Lost The War In Iraq
By Remi Kanazi
15 March, 2006
has lost the war in Iraq. The chance for victory vanished long ago with
the hearts, minds, arms, legs and lives of the Iraqi people. The insurgence
hasn't won; rather the American government never obtained the formula
to win. America, led by war-bent hawks (Vice President Dick Cheney,
Secretary of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary
of Defense Paul Wolfowitz) entered this war with many interests. Among
them, the control of a major supply of Mideast oil, military bases,
reconstruction contracts for cronies (i.e. Halliburton and Bechtel),
a new ally/puppet in the region, securing Israeli dominance, showcasing
new products for the arms community, and the greater concept of making
Baghdad a haven for US corporate expansion (thereby planting a McDonalds
and Starbucks on every street corner). In this excess of interests,
the US neglected a major factor in the equation—the Iraqi people.
Every time another suicide bomber enters the marketplace, Iraqis are
reminded of the utter failure and incompetence of the US government.
Nonetheless, those war-bent hawks couldn't pass up the idea of a cheap
war coupled with a swift victory. What they didn't realize (or refused
to listen to) was that after decades of heartbreak and struggle under
Saddam Hussein, the last thing Iraqis needed was to get "liberated"
for an era of struggle under US occupation.
The Iraqi people know what
to expect from occupation. They remember the 1982 Israeli siege of Beirut,
the 22 year Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon, and the 38 years
of oppression that continues to plague the lives of Palestinians. Iraqis
also witnessed the US bombing campaign of 1991, the reneged US support
of a postwar Shia uprising, and the sanctions that left Iraqi women
and children forgotten. While the West mainly erases these events from
their minds, the people of the Middle East, and more specifically Iraqis,
must endure the consequences of these events.
If the Bush administration
interviewed my father, a 59 year old, Christian Republican Arab doctor
living in the US, they would have realized, "Arabs don't like to
be occupied." Arabs—be it Sunni, Shia, Coptic, Orthodox or
Maronite—don't want to be invaded by a Western force capable of
bombing Baghdad to oblivion. Nevertheless, many Muslim and Christian
Arabs in the Middle East send their children to Western schooling and
profoundly appreciate Western Culture. As James Zogby—president
of the Arab American Institute—pointed out on CNN, Americans can
see the integration of US based multinational food chains and stores
in Saudi Arabia. More than 70 McDonalds and 32 Pizza Huts spread across
the country, while a 69,000 sq ft Chuck E. Cheese opened in Jeddah in
2001, with bumper cars, a bowling alley and a new ice rink. There is
thirst for American culture within Saudi society, without the aggression
and ramifications of US foreign policy.
Where America Went
US President George Bush
and his administration thought they could have it both ways; fulfilling
their interests while containing the resistance in Iraq. But "winning
the hearts and minds of Iraqis" proved to be unprofitable in postwar
Iraq. Consequently, the Bush administration didn't center on reconstruction
and ensuring the stability of Iraqi society. It is not enough to say
that the US forces "liberated" Iraq. For example, after the
fall of Saddam, many Iraqis supported the American presence, but when
the deterioration of living conditions set in and security declined,
the support for the American presence faltered. The Institute for Foreign
Policy (IPS) documented that 48 suicide attacks a month occurred in
2004 compared with 20 suicide attacks in 2003. By the same token, the
Baghdad morgue is on pace to record more deaths attributed to unnatural
causes this year than in 2004.
In August of 2003 a poll
conducted by Zogby International and American Enterprise showed that
nearly two thirds of the Iraqis wanted US troops to stay for at least
another year. Just seven months later a poll administered by USA Today/CNN/Gallup
revealed that only one third of Iraqis believed the American presence
was doing more harm than good and 57 percent wanted an immediate pullout.
lack of electricity, high unemployment, and rising poverty diminishes
the prospect for stability in Iraq. Veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn
asserted that one billion dollars was "plundered from the Iraq's
defense ministry." He also noted that during the interim Iraqi
government's rule in 2004, as much as 2 billion dollars may have gone
missing from their ministries. The US appointed the interim government.
