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The Iraq Study Group
I n December, the Iraq Study Group (also known as the BakerHamilton Commission) published the most candid review of the crisis in Iraq so far by an official U.S. policy group. The principal weakness of its assessment is that it evades two central issues: (1) the full extent of U.S. responsibility for the crisis; (2) the illegality of the U.S. invasion and the resulting illegitimacy of the role that the United States is now playing in the affairs of Iraq.
U.S. responsibility for the crisis in Iraq is acknowledged three times in this report: first, in the letter from the co-chairs; second, in the introduction to the “Assessment” chapter; and, lastly, as a justification for rejecting the option of “precipitate withdrawal.” The cochairs, Republican James Baker and Democrat Lee Hamilton, state in their introductory letter that, “Because of the role and responsibility of the United States in Iraq, and the commitments our government has made, the United States has special obligations.” Instead of going on to explain the “special obligations” of a country that has invaded another one in violation of the United Nations Charter, such as withdrawal of its forces and the payment of reparations, it asserts weakly that, “Our country must address as best it can Iraq’s many problems.”
This logic is repeated in the introduction to the “Assessment” chapter: “Because events in Iraq have been set in motion by American decisions and actions, the United States has both a national and a moral interest in doing what it can to give Iraqis an opportunity to avert anarchy.”
What follows is a damning assessment of the state of occupied Iraq, but one that carefully avoids directly linking any of the specific conditions it describes to “American decisions and actions.”
The section “Sources of Violence” acknowledges “multiple sources of violence in Iraq: the Sunni Arab insurgency, al Quaeda and affiliated Jihadist groups, Shiite militias and death squads, and organized criminality.” Unless it is meant to be included in the last category, which would be valid but seems unlikely, there is no mention of the primary source of violence in Iraq: the U.S. invasion and military occupation of the country.
The epidemiological study recently published in the Lancet by researchers from Johns Hopkins and Columbia Universities found with 97.5 percent certainty that at least 26 percent of violent deaths since the invasion were attributed directly to “coalition” forces. In another 45 percent of cases relatives were unable or unwilling to say who had killed their loved ones. At an absolute minimum this means that U.S. and other foreign troops have killed at least 110,000 people in Iraq, though the actual number of people killed is probably much higher.
In discussing militia violence, the report notes that, “Many Badr members have become integrated into the Iraqi police…” and that “While wearing the uniform of the security services, Badr fighters have targeted Sunni Arab civilians.” It does not mention the U.S. role in forming and training the Interior Ministry special police commandos; or the continuing role of U.S. advisors working with these Interior Ministry forces after they were merged with the Iraniantrained Badr Brigades and launched as death squads against the Sunni population; or that the U.S. government is currently negotiating with SCIRI and Badr leader alHakim to give them a larger role in the next puppet government.
In the section on Operation Together Forward II (a joint operation to increase security operations and personnel in Baghdad last year) the report notes a 43 percent increase in violence in Baghdad during the period covered by this U.S. operation, but fails to explain why it had this effect. In fact this operation targeted the same Sunni neighborhoods that had been under assault by special police commandos and other Shiite militiamen since April 2005, but which had been resisting these attacks with some success. The nominal goal of the U.S. operation was to eliminate both Sunni resistance and Shiite militias, but the Iraqi auxiliary forces that were partnered with the U.S. 4th Infantry and 172nd Stryker Brigade were comprised of or allied with Shiite militias. It was entirely predictable and therefore presumably intended that this operation would intensify the ongoing attacks on the Sunni population of Baghdad. The recent increase in violence in Baghdad is thus a direct and apparently deliberate result of U.S. policy.
When the report goes on to discuss “Some Alternative Courses” in Iraq, the “role and commitments of the United States in initiating events that have led to the current situation” suddenly come to the fore as a reason to keep fighting and the need for withdrawal is rejected as an article of faith: “We believe it would be wrong for the United States to abandon the country through a precipitate withdrawal of troops and support. A premature U.S. departure from Iraq would almost certainly produce greater sectarian violence and further deterioration of conditions.” No evidence is presented to support this assertion and other sections of the report contain ample evidence that the U.S. occupation is the primary source of violence in Iraq.
