October 17, 2006

For God's Sake, Give Up the Fantasies -- and Get Out Now

Patrick Cockburn is among the top three or four reporters writing about the Middle East, and about the neverending horrors that are the result of our immoral invasion of Iraq. I discussed his invaluable work in some detail (and contrasted it to the notably more feeble efforts offered by typical American journalists) in this essay.

Here is Cockburn on Iraq today:
The only problem about Sir Richard Dannatt's comments on Iraq is that they did not go far enough. He rightly said that "our presence exacerbates the security problem". In other words, foreign military occupation provokes armed resistance in Iraq as it would in most countries. But it is seldom realised that the US and Britain have largely provoked the civil war now that is raging across central Iraq.

The fact that there is a civil war in Iraq should no longer be in doubt, with the UN saying that 3,000 Iraqi civilians are being killed every month and the dramatic claim last week by American and Iraqi health researchers that the true figure goes as high as 15,000 a month.

Baghdad has broken up into a dozen different hostile cities, in each of which Sunni and Shia are killing or expelling one another. The city is like Beirut at the height of the Lebanese civil war. The wrong identity card, car number plate, or even picture on a mobile phone, is enough to get a driver dragged out of his car and killed. Militias are taking over. Sunni and Shia neighbourhoods that lived peaceably together for decades now exchange mortar fire every night.


It is as bad in the provinces around Baghdad where many of the deaths go unrecorded.


The guerrillas in Iraq are strong because they are popular. A leaked Pentagon poll last month showed that 75 per cent of the five million-strong Sunni community support armed resistance.

The present slaughter in Iraq is taking place because the existing ethnic and sectarian hostilities have combined with animosities that have been created by the occupation. For instance, a Sunni ex-army officer supporting the resistance now sees a Shia serving in the Iraqi army or police force not just as the member of a different Islamic sect but as a traitor to his country who is actively collaborating with the hated invader.

The last excuse for the occupation was that at least it prevented civil war, but this it very visibly is not doing. On the contrary it de-legitimises the Iraqi government, army and police force, which are seen by Iraqis as pawns of the occupier. When I've asked people in Baghdad what they think of their government, they often reply: "What government? We never see it. It does nothing for us."

In the eyes of Iraqis, the occupation goes on despite the supposed handover of power to Iraq in June 2004. Baghdad is full of signs of this. For instance, the main government intelligence service, essential in fighting a guerrilla war, has no Iraqi budget because it is entirely funded by the CIA.


The White House and Downing Street have never recognised how the deep unpopularity of the occupation among Iraqis has generated resistance. This commonsensical but overwhelmingly important fact has now been pointed out by Sir Richard Dannatt, but there is little sign that Tony Blair has taken it on board, despite his claim to be in full agreement with the forthright British army commander.

The Government's picture of Iraq is not so much a tissue of lies as a tissue of fantasies. It is absurd to say that American and British forces will stay until Iraqi security forces are trained to take their place. What soldiers and police lack is not training but loyalty to the Iraqi government. Far from establishing an independent Iraq or preventing a civil war, the continued presence of American and British troops deeply destabilises the country, de-legitimises its government and deepens sectarian hatred.
This truth is one that I and others have noted for several years now: we cannot solve these problems no matter how long we remain in Iraq and regardless of what we do, because we are an overwhelming and inextricable part of them. The evidence leading to this conclusion is monumental and irrefutable, and the point is not a complicated one. But we will not acknowledge it for the most contemptible of reasons: because we refuse to admit that we were grievously wrong, and we refuse to give up the belief that we "meant well." There is only one possible course of action, and we refuse to acknowledge that, as well. Get Out Now, within six months at a maximum. I have been saying that since shortly after the occupation began.

But you may be assured that we will be in Iraq for at least several more years, and probably for a decade or even longer. And many, many more people will die and be horrifically injured, Iraqis and Americans alike -- and all for infinitely less than nothing.