According to the BBC on March
16, 2005, Transparency International stated in its Global Corruption
Report 2005 that foreign contractors should abide by anti-corruption
laws and that the revenues streaming in from Iraq oil "needed to
be much more transparent and accountable." The BBC continued with
a quote from Transparency International's chairman Peter Eigen, "Corruption
doesn't just line the pockets of political and business elites, it leaves
ordinary people without essential services and deprives them of access
to sanitation and housing," In the BBC article, Transparency International
directly criticized the US for awarding companies contracts in a process
that was "secretive and favoured a small number of firms."
As this corruption became more commonplace, the resistance towards the
Instead of starting a massive
campaign to empower and employ the Iraqi people, the Bush administration
protected US corporate interests, including close administration allies
such as Halliburton and Bechtel. Figures of unemployment in Iraq reach
as high as 60 percent. If the US heavily integrated Iraqi companies
and workers from the outset, the reconstruction process would have stimulated
the Iraqi economy. According to IPS, nearly 60 percent of Iraqis rely
on food handouts. The average Iraqi income in 2004 was 800 dollars compared
with 3000 dollars in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the UN sanctions severely
weakened the Iraqi economy only to then have the US invasion exacerbate
The US Forces are
Part of the Problem
The US troops created an
environment of tension and animosity. The infrastructural destruction
and casualties of the US invasion are compounded by mass arrests for
indefinite periods of time without charge, widespread claims of torture,
the mishandling of civilians in house raids, shootings at checkpoints,
and the confirmed use of chemical weapons on insurgents and civilians
Incidents such as the torture
at Abu Ghraib, the killing of an unarmed "fighter" in Fallujah
(as was filmed on camera last year) and claims that American forces
bombed weddings cripple the support for American forces.
In the 2004 siege of Fallujah—aptly
titled "shake and bake"—the US military used phosphorous
bombs against insurgents. The military originally claimed the bombs
were used to "illuminate the battlefield." A defense website,
GlobalSecurity.org, contends white phosphorus can burn "to the
bone." The BBC reported that white phosphorous "ignites on
contact," and "burns until deprived of oxygen." The result
of this Saddam style attack trumps the scandal of Abu Ghraib and other
highly scrutinized actions by US forces. American forces using the same
procedures as Iraq's former dictator may cause increased support for
attacks against Americans, higher recruitment for foreign fighters seeping
across the borders, and international condemnation.
The condition of the checkpoint
system poses a serious threat to the daily travelers in Iraq. On June
17 2005, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and The Committee to Protect Journalists
(CPJ) wrote an open letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donal Rumsfeld,
"Checkpoint shootings have sparked outrage among Iraqi citizens,
undermining public confidence in
the U.S. military." The two groups claim the procedures of the
American Forces are insufficient and "endanger civilians, including
journalists, as well as U.S. service members."
Mass arrests continue to
cause deep concern for Iraqi families and the rule of law. Author Aaron
Glantz documented a troubling account in his book, How America Lost
Iraq. In the village of Abu Siffa, the townspeople alleged that coalition
forces arrested 83 Iraqi men and boys. One of the townspeople said that
three of the detained were under the age of sixteen, and fourteen were
over the age of sixty, while three men were lawyers and ten were secondary
school teachers. A fifteen year old boy, arrested and released, said
that the detainees were not charged, not given a lawyer, and allowed
no visitors. When Glantz interviewed the boy, only one other detainee
had been released. According to Glantz, Colonel Nate Sassaman "indicated
that the raids and detentions were necessary for 'national security.'
But after two months, U.S. forces admitted that the detainees were only
guilty by association because they lived in the same village as the
Ba'ath official." Glantz asked a schoolteacher, Nasser Jassem Hussein,
if he was a member of the Ba'ath Party, "Of course…We're
all members of the Ba'ath Party here, but that doesn't mean involved
in the resistance." While the detainees were only "guilty
by association," only one more person had been released after the
two months, leaving eighty detainees in US custody. Similar accounts
have been frequently covered in the international press.
The Iraqi Ministry of Human
Rights revealed in an October 2005 report that occupation forces held
about 11,500 of the nearly 24,000 detainees. The report stated, "There
is an urgent need to provide remedy to lengthy internment for reasons
of security without adequate judicial oversight."
In November of 2005, new
allegations were made that US forces tortured two Iraqi prisoners. According
to the Washington Post, two Iraqi men claim that "U.S. troops put
them in a cage with lions, pretended to execute them in a firing line
and humiliated them during interrogations at multiple detention facilities."
