Four years ago, the United States invaded Iraq.
It's the anniversary few want to remember; and yet, for all the disillusionment
in this country, getting out of Iraq doesn't exactly seem to be on the agenda
either. Not really. Here's a little tip, when you want to assess the "withdrawal"
proposals being offered by members of Congress. If what's being called for is
a withdrawal of American "combat
troops" or brigades, or forces, then watch out. "Combat troops" turns out
to be a technical term, covering less
than half of the American military personnel actually in Iraq.
Here's a simple argument for withdrawal from Iraq (suggested recently in a
reader's e-mail to this site) – and not just of those "combat troops" either.
The military newspaper Stars
and Stripes reports that, in January 2007, attacks on American troops
surged to 180 a day, the highest rate since Baghdad fell in 2003, and double
the previous year's numbers. Let's take that as our baseline figure.
Now, get out your calculator: There are 288 days left in 2007. Multiply those
by 180 attacks a day – remembering that the insurgents in Iraq are growing increasingly
skilled and using ever more sophisticated weaponry – and you get 51,840 more
attacks on American troops this year. Add in another 65,700 for next year –
remembering that if, for instance, Shi'ite militias get
more involved in fighting American troops at some point, the figures could
go far higher – and you know at least one grim thing likely to be in store for
Americans if a withdrawal doesn't happen. (I first wrote a piece at TomDispatch,
"The Time of Withdrawal"
back in October 2003, laying out the full reasons why I thought withdrawal was
imperative and, unfortunately, it remains grimly relevant three and a half years
Today, Anthony Arnove considers what that fourth anniversary means in Iraq,
offering a few figures and comparisons of his own. Arnove is the author of Iraq:
The Logic of Withdrawal, a small paperback modeled on a famous volume
Howard Zinn wrote
way back in 1967, arguing for a U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. If you want to
make the case – and it's a compelling one – to friends, neighbors, workmates,
those who disagree with you, your congressional representatives, or anyone else,
this is probably the book you should have in your hands. Tom
Four Years Later… and Counting
Billboarding the Iraq disaster
by Anthony Arnove
As you read this, we're four years from the moment
the Bush administration launched its shock-and-awe assault on Iraq, beginning
48 months of remarkable, nonstop destruction of that country… and still counting.
It's an important moment for taking stock of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Here is a short rundown of some of what George Bush's war and occupation
Nowhere on Earth is there a worse refugee
crisis than in Iraq today. According to the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, some 2 million Iraqis have fled
their country and are now scattered from Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Iran to
London and Paris. (Almost none have made it to the United States, which has
done nothing to address the refugee crisis it created.) Another 1.9 million
are estimated to be internally displaced persons, driven from their homes and
neighborhoods by the U.S. occupation and the vicious civil war it has sparked.
Add those figures up – and they're getting worse by the day – and you have close
to 16 percent of the Iraqi population uprooted. Add the dead to the displaced,
and that figure rises to nearly one in five Iraqis. Let that sink in for a moment.
Basic foods and necessities, which even Saddam Hussein's brutal regime managed
to provide, are now increasingly beyond the reach of ordinary Iraqis, thanks
to soaring inflation unleashed by the occupation's destruction of the already
shaky Iraqi economy, cuts to state subsidies encouraged by the International
Monetary Fund and the Coalition Provisional Authority, and the disruption of
the oil industry. Prices of vegetables, eggs, tea, cooking and heating oil,
gasoline, and electricity have skyrocketed.
Unemployment is regularly estimated at somewhere between 50-70 percent. One
measure of the impact of all this has been a significant rise in child
malnutrition, registered by the United
Nations and other organizations. Not surprisingly, access to safe water
and regular electricity remain well below pre-invasion levels, which were already
disastrous after more than a decade of comprehensive sanctions against, and
periodic bombing of, a country staggered by a catastrophic war with Iran in
the 1980s and the First Gulf War.
In an ongoing crisis, in which hundred of thousands of Iraqis have already
died, the last few months have proved some of the bloodiest on record. In October
alone, more than 6,000 civilians were killed in Iraq, most in Baghdad, where
thousands of additional U.S. troops had been sent in August (in the first official
Bush administration "surge") with the claim that they would restore order and
stability in the city. In the end, they only fueled more violence. These figures
– and they are generally considered undercounts – are more than double the 2005
rate. Other things have more or less doubled in the last years, including, to
name just two, the number of daily attacks on U.S. troops and the overall number
of U.S. soldiers killed and wounded. United Nations special investigator Manfred
Nowak also notes that torture
"is totally out of hand" in Iraq. "The situation is so bad many people say it
is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein."
