the majority to never return, and which resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad. A proud people, they feel humiliated by the presence of foreign troops and they will not forget the treatment that many of their fellow citizens received in American-run prisons. Indeed, tens of thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets of Baghdad to demand that the foreign invaders leave.

After inflicting so much suffering on the Iraqi people, the least we can do here at home is support their call for our troops to leave. While some members of Congress are pressing Obama to keep the occupation going, others, spearheaded by Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, are calling for an end to this shameful episode in our history. A coalition of peace groups ranging from Peace Action to Military Families Speak Out is also adding their “out now” voice.

“We are deeply troubled by recent reports that indicate your Administration is making plans to leave thousands of U.S. troops deployed in Iraq indefinitely,” the groups say in a letter to the president. “We are also troubled by the extraordinary buildup of private military contractors and untold numbers of intelligence operatives in Iraq. Mr. President the future of Iraq depends upon the Iraqi people, not the U.S. military. Now is the time to bring all of our brave men and women in uniform home, as promised.” They have asked all peace-loving Americans to flood the White House with messages. Call 202-456-1111.

Others are taking to the streets. On October 6, anti-war activists from around the nation will be gathering in Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, to call for an end to both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The protest will not be just for one day, but an on-going “people’s occupation” of the plaza to call for an end to U.S. military occupations. Come if you can, or just help spread the word if you can’t.

Instead of passively accepting our government’s plans to extend the Iraq occupation indefinitely, let those who claim to represent your wishes in Washington know you’ll stand for nothing less than a real, no-gimmicks end to a war and occupation that has wrecked all too many lives. And that’s a pledge they can take to the bank.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of the human rights group Global Exchange and the peace group CODEPINK.

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