The Post quoted White House Spokesman Bryan Whitman's response, "this
is a legal matter, it will be handled as such, but it should not surprise
anyone that detainees would make false allegations against their captors."
Nonetheless, Iraqis are more
inclined to reject the administration's questioning of events after
the abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Damning Effects of Troop Presence
Aaron Glantz's wrote, "When you are a soldier in a war zone and
you see a young boy standing in your peripheral vision, you don't have
time to notice whether he's armed. You just shoot." This dilemma
illuminates the problem of the US presence. Securing and "liberating"
a state is quite impossible, if "young boys" around you get
thrown in with the "enemy." Collateral damage is a term for
militaries, not civilians trying to survive. Appropriately, Iraqis don't
react with a "take the good with the bad" attitude to collateral
In Patrick Cockburn's article,
The War So Far: Worse Than Vietnam, explains the "unraveling"
of the occupation:
Many innocent farmers were
being shot dead….Ever since Saddam Hussein closed the banks in
1990….Iraqis kept their money at home in hundred dollar bills…Farmers
feared robbers and were usually armed. When a U.S. soldier knocked at
the door of a house in the middle of the night and saw an armed Iraqi
in front of him he would open fire.
Furthermore, these incidents
are underreported in the West as they all into the category of "collateral
Cockburn continues, "Ordinary
U.S. soldiers can shoot any Iraqi by whom they feel threatened without
fear of consequences. With suicide bombers on the loose, the soldiers
feel threatened all the time."
Breaches in US ratified international
treaties further exemplify the lost strategy of the US government and
its ability to protect and "liberate" the nation of Iraq.
Eric Seidman interviewed Patrick Resta, the New England organizer for
Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), who stated, "Our supervisor
told my platoon that 'the Geneva Conventions don't exist in Iraq and
that's in writing if any of you want to see it.'" Resta said that
his commander didn't create the idea, instead it was "policy put
in place." The IVAW organizer also said that they [the medics]
were not allowed to tend to Iraqi civilians unless they were on the
brink of death. Instead the civilians were expected to use their own
hospitals, which in his area offer "only one type of antibiotic,
no glass in the windows, little if any functioning diagnostic equipment,
[and] reused surgical instruments without proper sterilization."
The US government ratified all four Geneva Conventions and all four
apply to US forces in Iraq. Specifically, articles three and four address
the issue of humane treatment of prisoners during war and treatment
of civilians in a war zone.
The Iraqi Media
Satellite TV gives many Iraqis
uncensored coverage of the mayhem. Unfortunately, American forces attacked
a number of media outlets, which reinforces the notion that America
is willing to stand in the way of the "free press" to preserve
its own interests. Adam Gantz reported that the US Defense Department
also joined the media circle in Iraq, founding a Baghdad TV station
al Iraqiya, a newspaper al-Sabah, a pan-Arab radio station, Radyo Sawa,
and a news channel for satellite TV, al-Hurra. These media projects
came along pushing the American agenda during the same period that Al
Jazeera's offices were attacked by US forces and the Baghdad bureau
was repeatedly shut down. In November 2005, the UK's Daily Mirror published
an article pertaining to a secret memo claiming that George Bush and
Tony Blair met in April 2004 and discussed taking "military action"
against Al Jazeera in the company's base in Doha, Qatar. Since the article,
the British government has put a gag order on discussing the secret
In March of last year the
US forces shut down Muqtada Al Sadr's newspaper al-Hawza al Natiq for
"inciting violence." This double standard on "free press,"
and disregard for democracy only reasserts the failure of the US.
In late November, the New
York Times disclosed US plans to embark on a multimillion dollar secret
project to "plant paid propaganda in the Iraqi news media and pay
friendly Iraqi journalists monthly stipends." This last ditch effort
to win back the support of the Iraqi people is extremely revealing.
The administration cannot even find Iraqis that are willing to support
the occupation. Instead they are looking to feed the same "propaganda"
to the Iraqi people that is being fed to Americans.
