Kamil Mahdi

Kamil Mahdi writes in response to Lakshmi Chaudhry's 'Rethinking Iraq,' posted last Thursday. Mahdi is an Iraqi and lecturer in Middle East economics at the University of Exeter.

It is a plain fact that the United States – supported by a few adjunct states – waged a premeditated, illegal and unjustifiable aggression against Iraq. The nature of the deposed Iraqi regime as a repressive dictatorship that is despised by the vast majority of the population of Iraq has little relevance for a simple reason, which is that the invasion was not a humanitarian intervention that was carried out in the interests of the Iraqi people, with their consent, with their participation and with respect to their dignity and independence.

The invasion was also carried out in clear defiance of international public opinion, and the current debate about the stance of the peace movement with regard to the continuing occupation of Iraq must not lose sight of these basic facts. The Bush administration – and the Congress that empowered it to act in the manner it did – are not about to alter their behavior and to act in compliance with international law, in deference to world public opinion and in the interests of the Iraqi people. Moreover, the peace movement that was unable to stop the invasion is not in a position to dictate the behavior of occupation troops and to offer elaborate political plans for a gradual end to the occupation.

If the occupation is to end, this is going to be the result of political and armed Iraqi resistance combined with a reawakening of the U.S. and international public to the threat posed by the neo-conservatives' imperial project. In other words, the project has to be abandoned, not liberalized. Liberals and the left must stop looking for like-minded Iraqis they can patronize and rear in order to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion to the occupation. This must not be a precondition for the early and complete withdrawal of U.S. troops.

It is of course proper to be concerned about the consequences of a U.S. withdrawal, for it is neither possible nor desirable to return to the pre-war situation. The dangers of a total breakdown of security and of civil war are real. However, it would be foolish to believe that all that stands between these dangers and Iraq is the U.S. military presence. Quite the contrary, the occupation's sectarian and ethnic vision of Iraqi politics is the major part of the problem. There is virtually no history of ethnic and sectarian conflict in Iraq at a popular level, and what little there is has been incited by outside powers. That is not to say that members of different communities have not come into conflict with the state, nor is it to say that Iraq's society is in essence, liberal and democratic. However, it would be correct to say that society in Iraq is historically tolerant and at ease with its multi-ethnic diversity, and that it is open to change and to peaceful development.

On the other hand, the occupation has not only attacked a regime that practices sectarianism and discrimination, but it has set about destroying the secular state as well as a kind of unwritten social compact that keeps communities at peace with each other and holds everyone committed to their Iraqi identity. Thus, even aside from the suffering and disregard for Iraqi life and welfare, the longer this occupation remains the more dangerous and destructive it becomes. The peace movement must not fall for the media stereotyping of Iraq into simple ethnic divisions. A huge industry has emerged, the sole purpose of which is to peddle sectarian rubbish and to sow fear. Iraq is in danger, but it will not automatically implode along sectarian lines. The security problem can be addressed through a credible political process that is not seen to be manipulated by the occupation.

The peace movement must fight for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, and also for the U.S. and the whole world to accept its responsibility to help Iraq recover. It is absurd to hold that the U.S. can only help Iraq through troops and contracted mercenaries.

Read responses from Tom Hayden, Jonathan Schell and Erik Leaver.

Lakshmi Chaudhry responds.

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