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U.S. TROOPS should get out of Iraq–not next month or next year, but now. The urgency of this demand was brought home August 29 when a giant explosion killed 125 people outside a Shiite mosque in Najaf–including Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose brother sits on the U.S.-imposed Iraqi Governing Council.
Speculation was rampant about who was responsible, from supporters of Saddam Hussein, to anti-Shiite Wahabbists, to the al-Qaeda network–which several of the 19 men arrested in connection to the killings are supposedly tied to. But no matter who carried out the attack, Iraqis rightly blame the U.S. for creating the circumstances that led to the bloodshed. According to press reports, an estimated 300,000 Shiite mourners in Baghdad chanted, “We won’t be humiliated. We will humiliate Saddam, we will humiliate Bush.”
The mosque bombing–which followed by 10 days the massive explosion at the United Nations’ (UN) Baghdad compound–dramatically exposed the failure of the U.S. to “liberate” Iraq through conquest and occupation. Pro-war hardliners have an answer: Send more troops. “A forced U.S. retreat from Iraq would be the most serious American defeat since Vietnam,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wrote in a Washington Post opinion article titled “Why We Must Win.”
A very different view has taken shape among the military families and veterans who last month launched a campaign called “Bring Them Home Now.” “Many Americans do not want our troops there,” reads the group’s founding statement. “Many military families do not want our troops there. Many troops themselves do not want to be there. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis do not want U.S. troops there. Our troops are embroiled in a regional quagmire largely of our own government’s making. These military actions are not perceived as liberations, but as occupations, and our troops are now subject to daily attacks.”
This statement is a reminder of a basic truth that the world learned in the great anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements of the 20th century–that conquests of smaller and weaker nations by great powers have always been met with popular resistance. The opposition to the occupation of Iraq is every bit as inevitable–and justified–as the war of liberation waged by the Vietnamese against the U.S. in the 1960s. Then, the antiwar movement–and large numbers of U.S. soldiers–came to sympathize with the resistance.
Today, however, some in the antiwar movement–including veterans of the anti-Vietnam War struggle–hesitate to call for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. They say that they fear chaos and a bloodbath in Iraq if the U.S. leaves. Our response to this objection is simple: It’s already happening, and the U.S. presence is the chief cause of the killing.
The other objection is that a U.S. withdrawal would lead to the rise of an Islamist government. But it’s the attempt by foreign powers to impose their will on Iraq and the Middle East that has boosted the appeal of Islam.
History shows that “democracy” can never be imposed through conquest–and that colonized and oppressed nations must have the right to determine their own fates. This is true whether the occupier flies the Stars and Stripes–or the blue flag of the UN.
But the point seems lost on Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation, who argues that the UN can help “reconstruct” Iraq. “If the United Nations is to be perceived by the Iraqi people as a legitimate and stabilizing force, it will need to play a genuinely independent role and disassociate itself from the U.S. occupation,” she wrote in a Web log. “And so as to avoid the trap of internationalization on the cheap, the UN will need real resources–and control–in the reconstruction process.”
By this logic, the movement that opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq should now assume the role of lobbyists for a bigger UN “fig leaf” for the American oil colony. Never mind that UN “resources” are controlled by the Security Council, which is dominated by the U.S. and the world’s most powerful states. Or that the UN endorsed the 1991 Gulf War and administered the murderous sanctions during the following decade. The truth is that U.S. forces will continue to call the shots in Iraq, just as they have in the UN occupations of Kosovo and Bosnia.
Those in the antiwar movement calling for a greater UN role in Iraq may soon get what they’re asking for. The UN may now be brought in to a greater role in the occupation, according to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Yet as long as the occupation continues, the greater the death and misery in Iraq–whether imposed by the U.S. directly or given a fresh UN cover. That’s why we call for an end to the occupation–the withdrawal of all U.S. and foreign troops from Iraq–now.