Why America can't
Militarily, the US forces
cannot win. Of course, they will conquer Fallujah, Tal Afar, and any
other area where confrontation takes place. However, the strategy of
the insurgency is not to win the war head on, but rather to weaken the
US forces by using guerilla warfare (car bombs, suicide bombs, and roadside
bombs) and capitalizing on Iraq's spiraling out of control. After the
destruction of Fallujah, the insurgency fled quite quickly, avoiding
direct confrontation with US forces. The infrastructural and economic
destruction of Fallujah didn't destroy the base of the insurgency. Ironically,
the siege fueled recruitment, further isolated US forces from Iraqi
civilians, and didn't significantly enhance American control over the
Sunni stronghold. The American forces eventually retreated, stating
that the insurgency was conquered, only to lose control of Fallujah
months after the battle. Keeping control of a country the size of Texas
with 25 million residents is not feasible with 160,000 troops. If the
US were to win militarily in Iraq, they would have to drastically step
up their force count, probably in the range of 450,000 as some military
analysts have suggested, and start rolling over the country. Under the
guise of "liberation" the US forces would need to become the
new Saddam Hussein, forcing Iraqis into submission and killing anyone
that comes in their way. Moreover, since the military has such a low
approval rating, finding people who are willing to rat out the insurgency
has become increasingly difficult.
Losing the Hearts
and Minds of Americans
This administration believed
they could spin the events of Iraq to the American people. This was
true in the beginning. The American people forgot about the promised
weapons of mass destruction, the assurance that Iraqi oil would pay
for the venture, and the guarantee that the people of Iraq would greet
the US soldiers with open arms. The minds of Americans, however, started
to change as soldiers came home in flag draped caskets and nearly 15,000
returned wounded, many in wheelchairs or prosthetics.
The continuing struggle in
Iraq and the administrations misgivings, however, emboldened the anti-war
coalition. According to CNN, Decorated Vietnam Vet and conservative
democrat John Murtha stated, "It's time to bring the troops home."
He went on to say "Our troops have become the primary target of
the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces and we have become
a catalyst for violence," he said. Yahoo quoted him as saying,
"The war in Iraq is not going as advertised…It is a flawed
policy wrapped in illusion."
While leading democrats are
still too wary to call for an outright withdrawal, the American people
may soon be calling for one. In a CNN/USA Today Gallup poll only 35
percent of Americans approve Bush's handling of the war, while 54 percent
think America shouldn't have invaded Iraq. The numbers are also rising
on troop withdrawal. Nearly one in five Americans want to see the troops
come home today and 33 percent of those polled want the American forces
home within a year's time. Anti-war democrats like Murtha are starting
to receive airtime on major media outlets such as CNN and MSNBC. If
this trend continues, it will profoundly affect those on the fence in
the US who are not getting a clear picture of the anti-war movement.
Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a US soldier killed Iraq and adamant anti-war
critic, received noticeable airtime, but was painted as part of the
"fringe left" in the mainstream press. People like Murtha
will reinforce the position of the anti-war movement considering his
long-running history of being conservative and a friend to the White
House. Until this point George Bush hasn't felt the wrath of a fiery
opposition. If the media continues to give the anti-war movement a platform,
the American public will more quickly realize that we have lost the
war in Iraq.
What has Become of
The Iraqi Body Count (IBC)
claims between 27,000 and 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since
the start of the war. In mid-December George Bush gave an estimate on
the Iraqi death count for the first time, "I would say 30,000 more
or less have died." In a new report released by IBC, during the
first two years of the war 20 percent of civilian deaths were women
and children. Additionally, US forces accounted for 37 percent of civilian
deaths, while insurgents accounted for only 9 percent of civilian deaths.
Affirming the contention of lawlessness, "post-invasion criminal
violence,"attributed to 36 percent of the civilian death toll.
The numbers by IBC are thought to be conservative. Last year's Lancet
estimated that 98,000 or more "excess deaths" of Iraqis may
have occurred since the start of the US invasion.
Anguish and anger resonates
within each Iraqi community. In October the British newspaper, the Sunday
Telegraph, released information from a survey administered by the Iraqi
university team which found that 45 percent of Iraqis support attacks
on foreign troops. It is not just a case of Sunni resistance—which
make up only 20 percent of the population—and Iraq's Al Qaeda.
There is a strong support for violence against foreign forces and the
numbers are strengthening. Added to the growing unease in the Shia community
in the South, it is apparent why aggression is effectively taken out
against US forces and interests.
The primary focus of the
US involvement in Iraq should be on the basic necessities of Iraqi society.
