Writing in the Guardian last week about the fourth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Simon Jenkins was in no mood to celebrate what the last four years have left us with.
â€œWe are bid to celebrate the fourth birthday of a lie. In 2003, they lied about Iraq’s weapons arsenal. They lied about Saddam Hussein’s “imminent threat” to Britain. Some of them lied that he was involved in 9/11. Today, steeped in the psychology of denial, they lie that things are really fine, are getting better, are better than before, are on the turn. There might have been mistakes, but there was no Great Mistake.â€
But Iraq is a great mistake. A terrible mistake that canâ€™t be fixed.
â€œThe Americans cannot possibly find tens of thousands of troops needed to police every block in Baghdad for months, let alone years. [And regarding Bushâ€™s January decision to increase troop levels in Baghdad, known as the â€œsurgeâ€] After four years of disorder there can be little hope that such security might last. On Day 1 it might have reassured and stabilised Baghdad. On Day 1,460 it is too late.â€
Jenkins thinks that if things are to get better the armies of occupation must withdraw.
â€œThe greatest fallacy of the coming year is that America or Britain might have any role to play in making March 2008 happier than 2007. While American search-and-destroy patrols roam Anbar province, al-Qaida cells will continue to recruit insurgents from abroad and foment sectarian hatred. While American tanks crash down streets and shoot up villages, they brutalise all they touch. The arrogance that only by staying can we ensure that “things get better” or that “civil war is averted” is now beyond obscenity.â€
The argument against troop withdrawal is that to do so would admit failure and provide insurgents with a time frame which theyâ€™d simply wait out. Once the US Army left theyâ€™d rush in to grab power, with Syria and Iran close behind.
Itâ€™s an argument that is losing ground because what is becoming apparent is that the Army, and the White House policy directing it, has already failed and continuing there compounds that failure. The civil war is happening. A form of ethnical cleansing of Shia and Sunni districts is occurring with armed militia patrolling streets and villages and killing anyone who is not from the area. Mass migration is displacing millions both inside Iraq to the North and to Syria and Iran.
The debates in Congress, with the Democratic Party uncharacteristically unifying over a national security issue, suggest that the Republican taunt that a withdrawal of troops by next year would spell catastrophe, isnâ€™t going to scare the Democrats into backing down.
Democrats of course are emboldened both by the current unpopularity of Bush and a mood in the national for the US to put this debacle behind them. According to a recent Pew Research Centre telephone poll, 59% of those interviewed wanted a timetable to be set for withdrawal of troops.
Of course withdrawl without any other action would mean that a vaacum would be left in it’s place. So a truely international force would be needed. However, such an international focus is not possible with the US as the sole agent of this adventure, which has been the case up to now. For the problem to be opened up and a solution found the US have to leave first.
So, to commemorate, rather than celebrate, the fourth anniversary I bought Patrick Cockburnâ€™s The Occupation. Itâ€™s a really well written and detailed account of the build up to the second Gulf War and the aftermath of the invasion up to the autumn of 2006. Cockburn, who contracted polio as a child in Cork, is Middle East correspondent for the London Independent and wrote numerous diary entries of his time in Iraq for the London Review of Books.
I hope to write a review of it in the near future, but while reading it this morning on the way to work I came across this, which I think sums things up pretty well.
There used to be a mosaic of President George Bush Sr. on the floor at the entrance to Baghdad’s al-Rashid Hotel. It was placed there soon after the First Gulf War in 1991 and was a good likeness, though the artist gave Bush unnaturally jagged teeth and a slightly sinister grimace. The idea was that nobody would be able to get into the hotel, where most of the foreign visitors to Iraq stayed in the 1990’s, without stepping on Bush’s face. The mosaic did not long survive the capture of the city on April 9 and the takeover of the al-Rashid by US officials and soldiers. One American officer, patriotically determined not to place his foot on Bush’s features, tried to step over the mosaic. The distance was too great. He strained his groin and had to be hospitalized. The mosaic was removed.
I liked the story because it seemed like a parable about the failings of the US occupation. There was the officer seeking, like his army, to carry out a task beyond his strength. When he failed and suffered injury this was blamed on the legacy of the old regime.
Itâ€™s funny because itâ€™s true, as Homer Simpson would say.
Update - Breaking News
According to the New York Times The Senate has passes the war-spending bill with an Iraq deadline.