Letter to Congress on Decomposition of Iraq
716 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510
Thursday, October 30th 2003
Dear Senator Nelson,
I am writing at the end of a week of devastating violence in Iraq. The Bush administration has not only missed every opportunity to restore sovereignty and some chance of peace to Iraq, but they also seem to be committed to misinterpreting their failures, laying the groundwork for things to get worse.
Mr. Bush claims to be baffled as to the identity of the resistance – are they “Baathists”, “foreign fighters”, “terrorists”, surely not ordinary Iraqis? Strangely, British and Iraqi journalists who know the country seem to know exactly who the resistance fighters are, at least in the towns of the “Sunni Triangle”. Immediately after the invasion, most of the cells were formed by the “Committees of the Faithful”, Islamists who had been tolerated but kept under close surveillance by the Baath government. Then, American soldiers fired on demonstrators and other civilians and there were blood debts to pay, so the small resistance cells began to grow. The spiral has continued, as it tends to under military occupation, as every action the occupation forces take to suppress the resistance generates more blood-debts and more resistance. As for the general population, Mao’s old dictum is as true as ever, that the guerilla moves among the people as a fish moves through water. And it doesn’t make it any easier for our troops that they don’t have sufficient numbers to guard, let alone destroy, the estimated 1,000,000 tons of weapons and ammunition scattered around the country.
The last week has seen an average of 33 daily attacks on U.S. troops, in addition to more violence against soft targets. This statistic has risen consistently since it was first reported at 13 attacks per day in May. Official U.S. casualties in Iraq now stand at 357 dead and 2,097 wounded, and the rate of casualties has increased in the past month, from 31 killed and 270 wounded in September to 41 killed and 388 wounded before the end of October (lunaville.org).
More and more of the reality of the war is being hidden from us – military censorship has kept the flag-draped coffins off the television, and Iraqi hospitals are now off-limits to reporters. More and more of Iraq is unsafe for Western reporters and aid workers in any case. The casualty figures tell their story though, as does the increasingly defensive posture of the occupation forces. The radius of the security perimeter around Baghdad Airport has been reduced from 5 miles to 2 miles, so that planes have to take off in a crazy zigzag spiral to reach 8,000 feet before leaving the perimeter – there were at least 3,000 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles unaccounted for in Iraq, but, of course, they could be anywhere by now. In any case, the steady stream of incoming mortar fire at the airport makes it clear that “security” is a relative term.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far killed between 10,800 and 13,200 civilians and wounded at least 30,000, by the best estimates available (iraqbodycount.org & Marc Herold at UNH). Casualties among the armies of Iraq and Afghanistan during “major combat operations” in each country are harder to estimate, but 15,000 dead and 50,000 wounded would be a very conservative estimate – any less would mean that we have killed as many civilians as soldiers. By any calculation, the “War on Terror” has already killed or wounded more than 100,000 people in those two countries alone, the vast majority being civilians or conscripts rather than the terrorists who are Mr. Bush’s nominal target.
The only conceivable justification for this carnage would be that somebody somewhere was now safer or that the world was more peaceful or stable, but the opposite is clearly true. One of the fundamental problems with any policy that makes the U.S. government the sole arbiter and enforcer of global security is that issues of war and peace become inextricably entangled with our own commercial interests. Before the invasion of Iraq, a British journalist asked a former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia what the point of it all was, and he answered in a word, “Contracts”, and the seizure and forced privatization of Iraqi industry seems to be a central part of the administration’s plan, even though it would violate the Geneva Convention on military occupation. Contractors and potential U.S. investors may be relieved to know that they don’t need to worry about labor rights in Iraq - Ambassador Bremer has issued an executive order that makes normal trade union activity in Iraq an offence punishable by indefinite detention in a POW camp, effectively defining union organizing as an act of war (Progressive Magazine).
On such strictly commercial terms, perhaps the war really looks like a success in the eyes of Mr. Cheney and his colleagues at Halliburton, Bechtel and Carlyle, and this might explain Mr. Bush’s upbeat assessments. But if that is the case, they have obviously all been shielded from the real world by no-bid government contracts (like Halliburton’s contract to import gasoline from Kuwait to Iraq for $2.60 per gallon). The reality that they won’t face is that we are losing the war, and that much more is at stake than their silly contracts. My friends’ son and his buddies in the 4th Infantry in Tikrit are willing to die to defend our country, and it is unforgivable to use them as expendable pawns in the rape of Iraq.
Responsible Americans must start to face the hard questions about how to get our young people out of Iraq without leaving a bloodbath and a global crisis behind us, if that is still possible. A few months ago, the U.N. might have been able to go in and oversee a more orderly transition to sovereignty and stability, but every day that this violent occupation continues requires us to lower our expectations.
While I understand that there are genuine differences of opinion among policymakers from both parties, it is really a matter of extreme urgency to acknowledge that time is not on our side, and that the next opportunity that presents itself to end the occupation and restore the sovereignty of Iraq under the auspices of the United Nations may well be the last chance. The only alternative to this is that we will eventually “cut and run” after many more needless casualties on both sides. As in North Korea and other areas, the determination of this administration to “stay the course” with a failed policy is a de facto commitment to the worst possible outcome.
Meanwhile, all the other very real problems facing our country and the world await our attention; terrorism; nuclear proliferation; global warming; poverty and hunger; inadequate healthcare and education systems; and the structural economic problems of “globalization”. I do agree with the President about one thing, that the presence of “foreign fighters” in Iraq is part of the problem, so let’s bring these brave young people home now, and let them live to build a more peaceful and equitable society in our country and the world.