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Entries tagged "Iraq War"Page 1 • 2 • 3 Next
February 15, 2013 · By Phyllis Bennis
Ten years ago people around the world rose up. In almost 800 cities across the globe, protesters filled the streets of capital cities and tiny villages, following the sun from Australia and New Zealand and the small Pacific islands, through the snowy steppes of North Asia and down across the South Asian peninsula, across Europe and down to the southern edge of Africa, then jumping the pond first to Latin America and then finally, last of all, to the United States.
And across the globe, the call came in scores of languages, “the world says no to war!” The cry “Not in Our Name” echoed from millions of voices. The Guinness Book of World Records said between 12 and 14 million people came out that day, the largest protest in the history of the world. It was, as the great British labor and peace activist and former MP Tony Benn described it to the million Londoners in the streets that day, “the first global demonstration, and its first cause is to prevent a war against Iraq.” What a concept — a global protest against a war that had not yet begun — the goal, to try to stop it.
It was an amazing moment — powerful enough that governments around the world, including the soon-famous “Uncommitted Six” in the Security Council, did the unthinkable: they too resisted pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom and said no to endorsing Bush’s war. Under ordinary circumstances, alone, U.S.-dependent and relatively weak countries like Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan could never have stood up to Washington. But these were not ordinary circumstances. The combination of diplomatic support from “Old Europe,” Germany and France who for their own reasons opposed the war, and popular pressure from thousands, millions, filling the streets of their capitals, allowed the Six to stand firm. The pressure was fierce. Chile was threatened with a U.S. refusal to ratify a U.S. free trade agreement seven years in the making. (The trade agreement was quite terrible, but the Chilean government was committed to it.) Guinea and Cameroon were threatened with loss of U.S. aid granted under the African Growth & Opportunity Act. Mexico faced the potential end of negotiations over immigration and the border. And yet they stood firm.
The day before the protests, February 14, the Security Council was called into session once again, this time at the foreign minister level, to hear the ostensibly final reports of the two UN weapons inspectors for Iraq. Many had anticipated that their reports would somehow wiggle around the truth, that they would say something Bush and Blair would grab to try to legitimize their spurious claims of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, that they would at least appear ambivalent enough for the U.S. to use their reports to justify war. But they refused to bend the truth, stating unequivocally that no such weapons had been found.
Following their reports, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin responded with an extraordinary call, reminding the world that “the United Nations must remain an instrument of peace, and not a tool for war.” In that usually staid, formal, rule-bound chamber, his call was answered with a roaring ovation beginning with Council staff and quickly engulfing the diplomats and foreign ministers themselves.
Security Council rejection was strong enough — enough governments said no — that the United Nations was able to do what its Charter requires, but what political pressure too often makes impossible: to stand against the scourge of war. On the morning of February 15, just hours before the massive rally began at the foot of the United Nations, the great actor-activist Harry Belafonte and I accompanied South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to meet with then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan on behalf of the protesters. We were met by a police escort to cross what the New York Police Department had designated its “frozen zone” — not in reference to the bitter 18 degrees or the biting wind whipping in from the East River, but the forcibly deserted streets directly in front of UN headquarters. In the secretary-general’s office on the 38th floor of the United Nations, Bishop Tutu opened the meeting, looking at Kofi across the table and said, “We are here today on behalf of those people marching in 665 cities all around the world. And we are here to tell you, that those people marching in all those cities around the world, we claim the United Nations as our own. We claim it in the name of our global mobilization for peace.”
It was an incredible moment. And while we weren't able to prevent that war, that global mobilization, that pulled governments and the United Nations into a trajectory of resistance shaped and led by global movements, created what the New York Times the next day called "the second super-power.”
Mid-way through the marathon New York rally, a brief Associated Press story came over the wires: “Rattled by an outpouring of international anti-war sentiment, the United States and Britain began reworking a draft resolution….Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the final product may be a softer text that does not explicitly call for war.” Faced with a global challenge to their desperate struggle for UN and global legitimacy, Bush and Blair threw in the towel.
