U.S. Imperial Ambitions Thwart Iraqis' Peace Plans
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Last week, a majority of Iraqi lawmakers demanded a timetable for U.S. and other foreign troops to leave their country. The very next day, the Al Fadhila party, a Shi'ite party considered moderate by the (often arbitrary) standards of the commercial media, held a press conference, in which it offered a 23-point plan for stabilizing Iraq.
The plan addressed not only the current situation in Iraq -- acknowledging the legitimacy of Iraqi resistance, setting a timetable for a complete withdrawal of occupation troops and rebuilding the Iraqi government and security forces in a nonsectarian fashion -- but also the challenging mission of post-occupation peace building and national reconciliation. It included provisions for disbanding militias, protecting Iraq's unity, managing Iraq's natural resources, building relationships with other countries based on mutual interest and the principle of non-intervention in domestic issues, and healing the wounds of more than 30 years of dictatorship, war, sanctions and foreign occupation.
An online search shows that the peace plan was largely ignored by the Western commercial media.
That's par for the course. While every nuance of every spending bill that passes the U.S. Congress is analyzed in minute detail, the Iraqis -- remember them? -- have proposed a series of comprehensive peace deals that might unite the country's ethnic and sectarian groups and result in an outcome American officials of all stripes say they want to achieve: a stable, self-governing Iraq that is strong enough to keep groups like al Qaeda from establishing training camps and other infrastructure within its borders.
Al Fadhila's peace plan was not the first one offered by Iraqi actors, nor the first to be ignored by the Anglo-American Coalition. More significant even than proposals made by Iraqi political parties are those put forth by the country's armed resistance groups --- the very groups that have the ability to bring a halt to the cycle of violence. Comprehensive plans have been offered by the Baath party, which ruled Iraq for three generations, the Islamic Army in Iraq and other major armed resistance groups and coalitions. The plans vary on a number of points, but all of them shared a few items in common: the occupation forces must recognize them as legitimate resistance groups and negotiate with them, and the United States must agree to set a timetable for a complete withdrawal from Iraq. That's the key issue, but Iraq's nationalists see it only as the first step in the long path to achieving national reconstruction and reconciliation.
But these plans are unacceptable to the Coalition because they (a) affirm the legitimacy of Iraq's armed resistance groups and acknowledge that the U.S.-led coalition is, in fact, an occupying army, and (b) return Iraq to the Iraqis, which means no permanent bases, no oil law that gives foreign firms supersweet deals and no radical restructuring of the Iraqi economy. U.S. lawmakers have been and continue to be faced with a choice between Iraqi stability and American Empire, and continue to choose the latter, even as the results of those choices are splashed in bloody Technicolor across our TV screens every evening.
Last year, a comprehensive, 28-point proposal for stabilizing Iraq was offered by the nascent Iraqi government itself after long meetings with different Iraqi groups. According to local polls and political leaders, most Iraqis believed it was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel -- the plan was attractive to the vast majority of the public, even those Iraqis affiliated with violent resistance groups. But the plan wasn't acceptable to Washington, and was watered down so as to be unrecognizable under U.S. pressure.
Many Americans -- quite understandably -- believe that only wild-eyed, RPG-toting crazies who, in the words of George W. Bush, "hate and fear democracy," oppose a U.S.-led occupation that would otherwise be embraced -- or at least tolerated -- by a majority of "good" or "moderate" Iraqis.
Peaceful protest suppressed
But while the commercial press focuses on the bloody scenes created by those who have taken up arms against the occupation and the fledgling Iraqi government, the reality is that a significant opposition has been expressed in nonviolent means such as regular demonstrations on the streets of Baghdad and other cities, petitions signed by Iraqis, strikes organized by Iraqi unions, parliamentarian work to create binding legislation, and opinion articles in the dozens of Iraqi newspapers that have proliferated since the invasion. This nonviolent demonstration of Iraqis' anti-occupation sentiment reflects large majorities of all of Iraq's major ethnic and sectarian groups -- more than eight out of 10, according to many polls.
As early as 2005, the University of Michigan's Juan Cole reported that the Sadrist movement -- named after the father of the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- had gathered a million signatures on a petition demanding a timetable for occupation forces to withdraw. More recently, the Arabic press reported that as many as a million Iraqis -- a million Shia and Sunni working together -- had protested the continuing occupation in Najaf on the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad last month.
