How to Get Out of Iraq
One year after President Bush's announcement of the end of "major combat operations" in Iraq, Washington's drive to empire faces new and serious challenges. One year to the day after US military forces famously pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein, the front page of the Washington Post featured a photograph of a US soldier pulling down another potent symbol--this one a poster of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr--from a pillar in the same Baghdad square.
The US-led occupation of Iraq is failing, and ending the Bush Administration's disaster can only begin with ending that occupation--not with a nominal "transfer of power" that leaves 130,000 US troops still occupying Iraq, but with an actual end to the occupation. Unlike in Vietnam, the constant barrage of "we're building democracy in Iraq" rhetoric may have made it impossible for Bush to "declare victory and get out." Instead, ending the occupation will likely mean admitting that the war was wrong, that "staying the course" is only making things worse and that hundreds of young American and coalition soldiers as well as thousands of Iraqi civilians are paying an unacceptable price.
The end of the US occupation will not alone, however, mean the end to Iraq's crisis. Devastated after years of crippling economic sanctions, internal repression and US assaults that destroyed its governing capacity, Iraq will require significant international help. But only after full US withdrawal can serious thought be given to how the global community might--indeed must--support Iraq's post-occupation efforts to reclaim its sovereignty.
The withdrawal and the dissolution of the US-imposed "Governing Council" will make possible the entry into Iraq of an international team, led by the United Nations and backed by the key regional alliances--the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference--to provide protection and support. Accountable to whatever Iraqi authority emerges after the occupation ends, that team should be made up primarily of technocratic experts--in elections, in development, in economic planning, etc.--and only secondarily include a military self-defense and security component.
Most Iraqi military resistance is aimed directly at the occupation; an international assistance mission that does not control Iraqi territory, does not impose laws on Iraq, does not hand Iraqi assets over to corporate profiteers and does not claim Iraq's oil as its own will almost certainly be welcomed by a majority of the Iraqi people. UN credibility will be severely diminished if, with or without a new Security Council resolution, the organization sends personnel, funds or other assistance to Iraq to bolster, legitimize or "internationalize" the US occupation. Only after the US occupation ends will UN involvement in Iraq reflect its international legitimacy.
Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and author of Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's UN.