By Paul Stevenson
US President Barack Obama has called the US withdrawal from Iraq a historic moment and declared the mission a “success”. One wonders what criteria are being used to judge that success. For most Iraqi’s the war is far from over and the scars on the country will never get a chance to heal.
Lost in most of the unquestioning media reports of the withdrawal are the massive and ongoing costs to the people ofIraq. While estimates vary, it is safe to say that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi’s have been killed and at least 1.5 million have been internally displaced. Bombings happen daily and the country has been carved up into sectarian enclaves where there once were Sunni and Shi’a living side by side.
Obama praised theUSfor bringing democracy toIraqbut again, the realities don’t match the rhetoric. The current Iraqi government of Nouri Al Maliki runs death squads that murder political opponents and his secret police routinely torture detainees. Indeed, torture in Iraqi prisons is so widespread that the UN’s anti-torture expert has called the situation worse than under Saddam Hussein.
If we needed a reminder of the brutality of the US occupation it came last week when a New York Times reporter stumbled across a series of documents about the massacre at Haditha in 2005. The documents were the first hand accounts of marines who had gone on a rampage in the town killing 24 people including a three year old.
Worse still for the Iraqi people is the fact that the US plans to keep more than 5,000 mercenaries in the country and have gained rights from both Iraq and Turkey to continue flying unmanned drones throughout the country. Those 5,000 “private contractors” will be assigned the task of providing security to the more than 17,000 US civilians who will maintain the massive US embassy compound near Baghdad.
In fact, the US will continue its presence in the country in a myriad of ways, and will continue to try and control the political and economic development of the country in favour of the 1% on Wall Street. American oil firms will continue to profit from the assets of the Iraqi people and the military presence will continue unabated. Iranian influence has grown in Iraq since the invasion in 2003 and the US needs to maintain a strong military buildup to keep that influence at bay.
We know that the US never leaves a military and civilian presence in any country for altruistic reasons. They have their own interests at stake and will apply whatever pressure they need to maintain those interests. It will be the people of Iraq who will continue to pay the price.
But there is hope for the people of Iraq. Over the past year, the Arab revolutions have reshaped the political landscape of the entire region. This new call for freedom has been taken up in Iraq as well. There have been demonstrations in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, uniting various forces, Sunni and Shi’a, in opposition to the Maliki Government and the continued US presence. Crucially, the oil workers in Iraq have had strikes against the government against corruption and for a better future for the Iraqi people. It is these forces, not the guns of the US and their allies that will bring true freedom and democracy to the country.