Our movement changed history. While we did not prevent the Iraq war, the protests proved its clear illegality, demonstrated the isolation of the Bush administration policies, helped prevent war in Iran, and inspired a generation of activists. February 15 set the terms for what “global mobilizations” could accomplish. Eight years later some of the Cairo activists, embarrassed at the relatively small size of their protest on February 15, 2003, would go on to help lead Egypt's Arab Spring. Occupy protesters would reference February 15 and its international context. Spain’s indignados and others protesting austerity and inequality could see February 15 as a model of moving from national to global protest.
In New York City on that singular afternoon, some of the speakers had particular resonance for those shivering in the monumental crowd. Harry Belafonte, veteran of so many of the progressive struggles of the last three-quarters of a century, called out to the rising U.S. movement against war and empire, reminding us that our movement could change the world, and that the world was counting on us to do so. “The world has sat with tremendous anxiety, in great fear that we did not exist,” he said. “But America is a vast and diverse country, and we are part of the greater truth that makes our nation. We stand for peace, for the truth of what is at the heart of the American people. We WILL make a difference – that is the message that we send out to the world today.”
Belafonte was followed by his close friend and fellow activist-actor Danny Glover, who spoke of earlier heroes, of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, and of the great Paul Robeson on whose shoulders we still stand. And then he shouted “We stand here today because our right to dissent, and our right to participate in a real democracy has been hijacked by those who call for war. We stand here at this threshold of history, and we say to the world, ‘Not in Our Name’! ‘Not in Our Name!’” The huge crowd, shivering in the icy wind, took up the cry, and “Not in our Name! Not in Our Name!” echoed through the New York streets.
Our obligation as the second super-power remains in place. Now what we need is a strategy to engage with power, to challenge once again the reconfigured but remaining first super-power. That commitment remains.
Phyllis Bennis’ book, Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the UN Defy U.S. Power, with Foreword by Danny Glover, is on the legacy of the February 15 protests. She was on the steering committee of the United for Peace & Justice coalition helping to build February 15, 2003.
Ten years ago today, the two of us were an hour into the first big coalition meeting to oppose the impending U.S. war against Iraq, surrounded by dozens of leaders of a wide array of movements: peace, civil rights, women's rights, environmentalists, labor, social justice, and many others. Then, we noticed some people walking to the back of the room and returning with tears streaking down their faces.
Someone interrupted the meeting with the tragic news. One of the great progressive leaders of our time, Senator Paul Wellstone, had just died in a plane crash campaigning in his home state of Minnesota. The room, just seconds before buzzing with ideas, fell silent. In shock, we took a few minutes to get into small groups and remember Paul, the people's Senator, the anti-war Senator.
We knew that Paul would have wanted us to get back to work quickly in this historic task, so after 15 minutes, we went back to creating what would become the broad, overarching coalition to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: United for Peace and Justice. UFPJ quickly grew to over 1,000 organizations, and we always thought of Paul as we walked into its meetings.
As we think back to that day, we are flooded with Paul memories. Paul proved that progressives without much money could win statewide elections. He visited every corner of Minnesota in a Volkswagen bus during his successful Senate campaigns. He was a stalwart internationalist and he had a poster of our IPS colleague Orlando Letelier, who was assassinated by the Chilean dictatorship, on the wall of his office.
Paul cared deeply about poverty. When he was contemplating a presidential bid in the late 1990s, he retraced the route of Bobby Kennedy's southern tour to highlight poverty and racism in this country. When IPS co-hosted Paul's report back from that tour at Howard University, he spoke with great passion about the human face of poverty and inequality in this nation. In the end, powerful back pain from his days as a wrestler precluded him from running for president in 2000.
Today, Paul would be protesting against the inhumanity and illegality of drone strikes. He would be demanding the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan now, and he'd be explaining to people the wisdom of making major cuts to the U.S. military budget. He would be leading the charge for inequality-busting measures like the Robin Hood tax. He would be joining the protests against unjust budget-cutting deals by his colleagues. And, he would be standing with people fighting expulsion from their homes by predator banks.
Our great challenge today is to shift this nation's course from our current casino and militarized Wall Street economy to a democratic, peaceful, and green Main Street economy. Paul would be leading the charge.