The same dynamic is also playing out in the parliament, where a bloc of vocal Iraqi nationalists -- one that draws from all of Iraq's major ethno-sectarian groups -- is emerging to challenge the occupation, keep Iraq from being partitioned into weak, semi-autonomous states and oppose Anglo-American carpetbagging around the country's vast energy resources.
One of the few laws left on the books from the Saddam Hussein era is one that severely limits the rights of Iraqi workers to organize. As journalist David Bacon reported in the winter of 2003, coalition forces "escalated their efforts to paralyze Iraq's new labor unions with a series of arrests" that left one of the few surviving segments of Iraq's once-vibrant secular civil society toothless.
In addition, Iraqi newspapers and T.V. stations have been repeatedly targeted. The major clashes between U.S. forces and the Mehdi Army in 2004 were sparked by the closure of the Sadrists' official newspaper, and a number of broadcast stations have been shut down because of their anti-occupation stands. Eighty-two Iraqi journalists have been killed since 2003.
The unreported -- or at least underreported -- story is that Iraqi nationalists are not just "insurgents"; there are many who still believe in political solutions and nonviolent resistance. They continue to work against the occupation through diplomacy and nonviolent opposition, but the Al-Maliki regime, which is dominated by Iraqi separatists, has joined the White House, the Pentagon and the bulk of the U.S. Congress in marginalizing their voices. It is the latest in a long series of examples of American officials backing only the worst horses in Iraq -- a theme that began with the embrace of proven fraudsters like Ahmed Chalabi.
Much of the violence in Iraq has been fueled by this systematic disregard for nonviolent means of opposing the occupation. Before they sink down the memory hole, let's recall what just a few of the headlines from the very early days of the occupation were saying:
- "U.S. Soldiers Kill 13 at Iraq Protest Rally, Hospital Reports," Associated Press, 29 April 2003.
- "At Least 10 Dead as U.S. Soldiers Fire on School Protest," Independent (U.K.), 30 April 2003.
- "Two More Die During Protest at U.S. Killings: Mayor Wants Troops to Leave Town Where 14 Were Shot Dead Day Before," Guardian, 1 May 2003
- "More Protesters Fall to U.S. Guns in Falluja; Commander Says Americans Will Remain," Associated Press, 1 May 2003.
- "[During a Demonstration] U.S. Soldiers Are Said to Kill Iraqi Policemen by Mistake," New York Times , 12 September 2003
Nonviolent resistance in Iraq continues to be met with violence today. Iraqi nationalists have faced repeated attacks by both Coalition forces and Iraqi separatists -- from the bombing of the National Dialogue Front's headquarters in Baghdad to attacks by Shia separatists like SCIRI on Sadr loyalists. At the same time, U.S. officials have heaped praise on -- and the White House has feted -- Iraqi separatists while dismissing Iraq's nationalists as "extremists" or members of "anti-government forces."
That truly sovereign Iraqis would ever permit the United States to build large permanent bases in Iraq or rewrite Iraq's Constitution (in violation of international law) so that the country could serve as a lab for radical neoliberal economic theories without coercion -- much less fall into lockstep with the United States on other matters of regional concern, like the Israel-Palestinian conflict -- was always a grand delusion.
In that sense, Washington's choice after the invasion was always clear: The administration could have given the Iraqis a chance to build a sovereign and independent state for themselves -- one without the meddling of outside forces, be they al Qaeda, Iranian or American -- and take its chances with the outcome. But it chose instead to use the invasion as a means of securing a toehold in the region for the U.S. military and an unprecedented and an extreme form of "business-friendly" legal structures for international investors. The situation in Iraq today is not a result of a lack of options, it's due to constantly choosing the wrong one.
The American strategic class faces the same choice today. They can continue to refuse to offer a timetable for leaving, continue supporting Iraq separatists and pro-Iranian groups and push a disastrous oil law that will tear the country apart, or they can return the country to the Iraqis and let them try to put their country back together. Continuing to ignore Iraqis' nonviolent resistance to the U.S. occupation can achieve nothing other than pushing the country towards more violence.