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Escalating violence marks tragic new chapter in the occupation
Why the U.S. is to blame for Iraq's nightmare

December 1, 2006 | Page 3

A HORRIFIC attack on Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite neighborhood on the edge of Baghdad, has unleashed a cycle of sectarian retaliation and counter-retaliation that marks a tragic new chapter in the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The fury and speed with which Shiite militias lashed out following the November 23 attack, targeting Sunni homes and mosques with mortars and machine guns to exact revenge, are telling signs of the degree to which sectarian violence is gripping Iraq.

The sheer scale of the bloodshed has reached the highest levels since the U.S. invasion, according to United Nations (UN) statistics that are based on morgue reports. The October death toll marked an 11 percent increase over September, according to the UN, and November's is certain to be higher still.

The character of the violence has taken an alarming turn, as well. "Sixty-five percent of all deaths in Baghdad were categorized as unidentified corpses," according to the New York Times, "the signature of militias, who kidnap, kill and throw away bodies at a rate that now outstrips the slaughter inflicted by suicide bombers."

U.S. politicians chastise Iraqis for "failing to clamp down on the violence," "turning their backs on democracy" or some variation on these themes. But the blame for this nightmare lies squarely with the occupiers.

Historically, divisions between Shia and Sunni Muslims had less meaning in Iraq than almost any other country in the region.

It was U.S. occupation forces, not Iraqis, who imposed a sectarian logic on the division of political power in Iraq after the fall of the Saddam Hussein government. Washington's approach of parceling out power to the leaders of Iraq's three main ethno-religious groups--Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds--simultaneously allowed the U.S. to play the sides against one another and unleashed a sectarian dynamic that has now taken on a life of its own.

"There was no civil war in Iraq until we got there," journalist Nir Rosen told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! "And there was no civil war in Iraq, until we took certain steps to pit Sunnis against Shias... "What we've managed to do is not only destabilize Iraq, but destabilize Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran. This is going to spread for decades. The region won't recover from this for decades--and Americans are responsible."

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THAT'S WHY in spite of the conflicts and violence, there is one demand that the vast majority of Iraqis agree on--that U.S. forces should leave Iraq, and sooner rather than later.

Seven out of 10 Iraqis want U.S. troops out within a year, according to a September opinion poll conducted by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (immediate withdrawal was not included as a possible response).

Among Baghdad's Shiites, who have generally held a more positive view of U.S. forces, not a single one surveyed in this latest poll wanted the U.S. to stay "until the security situation improves." At the beginning of this year, more than half of Baghdad's Shiites said yes to this option.

In the face of ever-increasing hostility to U.S. forces, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki finds himself walking a tightrope.

Maliki was scheduled to meet George W. Bush in Jordan this week, but Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who controls one of the largest blocks of seats in the Iraqi parliament, has issued an ultimatum--that if Maliki goes ahead with the meeting, Sadr will withdraw his support for the government in parliament.

That could well lead to the collapse of Maliki's administration--and potentially turn Sadr's powerful Mahdi Army militia from a prop upholding the Iraqi government into one of its most powerful foes.

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DESPITE THE clear rejection of the Iraq war by U.S. voters in the midterm congressional elections, the Bush administration still talks about finding a way to "win" in Iraq--including the possibility of a "surge option" that would increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 20,000.

No less than three separate strategy evaluations are underway--a Pentagon review, a National Security Council study and the deliberations of the Iraq Study Group headed by Bush family fixer James Baker and Democrat Lee Hamilton.

It's obvious why U.S. war planners want to stay--oil. Years of scheming are coming to a head in December with the deadline for new legislation to govern Iraq's oil sector.

"The whole point is a new oil law--which is in fact a debt-for-oil program concocted and imposed by the International Monetary Fund," reports Asia Times commentator Pepe Escobar. "This is the point of the U.S. invasion--a return on investment on the hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayers' money spent. It's not war as politics by other means; it's war as free-market opening by other means--full U.S. access to the epicenter of the energy wars and the perfect geostrategic location for 'taming,' in the near future, both Russia and China."

The U.S. agenda for Iraq has always centered on this goal, and the Democratic Party, though it benefited this election from the strategic blunders of the Bush administration, has always shared the commitment to that agenda.

That's why Sen. Barack Obama's recent proposal for an "exit strategy," on closer inspection, doesn't sound like an exit strategy at all.

Obama called for "a phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq on a timetable that would begin in four to six months."

But he stressed that the timetable shouldn't be "overly rigid," that the U.S. "should be willing to adjust to realities on the ground," that "redeployment could be temporarily suspended if the parties in Iraq reach an effective political arrangement that stabilizes the situation and they offer us a clear and compelling rationale for maintaining certain troop levels," and that "it could be suspended if at any point U.S. commanders believe that a further reduction would put American troops in danger."

In other words, Obama includes enough qualifications in his "exit strategy" to keep the U.S. in Iraq indefinitely.

Whether it is pushed by a liberal Democratic star like Obama or a centrist Democrat like Rep. John Murtha, redeployment isn't designed to end U.S. intervention in Iraq or the rest of the Middle East, but to find ways to continue intervention from a safe distance--safe, that is, for U.S. troops.

In fact, one little-noted aspect of the various redeployment plans is increased reliance on U.S. airpower in Iraq itself--a surefire recipe for many more Iraqi casualties, not fewer.

Every day that the occupation continues means more violence, a greater threat of civil war and worsening conditions for ordinary Iraqis. The U.S. has to get out of Iraq--immediately and unconditionally.

This is the demand that the antiwar movement needs to champion in order to connect with the sentiment of large numbers of Iraqis and Americans alike.

The plans for a national antiwar mobilization in Washington, D.C., on January 27 will be a welcome opportunity for everyone opposed to the occupation to take a public stand. Opponents of the war can start to mobilize for January 27 now--and begin to reach out to a new audience with local organizing initiatives.

The politicians of both parties want to come up with a "new course" in Iraq that won't end the occupation, but repackage it. Our stand has to be for the U.S. to get out of Iraq now--not in a year, not in six months, but now.

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