February 17, 2012 · By Adil E. Shamoo
Two recent reports appearing on the same day last week in The New York Times and The Washington Post illustrate U.S. intentions in Iraq. What they reveal is that despite the heralded "end" of U.S. participation in the war there, U.S. policy continues to depend on our security apparatus to influence Iraq, at the expense of Iraqis' sovereignty and dignity.
The Times report informed us that the U.S. State Department decided to cut the U.S. embassy staff by 50 percent from its current 16,000 personnel. This is a good decision; the U.S. embassy in Baghdad is the largest in the world. The reason given for the decision is primarily to reduce the American footprint in Iraq with the hope of reducing Iraqi hostility toward these evident remnants of occupation.
The second report, in the Post, informs us that the U.S. is significantly ramping up the number of CIA personnel and covert Special Operations forces in order to make up for reducing the American military and diplomatic footprint. These added covert personnel will be distributed in safe houses in urban centers all across the country. This represents a new way to exert U.S. power, but it is betting on the Iraqis not noticing the increased covert personnel. Really? This is a bad decision as it contradicts the reasons for the decision to reduce embassy staff.
The Iraqis have suffered for nine years as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation. The economic, educational and political systems in Iraq have been destroyed. Sectarianism, contrary to the belief of many in the U.S., has become the order of the day since the invasion. A significant percentage of Iraqis do not like us and do not want us to stay in Iraq. No Iraqi politicians want to openly be identified as pro-American.
Animosity toward the U.S. is on the rise because of the heavy U.S. presence in Iraq. Our projects in Iraq function to serve our interests, such as building and training security forces to keep the Iraqis in check (building the infrastructure for the promotion of democracy has taken a back seat). We have made sure that Iraq, for the foreseeable future, will depend on us for security equipment and spare parts, heavy industrial machinery, and banking. We built Iraq's security forces but made sure it has no air force. And the half-hearted democracy we built is a shambles; graft and corruption are still rampant.
Iraqis can tell the difference between mutually beneficial programs and those that create the impression that the U.S. is powerful and can do what it wants in Iraq.
Four years ago, on this page, I speculated that the massive U.S. embassy being built in Baghdad would be pillaged by angry Iraqis blaming the U.S. for destroying their country. In a follow-up article, I suggested that as a goodwill gesture, the embassy be converted into a university staffed primarily by volunteers from the Iraqi expatriates community in the U.S. The conversion of the embassy into a university surely would not cost a large portion of the embassy's current $6 billion budget. Such an institution, filling much of the compound's soon-to-be-vacated space, would serve the U.S. interest much better than boots on the ground (or in safe houses) and turn a new page in our relationship with the Iraqi people.
U.S. policy in Iraq is in need of a wholesale change — not a ramping up of covert operations and certainly not in urban centers. All of the ingredients of Arab awakening are alive and well in Iraq. U.S. policy needs to realize this and build on it, not implement policies that denigrate Iraqi aspirations, hopes and autonomy.
Adil E. Shamoo, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. A native of Iraq, he is the author of the forthcoming book, "Equal Worth — When Humanity Will Have Peace." This piece originally appeared on The Baltimore Sun.
January 24, 2012 · By Phyllis Bennis
Far from being "too soon," the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq came more than eight years too late--and still, the war isn't over. This war should never have been launched, so it can't be ended soon enough.
The war was based on lies--remember the "weapons of mass destruction" that weren't there, the "links to 9/11" that never happened, the "mobile weapons laboratories" that didn't exist? Withdrawing troops now, after eight years of occupation, doesn't mean the U.S. achieved victory. It was a defeat for the U.S. and a disaster for the people of Iraq. A terrible dictator (who had been armed, paid, and backed by the U.S., we should not forget) was indeed overthrown. But Iraqis faced years without security, basic services, electricity--let alone democracy, human rights, or independence.
The U.S. war, following more than a decade of devastating U.S.-imposed economic sanctions, ravaged the infrastructure and social fabric of Iraq, leaving behind a broken country ruled by a corrupt sectarian government. For eight years, with up to 182,600 U.S. and allied troops occupying the country at any one time, Iraq was one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and remains so today. That would still be the case if we had pulled out years ago, or if we waited another one, two, or 25 years.