Given the disaster that Iraq is today, you could keep listing terrible
numbers until your mind was numb. But here's another way of putting the last
four years in context. In that same period, there have, in fact, been a large
number of deaths in a distant land on the minds of many people in the United
States: Darfur. Since 2003, according to UN
estimates, some 200,000 have been killed in the Darfur region of Sudan
in a brutal ethnic-cleansing campaign and another 2 million have been turned
How would you know this? Well, if you lived in New York City, at
least, you could hardly take a subway ride without seeing an ad that reads:
"400,000 dead. Millions uniting to save Darfur." The New York Times
has also regularly featured full-page ads describing the "genocide" in Darfur
and calling for intervention there under "a chain of command allowing necessary
and timely military action without approval from distant political or civilian
In those same years, according to the best estimate available, the
British medical journal The Lancet's door-to-door study of Iraqi deaths,
Iraqis had died in war, occupation, and civil strife between March 2003
and June 2006. (The study offers a low-end possible figure on deaths of 392,000
and a high-end figure of 943,000.) But you could travel coast to coast without
seeing the equivalents of the billboards, subway placards, full-page newspaper
ads, or the like for the Iraqi dead. And you certainly won't see, as in the
case of Darfur, celebrities on Good Morning America talking about their
commitment to stopping "genocide" in Iraq.
Why is it that we are counting and thinking about the Sudanese dead
as part of a high-profile, celebrity-driven campaign to "Save Darfur," yet
Iraqi deaths still go effectively uncounted, and rarely seem to provoke moral
outrage, let alone public campaigns to end the killing? And why are the numbers
of killed in Darfur cited without any question, while the numbers of Iraqi
dead, unless pitifully low-ball figures, are instantly challenged – or dismissed?
In our world, it seems, there are the worthy
victims and the unworthy ones. To get at the difference, consider the posture
of the United States toward the Sudan and Iraq. According to the Bush administration,
Sudan is a "rogue state"; it is on the State Department's list of "state
sponsors of terrorism." It stands
accused of attacking the United States through its role in the suicide-boat
bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. And then, of course – as Mahmood
Mamdani pointed out in the London Review of Books recently – Darfur
fits neatly into a narrative of "Muslim-on-Muslim violence," of a "genocide
perpetrated by Arabs," a line of argument that appeals heavily to those who
would like to change the subject from what the United States has done – and
is doing – in Iraq. Talking about U.S. accountability for the deaths of the
Iraqis we supposedly liberated is a far less comfortable matter.
It's okay to discuss U.S. "complicity" in human rights abuses, but
only as long as you remain focused on sins of omission, not commission.
We are failing the people of Darfur by not militarily intervening.
If only we had used our military more aggressively. When, however, we do intervene,
and wreak havoc in the process, it's another matter.
If anything, the focus on Darfur serves to legitimize the idea of
U.S. intervention, of being more of an empire, not less of one, at the very
moment when the carnage that such intervention causes is all too visible and
is being widely repudiated around the globe. This has also contributed to
a situation in which the violence for which the United States is the most
responsible, Iraq, is that for which it is held the least accountable at home.
If anyone erred in Iraq, we now hear establishment critics of the
invasion and occupation suggest, the real problem was administration incompetence
or George Bush's overly optimistic belief that he could bring democracy to
Arab or Muslim people, who, we are told, "have no tradition of democracy,"
who are from a "sick" and "broken society" – and, in brutalizing one another
in a civil war, are now showing their true nature.
There is a general agreement across much of the political spectrum that we
can blame Iraqis for the problems they face. In a much-lauded
speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Sen. Barack Obama couched
his criticism of Bush administration policy in a call for "no more coddling"
of the Iraqi government: The United States, he insisted, "is not going to
hold together this country indefinitely." Richard Perle, one of the neoconservative
architects of the invasion of Iraq, now says he "underestimated
the depravity" of the Iraqis. Sen. Hillary Clinton, Democratic front-runner
in the 2008 presidential election, recently
asked, "How much are we willing to sacrifice [for the Iraqis]?" As if
the Iraqis asked us to invade their country and make their world a living
hell and are now letting us down.
This is what happens when the imperial burden gets too heavy. The
natives come in for a lashing.
The disaster the United States has wrought in Iraq is worsening by the day,
and its effects will be long-lasting. How long they last, and how far they spread
beyond Iraq, will depend on how quickly our government can be forced to end
its occupation. It will also depend on how all of us react the next time we
hear that we must attack another country to make the world safe from weapons
of mass destruction, "spread democracy," or undertake a "humanitarian intervention."
In the meantime, it's worth thinking about what all those horrific figures will
look like next March, on the fifth anniversary of the invasion, and the March
after, on the sixth, and the March after that…
Put it on a billboard – in your head, if nowhere else.
Anthony Arnove is the author of Iraq:
The Logic of Withdrawal (American
Empire Project, Metropolitan) and, with Howard Zinn, of Voices
of a People's History of the United States (Seven Stories).
Copyright 2007 Anthony Arnove