Proper sewage and access to clean water are essential. The Ministry
of Public Works believes that it may cost up to 10 billion dollars for
Iraqis to access clean water. According to the website CorpWatch in
April of 2005, the US cut the funding for water projects in Iraq from
4.3 billion to 2.3 billion—"with further cuts planned for
the future." Those "further cuts" were another 1.1 billion
dollars. The Corvallis Gazette Times stated, "Three of the four
major clean-water projects were cancelled."
The reconstruction of water
facilities is vital in delivering clean water to the 80 percent of families
in rural areas that use unsafe drinking water. The postwar sewage systems
must also be reconstructed, which according to the UN report, "seeps
to the ground and contaminates drinking water systems."
The UN development agency
conducted a study, entitled Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004. The
study found that 23 percent of children in Iraq suffer from chronic
malnutrition, while 9 percent of Iraqi children experienced diarrhea,
a leading "childhood killer," in the two weeks prior to the
Stability cannot be achieved
without confronting basic health concerns. The US government spent more
than 200 billion in Iraq, yet it continues to slash funding on projects
that will further Iraqi society.
Can We Leave?
Over the last two years many
prominent Republicans and Democrats professed, "We are there now,
we can't just leave." Nevertheless, if we want to uphold the values
of democracy and desires of the Iraqi consensus, we can "just leave."
On October 23, the Sunday Telegraph
disclosed the results of a poll which found that 82 percent of Iraqis
"strongly oppose" foreign troops occupying their country.
It's the one thing the majority of the country can agree on. The 160,000
soldiers are a driving force behind the resistance for Sunni fighters
and Iraq's Al Qaeda led by Musab Al Zarqawi. We can pull out, immediately.
While a much larger disparity
in views exists between Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda, they do share
a common cause—resisting the American occupation. If the US pulled
out tomorrow, the Sunni insurgency would automatically be at great ideological
odds with Zarqawi and his gang
in Iraq. The Sunni insurgency is not fighting for Al Qaeda's "greater
Islamic vision," they are trying to make sure the country doesn't
break up and in turn dominate the one-fifth Sunni minority. Even so,
some Sunnis have not opposed sitting down at the negotiating table,
so long as they do not receive the short end of the stick.
The London-based International
Institute for Strategic Studies revealed that between 12,000 and 20,000
hardcore insurgents remained in Iraq as of earlier this year. Diffusing
the extreme elements of the insurgency is fundamental in the stabilization
process. The main fuel to Al Qaeda's fire is undoubtedly the American
occupation. While other factors add to its ease to operate, such as
chaos, corruption, fear, and border security, the main source of motivation
to gain new recruits would be stripped away. The pulling out of US troops
alone would at least make the situation in Iraq more transparent.
The only way to bring Iraq
forward is bringing them closer to independence and sustainability.
The Iraqis were thrown into a whirlpool of violence and the presence
of US forces is making the situation worse. In the Sunday Telegraph
poll, only one percent of Iraqis in some areas feel that America increases
security. This lack of confidence and opposition to the occupation damaged
America's position in Iraq beyond recognition and their mission which
has yet to be defined. The US government spent more than 200 billion
dollars in Iraq over the last two and a half years and the Iraqi people
have little to show for it. Of the 18 billion dollars appropriated for
reconstruction, only 9 billion has been used, while corruption has tarnished
The people of Iraq need security
first and foremost, not only from insurgents, but from robbers and armed
bandits as asserted by Patrick Cockburn. He reported, "Even during
a quiet day as many as 40 bodies may turn up at Baghdad morgue."
Furthermore, the political process needs to take its course. It's senseless
to rush into to fixed dates so Iraqis can hold up their ink stained
fingers while the situation on the ground is left in shambles. Finally,
strong Iraqi leadership is essential in engaging the Iraqi people on
a daily basis and not just on fixed "historic" dates that
help out US poll numbers. The Iraqi people need to feel a sense of control
of their society and future, and this is impeded by the presence of
the American military.
These are the principals
of democracy: letting the indigenous population rule as a sovereign
nation. I always hear "bring the troops home." Not only do
it for the troops this time, do it for the Iraqi people.
Remi Kanazi is the primary writer for the political
He lives in New York City as a Palestinian American freelance writer
and can reached via email at email@example.com