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WHAT WE THINK
White House looks to UN to provide cover for occupation
Scrambling to salvage their conquest

February 20, 2004 | Page 3

THE ANTIWAR movement was right about the war on Iraq--and we're right to demand an end to the occupation now. George W. Bush's sputtering over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has finally forced the media to examine how Washington cooked up its case for conquering Iraq.

Taking note of such headlines as "Iraq's Arsenal Was Only on Paper" in the Washington Post, media critic Michael Massing wrote, "Watching and reading all this, one is tempted to ask, 'Where were you all before the war?'" The media is finally responding to the public's reaction to the lack of weapons of mass destruction--and the deaths of more than 500 U.S. military personnel and uncounted numbers of Iraqis.

According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, 54 percent believe that "Bush intentionally exaggerated its evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction." That skepticism will only deepen as the armed resistance continues to target Washington's collaborators in Iraq--most recently, the suicide bombing and raid on two different police stations. And with each casualty among U.S. soldiers, bitterness over the war deepens.

That's why Bush, after ignoring the United Nations' (UN) refusal to authorize the war, is scrambling for help at the UN to sidestep demands by the country's Shiite majority for direct elections, when the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority is set to give way to an Iraqi government June 30--in name, anyway.

"Iraq is now a contaminated environment, and [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and his people want out," an unnamed senior administration official told a Knight Ridder reporter. "They can't wait for July 1, when the CPA turns into the U.S. Embassy, and the whole mess they have made becomes [Secretary of State] Colin Powell's."

In other words, the U.S. plans to continue the occupation under a different brand name and a new sales team. But the aim remains the same--the consolidation of U.S. imperial power in the Middle East and around the world.

The antiwar movement should feel vindicated not only in its opposition to the war, but in its call to end the occupation and bring the troops home now. After some hesitation, that demand was taken up across the movement even when the White House was still getting away with dismissing the resistance as isolated "Saddam loyalists."

But now, there's growing pressure to play down the demand to end the occupation in order to get in step with the Democratic presidential campaign. Howard Dean, who made a splash by opposing the war, made a point of saying that he was for maintaining U.S. troops in Iraq to prevent an Islamist government.

John Kerry supported the war--and only became critical when it became politically safe to do so. His solution for Iraq? Maintain the occupation with a broader international coalition--which is more or less what Bush is already attempting to do with the UN. Lest anyone think that a Kerry administration would be less militaristic Bush's, consider Kerry's announcement in December that he would add 40,000 personnel to the U.S. military so that Washington can maintain its imperial outposts around the globe.

The all-but-certain likelihood of a Bush-Kerry matchup in November adds urgency to the demonstrations scheduled for March 20--on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. These protests won't be on the scale of the February 15 antiwar demonstrations before the invasion, when an estimated 10 million people took to the streets around the world to try to prevent the slaughter.

Today, the issues are more complex. Besides pressure from the Democrats, the movement has to contend with other issues. For example, the UN--seen by many antiwar activists as an alternative to U.S. rule in Iraq--has repeatedly adapted itself to Washington's agenda. The question of Palestine, long excluded from the U.S. antiwar and peace movements as "too controversial," has become an inescapable issue as the U.S. and Israel use the dual occupation of Arab lands to redraw the map the Middle East in the interests of imperialism.

The March 20 protests will be an important gathering place for activists who make up the core of the movement--longtime peace and justice campaigners, military families, Palestinians and their supporters, student activists, union members in labor antiwar committees and a range of left wing groups and socialists. We need to take this opportunity to build solidarity, discuss and debate the issues facing our movement--and speak with one voice in our demand to end the occupation now.

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