Anti-U.S. Street Demonstrations in Baghdad

This is what Iraqis think about a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq:

Thousands of Iraqis filled the streets of Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood this afternoon to demonstrate against a long-term United States presence in Iraq, the first significant anti-American rally in the massive Shiite slum in more than two years.

As American helicopters hovered overhead, young and old men and even children flowed out of their weekly Friday prayers and began burning American flags and chanting “no, no to America” and “yes, yes to independence.”

These Iraqis don’t see the al-Maliki government as reflecting the democratic will of the Iraqi people:

The raw feelings that the negotiations engender among many Iraqis — who view the prospects of a long-term American troop presence as demeaning and humiliating — underscore the political risks the negotiations hold for Mr. Maliki’s government.

Tens of thousands of Shiites in Baghdad and southern Iraq who are loyal to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr denounced the negotiations in rallies after noon prayers on Friday, criticizing any pact that would allow American troops to establish a long-term presence in Iraq. “No America! No Israel!” demonstrators shouted in Sadr City, the Baghdad district that is Mr. Sadr’s base of power.

“This isn’t an Iraqi government, it’s an American government,” said Muhammad Mohsin, a 25-year-old laborer who attended prayers in Sadr City, where clerics delivered sermons condemning the negotiations and demonstrators later burned American flags. “The Americans keep pressuring Maliki to carry out what they want. The agreement will only serve the Americans’ interests.”

The agreement would make the U.S. military occupation permanent and allow Americans to continue arresting, interrogating, and using deadly force against Iraqis, with no accountability.

Not at all, say administration officials; that’s all Iranian propaganda:

A United States official familiar with the talks described as “completely false” the assertion that negotiators had sought any provisions for long-term American military garrisons in Iraq.

[…]

The United States official familiar with the negotiations accused Iran of orchestrating a disinformation campaign to undermine the negotiations, saying, “This is Iran’s playbook.”

The official, who like others interviewed for this article requested anonymity because of the fluid nature of the negotiations, said the debate over what kinds of operations American troops could carry out without Iraqi permission “will be subject to constant revisions and review.” Troops right now are cooperating extensively with Iraqi security forces, and the “new mandate should reflect that fact,” the official said.

[…]

The American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, told Congress last month that “the agreement will not establish permanent bases in Iraq, and we anticipate that it will expressly forswear them.” He also said the agreement would not specify troop levels, or “tie the hands of the next administration.”

David Walsh at The Intelligence Daily calls this “simply new lies from the Bush administration.”

… Whether the agreement calls the US facilities “permanent bases” or not, or sidesteps the issue altogether, such a deal has no other purpose apart from ensuring that the US military will remain indefinitely to suppress internal opposition and protect American geopolitical interests, above all, its designs on Iraqi oil supplies.

On the eve of Crocker’s testimony in April, the Guardian in Britain published an account of what it called a “secret” draft of the US-Iraqi deal, noting that it “shows that provision is being made for an open-ended military presence in the country.” Debka-Net-Weekly, a web site associated with Israeli military intelligence, alleged that the US had plans to leave behind 50,000 troops by 2009 in 20 huge land and air bases.

The word “agreement” is carefully chosen: If it were a treaty, it would have to be approved by Congress. But Pres. Bush does not want it to go through Congress. He wants to impose it via Executive Order. Hence the official name, “Status of Forces Agreement,” and the fiction that it is not a treaty.

This would be amusing, if it were not so sad:

Iraq has said it will submit the agreement to parliament for approval, whereas the White House has argued that the agreement is administrative and does not need to be voted on in Congress.

The Bushies want to finalize the agreement by July 31, but that looks more and more unlikely:

Some senior Iraqi political leaders said they had serious concerns over the central issues under negotiation, including what sort of military operations and arrests of Iraqis the American troops could carry out without Iraq’s permission, legal immunities sought for American troops and security contractors and what the Iraqi officials characterized as demands for a long-term American military presence.

The Iraqi leaders also say they have reservations about rushing the talks, partly because they believe it makes little sense to negotiate with a lame-duck American president. Their concerns raise questions about whether a new security pact can be negotiated by the end of July, as American officials have suggested. The United Nations resolution governing the presence of United States troops expires at the end of the year.

“This agreement is between Iraq and the United States president, and the American policy is not clear,” said Ali Adeeb, a senior member of the Shiite Dawa Party and a close ally of Mr. Maliki’s. “We can wait until the American elections to deal with a Democratic or Republican president.”

History can be instructive, if you bother looking at it:

The negotiations are an emotional issue in Iraq, which won full sovereignty from British colonial rule in 1932 under a treaty that allowed Britain to keep military bases and which paved the way for it to later intervene in Iraqi affairs.

The Iraqi government, dominated by Shiite parties that returned from exile after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, is sensitive to Sadr’s charges that they are collaborating with an occupying force.

But so many supporters of U.S. policy in Iraq don’t look at history — or if they do, they don’t understand what they’re seeing. Peter Wehner provides the perfect example in this Commentary piece. The piece is about a Washington Post interview with CIA Director Michael Hayden in which Hayden “portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.”

I want to focus here, though, on what Wehner concludes from Hayden’s assertion that terrorism has been defeated in Iraq and the entire larger region: that the United States needs to stay in Iraq in case the terrorists return.

We need to be very cautious. Progress, like setbacks, can be reversed. Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman is surely right when he says “Al-Qaeda’s obituary has been written far too often in the past few years for anyone to declare victory. I agree that there has been progress. But we’re indisputably up against a very resilient and implacable enemy.” And Hayden’s right to warn us that progress in Iraq is being undermined by increasing interference by Iran, which he accused of supplying weapons, training, and financial assistance to anti-U.S. insurgents. …

[…]

It seems clear that among the worst thing we could do right now, in the wake of the significant, indisputable but reversible progress we’ve made, is to turn away from what works. It’s certainly true that the United States is limited in its capacity to shape the intra-Islamic struggle that is unfolding. But we do have the capacity to influence things in some arenas–and Iraq is, right now, a central battlefield in the war against jihadists. To undo what we have put in place would be unwise, reckless, and–given events of the last year–indefensible as well.

