Blaming Iraqis for the U.S. war

TEN-YEAR-old children detained at Abu Ghraib. An old woman shot with a grenade for carrying groceries on the street. Orders given to soldiers in Baghdad to shoot "everyone wearing a black dishdasha and a red headscarf."

These are the stories of the occupation of Iraq that the courageous veterans who took part in the historic "Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan" investigation in Washington, D.C., offered as evidence of why the war must end and the troops must be brought home now.

To mark the fifth anniversary of the nightmare the U.S. has brought on Iraq, I marched with thousands of activists, whose words of solidarity rang out above the Chicago streets: "Iraq for Iraqis!" and "Occupation will never bring liberation!"

On the same day, a very different "antiwar" message made its way over the newswire. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke of her plans to begin troop withdrawals within 60 days of taking office.

But her comments about the need to do so revealed a willful ignorance of the sentiments of the thousands of people who have taken part in antiwar actions across the country. "We have given [Iraqis] the precious gift of freedom," she said, "And it is up to them to decide whether to use it. But we cannot fight their civil war for them."

The members of Iraq Veterans Against the War who assembled to give lie to the mythological view of the occupation as a democracy- and peace-building mission delivered an immeasurable service by taking aim not only at the cost of the war on our troops, but also the carefully crafted racism and dehumanization the military has depended upon to maintain these five years of an all out war on the people of Iraq.

Having heard their powerful statements, I can't help wondering: the airborne destruction of entire villages, the displacement of over 4 million people from their homes, the funding and arming of sectarian militias--in which of these does Clinton see "the precious gift of freedom"?

For politicians like Clinton, the logic of the occupation has yet to be broken by the realities so bravely addressed by the veteran and civilian war resistors who recently took action against the war.

That's why Clinton's proposal for withdrawal rings hollow. It is not only a half-measure, calling for some body of 40,000, 50,000 or 60,000 troops to remain in Iraq, but it also drips with the arrogance and racism that have helped turn a decisive majority of the public against the war.

For the millions of Americans and Iraqis who want all the troops out of Iraq, their opposition is not a callous calculation of the cost of this disaster on the credibility of the U.S. on the world stage. And our fight does not fault Iraqis for the violence and instability to which they are subjected, but rather U.S. policy, which has stoked civil strife in order to weaken resistance and create a vacuum of power that only the U.S. war machine is able to fill.

That's why we have to bring the energy of the recent antiwar marches and speeches back into our communities and organize the networks of activists who will continue to build an ever stronger, more vocal and unapologetic antiwar movement. We must build a force that presses the politicians to do more than make promises to the antiwar majority who will head to the polls in the coming months.

As the presidential elections intensify and after the Bush administration is tossed out on its ear after November, our challenge will be to continue to build a fighting movement that forces the new occupants of the White House and the halls of Congress to acknowledge the full extent of the crisis created by both parties who have voted for and funded this war--from the dehumanization of Iraqis, to the cost of the war in our own increasingly devastated economy, to the need to provide real compensation to the veterans suffering from PTSD and the occupied people, who deserve massive reparations with which to rebuild their own country.
Rachel Cohen, Chicago