In discussing the “More Troops for Iraq” option, the report states, “Sustained increases in U.S. troop levels would not solve the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq.” The argument for keeping exactly 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq is a Goldilocks argument, that this number is not too few and not too many, but “just right.” This is not a rational argument. Senator McCain is correct that, if U.S. forces were really a force for stability in Iraq, then more of them would bring more stability. The section acknowledges that this is not the case, but its sound reasoning has not been extended to the faith-based “Precipitate Withdrawal” section.
This discussion outlines the basic dilemma facing U.S. policymakers over Iraq. They are losing the war with the Sunnis whose level of resistance is still increasing, while Muqtada al-Sadr has quietly become the de facto leader of the Shiites throughout most of the country. The Americans have tried to take on the Sunnis and leave al-Sadr for later, but this has not worked. The result has been that both the Sunni resistance and al-Sadr have grown stronger and the U.S. and its various puppets are weaker than ever.
The report’s prescription is to concentrate on training security forces loyal to the puppet government, but the loyalty of these forces can never be guaranteed. If it should come to a showdown with al-Sadr, most of them would suddenly be on the other side and the Kurdish peshmerga would prefer to fight for an independent Kurdistan than for Baghdad. The word “invasion” does not occur anywhere in this report. The word “legitimacy” occurs once, in relation to diplomatic relations between Iraq and neighboring countries.
The “Security” section begins by explaining that U.S. forces are part of the Multi-National Force authorized by UNSCR 1546. It does not explain that these were the same forces that invaded the country in March 2003 in violation of the UN Charter and that, because of the United States’ role as a permanent member of the Security Council, subsequent UN resolutions have been unable to confront the reality of this situation.
The United States has prevented the Security Council from fulfilling its responsibility to restore international peace and security, leaving the Council to act under this constraint to do what it can under the circumstances. When the history books are written, we will probably find that some members and some UN officials practiced quiet diplomacy to try and reclaim the protection to which the people of Iraq are entitled under international law, while most were governed primarily by their own interests in maintaining a stable relationship with the United States.
Unresolved questions of legitimacy underlie the report’s discussions of many issues: the status of Iraqi Kurdistan; “amnesty for those who have fought against the government”; the flight of the technocratic class from the country, including government officials, academics, and petroleum engineers; the refusal of the Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Transportation to work with U.S. advisors; the uncertain framework for foreign investment; the growth of popular opposition to the occupation; and the fact that 61 percent of Iraqis approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces.
Recommendations 22 and 23 speak to the heart of the U.S. enterprise in Iraq, asking President Bush to “state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq” and “that the United States does not seek to control Iraq’s oil.” The report does not ask Bush to take any concrete steps regarding these issues, such as halting construction on U.S. bases or on the 104-acre U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone.
Recommendations 62 and 63 provide a complex ten-part prescription for the disposition of the oil sector in Iraq. They would “create a fiscal and legal framework for investment” and commit U.S. military forces to work with Iraqis and foreign mercenaries to protect oil infrastructure and contractors.
“The United States should encourage investment in Iraq’s oil sector by the international community and by international energy companies” and “the United States should assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise.” These statements reveal continuing support for the Oil Production Sharing Agreements that Western oil companies have been eagerly awaiting since the invasion. Such agreements would be a throwback to the time before the major oil-producing countries nationalized their oil industries when Western companies could help themselves to oil in exchange for the payment of small royalties to national governments. Until World War II, Anglo-Iranian (now BP) paid only a 16 percent royalty on oil production to the government of Iran.
Kevin Phillips reported in his book American Theocracy that U.S. oil companies hoped to earn greater profits on Iraqi oil under these new Production Sharing Agreements than they currently make on the rest of their worldwide operations combined. The Iraq Study Group’s inclusion of this item in their report shows that the primary commercial goals of the invasion have not changed, even if they mean destroying the country that has the misfortune to sit atop these precious oilfields, city by city, block by block, life by life.
Nicolas J.S. Davies is a student of U.S. history and foreign policy. He lives in Miami, Florida. This article was originally published by Online Journal.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.