This, of course, is the current official Bush administration position, and the status-of-forces agreement is intended to secure the context in which the United States can remain in Iraq ad infinitum.

But there is one thing you don’t find in Wehner’s Commentary piece, and that is any mention of democracy, political freedom, civic institutions, or liberation from oppression. But let’s go back two years, to a Peter Wehner post at Real Clear Politics, in which he responded to a George Will column critical of Iraq policy at that time (bolds mine; itals in original):

Mr. Will writes, “Foreign policy ‘realists” considered Middle East stability the goal. The realists’ critics, who regard realism as reprehensibly unambitious, considered stability the problem. That problem has been solved.”

Let’s see if we can untangle some of this.

The notion that prior to the Bush Administration (and The Freedom Agenda) we had achieved “stability” in the Middle East is historically unserious. Would Mr. Will count as an example of “stability” the 1967 Arab-Israeli war? The 1973 Arab-Israeli war? The previous Israeli clashes with Hezbollah (which led to an 18-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon)? The two Palestinian intifadas that took place in the last 20 years? The Iran-Iraq war (which saw more than one million casualties)? Perhaps the Iraq-Kuwait war? The Syrian occupation of Lebanon? The 1982 massacre in Hama? The Jordanian expulsion of thousands of Palestinians in the early 1970s? Does Mr. Will count as “stable” the nations that produced the men who on September 11th flew planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and downed a jet liner in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania?

In his essay in the latest Commentary magazine, Norman Podhoretz writes [dead link] the “50 years of peace” (to use a formulation by Brent Scowcroft) brought us about two dozen wars. This hardly qualifies as “stability.”

As for Mr. Will’s claim that the “problem has been solved”: let’s first be clear about what we are talking about. The Bush administration believes the problem isn’t simply the faux stability of the Middle East; it is, more fundamentally, the lack of political liberty and free institutions in the Arab Middle East. And in attempting to correct this deeply rooted problem, one might hope Mr. Will would grant a bit more than a year or two or three for it to succeed.

Past Middle East policies were unsustainable; after all, oppression allowed bin Ladenism to take root and grow. Having identified the problem and begun to address it doesn’t mean the problem is solved. We are at the outset of what may well be a historic transition — and such transitions can be jolting and uneven. The Bush administration’s “solution” is not to create “instability.” It is to assist in the rise of liberty and civic habits in the Middle East. That will take longer to achieve than the historical blink of an eye. And one thing we know for sure: we were never going to get there under a policy that looked away from, or even promoted, tyrannical regimes in the Arab world.

It’s worth asking Mr. Will: does he believe what is needed in the Middle East is more repression, more violence, more mass graves, more Saddam Husseins, more Hafez al-Assads, and more Yasir Arafats? Would these things lead to more “stability” in the Middle East? Would they advance American interests? Would they advance human rights or human liberty or the common good?

[…]

Here is some of what Mr. Will wrote about the Middle East during those peaceful, sedate, tranquil “years of stability” he now longs for:

“The existence of Israel, and of ‘the Palestinian question,’ usually has precious little — and often, as in this case, nothing — to do with the largest and most dangerous doings in the Middle East. Today it is especially apparent that Israel is the all-purpose but implausible alibi for the various pathologies that convulse many Arab nations and relations between them.” (August 3, 1990)

[…]

And what might be the corrective to the “various pathologies that convulse many Arab nations”? In 1992, Mr. Will seemed to think democracy was a pretty neat idea.

[…]

In fact in those days, Mr. Will was troubled by “established order” — and criticized President George W. Bush’s father for his “preference for order before freedom.

Are you getting the sense that, back in August 2006, Mr. Wehner was rather scornful about the value of what he now defines as progress in Iraq? Even to the point where he is happy to endorse U.S. military forces occupying Iraq indefinitely, with unlimited authority over the comings and goings of Iraqi citizens, and no obligation or requirement to respect the very civic, legal, and political institutions that he once believed were essential for Americans to be safe in their country and in the world?

And this, my friends, is how the United States of America keeps making the same mistakes each and every time it decides to adopt a brand-new approach to foreign policy.

One Response to “Anti-U.S. Street Demonstrations in Baghdad”

  1. gcotharn says:

    Kathy,

    What do you recommend the U.S. policy should be in the coming months and years? Maybe, if I had read other of your posts, I would already know that. If it was in this post, I seem to have missed it.

    I think Iraq – for purposes of protecting their nascent democracy from Iran (amongst other threats) could use some U.S. military presence. In addition: I have read it takes, on average, 9 years to defeat an insurgency. The good news is the insurgencies do get defeated. It just takes time.

    I’m not so worried about the street demonstrations as you. I am gratified, actually, to see Iraqis exercising their freedoms via freely demonstrating against their government. One reason I am calm is I have read, in many places (Michael Yon, Michael Totten, et al), that much of the Iraqi populace appreciates the protection and the help provided by the U.S. military. Therefore: let Iraqi politics happen! Viva political action! We know from our own country that dissenting voices clash over every issue. Freedom! Ya gotta love it.

    Best luck. I appreciate the effort you put into researching this post.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. example of a region - [...] this afternoon to demonstrate against a long-term United States presence in Iraq, the first significhttp://commentsfromleftfield.com/2008/05/anti-us-street-demonstrations-in-baghdadConfronting Prom Night Drinking New…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook