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WHAT WE THINK
Occupation only brings more horrors
Why the U.S. must get out of Iraq now

April 28, 2006 | Pages 3 and 16

EVERY FEW months, the U.S. government hails a new "milestone" and another "turning point" on the "road to democracy" in Iraq. And as each one passes, the situation for the majority of Iraqis continues to grow much, much worse.

There was the invasion itself and the fall of Baghdad, when the Bush administration said Iraqis would welcome U.S. invaders as liberators. Within weeks, an Iraqi resistance movement showed the opposite, and has grown steadily since.

There was the June 2004 "handover of sovereignty" to an interim government handpicked by the occupation authorities. Officials of that regime are accused of stealing more than $2 billion.

There was an election, a new constitution, a referendum, another election--and now, four months after the second vote, which was supposed to produce a permanent government, U.S. officials were hyping another "breakthrough" in deadlocked negotiations over the leaders of that government.

At each step, these "milestones" have turned out to be marking Iraq's descent into hell. Life for ordinary Iraqis was already nightmarish before the invasion, following more than a decade of war and economic sanctions. But the nightmare is deeper than ever today.

Violence--whether carried out by U.S. military forces armed with the latest weapons of mass destruction, or by militias and death squads fighting a sectarian conflict stoked by the occupiers--is a daily reality.

The most basic services--electricity, sewage, health care, education--remain a shambles, with no sign of recovery. And every day, in a hundred ways, Iraqis endure the humiliation of living under the rule of the most powerful imperialist nation in history.

There is only one way that conditions in Iraq will begin to improve--if the U.S. military and corporate occupation of Iraq ends.

After three years in which the suffering of Iraqis has only intensified, the body count of U.S. soldiers has only risen, and the cost of the war has only grown more astronomical, there should be no concession to half-measures and "realistic" compromises. We want the U.S. out of Iraq now--immediately and unconditionally.

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LAST WEEK'S apparent agreement in Baghdad to resolve the dispute over who will be Iraq's prime minister underlines how much the U.S. still calls the shots in Iraq.

The U.S. flexed its muscles to block Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Shiite leader who was prime minister in the interim government with Washington's blessing last year. Since then, the administration has decided that the main Shiite Muslim parties are too closely tied to Iran--the next target in the U.S. "war on terror," if the White House hawks get their way.

The Shiite parties that dominate under Jaafari have been linked to armed militias, which infiltrated the Iraqi police and interior ministry to establish death squads carrying out sectarian killings.

Since the bombing of a Shia mosque in Samarra in February, sectarian violence has escalated to terrible new levels. Today, according to press reports, not a day passes without the discovery of more victims of the death squads--as many as 20 and 30 people dumped in and around Baghdad.

Under the deal worked out last week, Jawad al-Maliki will become prime minister in the new government. Maliki and Jaafari are both leaders of the al-Dawa party, a dominant player in the alliance of Shia religious parties that triumphed in the parliamentary elections last December. But U.S. officials claim that Maliki is more likely to confront the violence.

The truth, however, is that the U.S. is responsible for stoking the sectarian conflicts in Iraq. Like occupiers throughout history, the U.S. relied on divide-and-conquer tactics to bolster its rule.

U.S. overseers created an electoral system in Iraq that, as one writer put it, "encouraged sectarianism by dividing up authority based not on technical skills or ideological affiliation but ethnic and religious identity." The new constitution contains provisions that will allow Kurdish parties in the north and Shiite parties in the south to create powerful regional governments, at the expense of Iraq's central government.

Iraqi military and security forces have also been reconstituted by the U.S. on sectarian lines--which set the stage for the death squads to begin operating.

Iraq has strong nationalist political traditions that run counter to sectarianism, and Shia and Sunni have lived side by side, worked together and intermarried for many decades. The religious divide isn't natural or inevitable. But the forces the U.S. set in motion, if not opposed, could nevertheless plunge Iraq into a civil war.

Apologists for the occupation--both conservatives and liberals--say that the U.S. must stay in Iraq now to prevent this. But every day that the U.S. remains in Iraq makes civil war more, not less, likely.

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PUBLIC OPINION in the U.S. has swung steadily and overwhelmingly against the war.

A Gallup poll last week showed George Bush's approval ratings at an all-new low of 36 percent, and support for his handling of the Iraq war is even lower. Almost two-thirds of people want U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq within the year, and three in 10 want immediate withdrawal.

Those findings are strikingly similar to a Zogby poll of U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq, which found 29 percent in favor of immediate withdrawal and an overwhelming 72 percent in favor of a pullout within a year.

Unfortunately, this mass sentiment against the war hasn't translated into a stronger antiwar movement.

Demonstrations on the third anniversary of the war last month were smaller than the year before, despite the larger opposition.

And the April 29 demonstration in New York City this weekend--which the antiwar coalition United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) supported in opposition to the international call for March 19 protests--has been watered down into a broad liberal mobilization, with a barely muted emphasis on electoral politics over activist organizing. The centerpiece of the day will be a five-hour "peace and justice festival" squeezed into a small city park called Foley Square. There will be no speakers at the festival.

Some progressives say that April 29 will be a step forward for the movement because of the involvement of not only antiwar organizations like UFPJ, but also mainstream liberal groups like the National Organization for Women and Operation PUSH.

But the effect has been to highlight only the least objectionable demands on a range of issues--and exclude anything more radical. Thus, the chief demands of April 29 avoid certain contentious but all-important questions--the Bush administration's war threats against Iran, the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation, even immediate withdrawal from Iraq--with the intentionally vague statement "No more never-ending oil wars."

The goal--explicitly stated by some organizers--is to make this demonstration part of a broader mobilization behind the Democrats for the midterm congressional elections in November. This is part of a strategic orientation aimed not at mobilizing the growing numbers of people against Bush's war, but at promoting the "antiwar Democrats."

But the Democrats--and not only the party's mainstream leadership, but its liberal wing--are still pushing ways to "win" the war with formulas that aren't much different from the White House line that "as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

Thus, the proposal from the Pentagon brass' mouthpiece Rep. John Murtha--described by the media and even peace groups like UFPJ as "antiwar"--is really aimed at salvaging, not ending, the U.S. military dominance of the Persian Gulf region, through redeploying U.S. troops out of Iraq to Kuwait, Qatar and Dubai.

The Democrats' attempts to position themselves as more competent in defending national security than the Republicans has also given a discredited and unpopular White House the political room to beat the war drums against Iran. If the antiwar movement lines up behind the Democrats, it will undermine efforts to oppose all U.S. military interventions.

The Democrats are not an antiwar party. The antiwar movement can't hope to meet the challenges it faces if it tailors its activity and arguments to the needs of a pro-war political party.

UFPJ wants to tone down the message of the movement to match what its supposed "allies" in the Democratic Party are saying. But this is exactly the opposite of what the immense antiwar majority is looking for. The slogan "Take back Congress" doesn't inspire anyone.

The successes in the struggle over the past year have been at the grassroots--opposing military recruitment on campus, developing networks of antiwar veterans, supporting the GI resisters. This is where we have to start in building for the future success of the antiwar movement.

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