Of course, it's important that U.S. troops and Pentagon-paid contractors have been withdrawn. Indeed it's a huge victory for the U.S. and global anti-war movements who made it imperative for President Obama to enforce the U.S.-Iraq agreement requiring just that. But the U.S. war is not over. U.S. troops have left Iraq, but thousands are streaming into Kuwait and onto Navy ships cruising just "over the horizon." Maybe just a few hundred uniformed U.S. troops will be left in Iraq, but 15,000 or more State Department-paid mercenaries are pouring in, doing the same things--guarding the biggest-in-the-world U.S. embassy, training Iraqis to use the weapons we're still flooding the country with, "special operations"--that continue the instability. The contractors include some of the same armed men whose Pentagon-paid violence led to such outrage in the past. Americans may have forgotten, but Iraqis certainly remember.
It's already too late, but the whole U.S. war in Iraq, not only the presence of uniformed troops, needs to end completely. That includes ending the related wars--in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the drone wars in Yemen and Somalia and beyond, the threatened wars against Iran. Only then can we really claim we've "withdrawn from Iraq."
This post originally appeared on the U.S. News and World Report's "Debate Club." Vote for this and other posts by clicking here.
November 22, 2011 · By Phyllis Bennis
Near the end of George Bush’s eight years in the White House, the president and his Iraqi counterpart, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, shared a big problem. Both of them wanted U.S. troops to stay in Iraq, but both faced widespread domestic opposition to the U.S. occupation.
Feeling the heat, they settled on a “status of forces agreement” (SOFA) calling for full withdrawal of all 150,000 or so U.S. troops and all Pentagon-paid contractors by Dec. 31. In his first 18 months in office, President Obama did significantly reduce the numbers of troops in Iraq, down to about 50,000 by August 2010. But there it stuck. A year later, more than 40,000 U.S. troops were still occupying Iraq. The number of Pentagon-paid contractors still there was even higher—as of March, more than 64,000.
Even worse, the Obama administration continued to pressure the weak and corrupt Iraqi government to renegotiate the SOFA and “invite” the U.S. to keep troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future: a permanent occupation in all but name.
At the end of the day, none of those efforts worked. The official reason for not agreeing to keep 5,000 to 10,000 troops in Iraq was the refusal of the Iraqi government to guarantee U.S. soldiers immunity from criminal prosecution, but the real reason was that anti-war public opinion in Iraq and the U.S. was simply too strong. Al-Maliki certainly hoped some U.S. troops would remain, to help his unpopular government stay in power; Obama was under pressure from some in the Pentagon determined not to “lose” the supposed “gains” the occupation had achieved. But neither Iraq’s parliament nor the American people were prepared to allow thousands of U.S. soldiers to continue occupying Iraq. It was a stunning victory for those who have fought for peace all these years.
But. We’re not out of the woods entirely. Remember those contractors? Turns out the SOFA drafters were cleverer than anyone knew. The agreement said all Pentagon-paid military contractors had to leave by the end of this year, but didn’t mention those paid by the State Department. So guess which U.S. government agency is taking over the check-writing to pay thousands of U.S.-hired mercenaries to stay in Iraq for the long haul?
President Obama campaigned on a promise to end the war in Iraq, calling it a “dumb war.” So why did his administration try so hard to continue the occupation? It seems the strategic reasons that began during the Bush administration—the real causes underneath the fallacious claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or responsibility for 9/11—didn’t go away. Control of oil contracts, strategic reach in a vital region, access to bases, surrounding Iran: All remain operative, whoever is in the White House.
The war cost way too much in Iraqi and U.S. deaths and in our tax dollars. We paid almost $50 billion just this year for this war. That’s enough to provide health care for 24 million children for a year, or to create and fund new, green jobs for a million workers—maybe including those thousands of soldiers supposed to be on their way home.
The U.S. role in the Iraq war has gotten smaller, but it sure isn’t over. We need to bring home all U.S. personnel and dollars. It’s really “dumb” if we don’t. And we still can’t afford dumb wars.
“Reprinted with permission from Sojourners, (800)714-7474, www.sojo.net."