Ground Truth: Dateline Iraq

by Morgan Cohen | 10/11/04 5:00am

I'm sure I speak for all my fellow classmates when I thank Capt. Kyle Teamey '98 for his service to our country. I do, however, respectfully disagree with a number of his assertions "Ground Truth: Dateline Iraq," Oct. 8, The Dartmouth).

First and foremost, the U.S. occupation of Iraq is the cause of, not the solution to, the violence and the mounting deaths that followed the invasion. During the recent fighting led by Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf, as in countless other battles inside Iraq, authorities in Washington have repeatedly misread the military and political situation. The Bush Administration uses the fighting as a justification for the continued presence of foreign military forces. Yet it is precisely the presence of these foreign troops that precipitates the ever-widening insurgency. Living under occupation without the most basic forms of security has devastated the Iraqi population. A poll conducted by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies in June 2004 found that 80 percent of Iraqis believed coalition forces should leave either immediately or directly after the election. Ending the U.S. occupation by bringing the troops home now is the first step toward truly stabilizing the country and the region, not for foreign investment, but for the people themselves.

The keystone of the Bush Administration's plan for winning the peace in Iraq is to improve the fighting ability of the Iraqi forces, which in turn would allow American troops to take a backseat in combat operations and eventually withdraw from the country. But the Iraqi police and National Guard have largely failed to provide security for the Iraqi people and the situation appears only to be worsening.

Even if the Bush Administration were to meet its goal of training 125,000 Iraqi soldiers for the purpose of creating a Civil Defense Corps, the legitimacy of this force would be irreparably damaged by its very association with the despised foreign occupier. In addition, it is naive to believe that an Iraqi army will have the power to defeat an enemy that we ourselves cannot. The Pentagon has acknowledged that the number of insurgents is on the rise. In November 2003, the Pentagon estimated that there were 5,000 Iraqi resistance fighters. In September 2004, the number had risen to 20,000. The British Deputy Commander of the forces in Iraq estimates the resistance may be double that number. The rise is even starker when we factor in the additional 24,000 Iraqi resistance fighters who have been detained or killed. What's more, Army General John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, estimated that the number of foreign fighters in Iraq was below 1,000, which serves to contradict Teamey's assertion that "there are significant numbers of foreign fighters involved" in the scores of daily attacks. The fact of the matter remains that this is a homegrown insurgency, and while its soldiers may number in the tens of thousands and not millions, the general populace of Iraq overwhelmingly supports its goal of ending the occupation.

While I never once suggested that we "abandon" the people of Iraq, I do believe that we must abandon our ambitions to militarily and economically colonize the desert nation. This means immediately halting our plans to develop 13 permanent U.S. military bases. This means enacting protective tariffs to safeguard nascent Iraqi businesses from cheap foreign imports. Most importantly, this means renouncing an interest to maintain control over Iraq's oil resources.

Teamey contends that we must stay the course, lest Iraq degenerate into chaos and civil war. But Iraq has already disintegrated into chaos, and it's been on our watch. The recently publicized National Intelligence Council report holds that the best possible scenario for Iraq will be the continuation of the sporadic but devastating violence. According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the best-known and most authoritative source of information on global military capabilities and trends, the war in Iraq has accelerated recruitment for Al Qaida and made the world more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. It estimates worldwide Al Qaida membership to be at 18,000, with 1,000 active in Iraq. It states that the occupation has become the organization's "potent global recruitment pretext."

By ending the occupation, we would be denying terrorist organizations a valuable pretext for recruitment, and an equally valuable context to justify attacks. Conversely, a continued American occupation will only serve to fan the flames of the insurgency and further fuse the cause of Islamic fundamentalism to Iraqi liberation, not just in Iraq, but throughout the greater Middle East. The death of 34 Iraqi children in a car bombing on the same day as the first presidential debate underscored the grim fact that it is the Iraqis themselves who continue to pay the highest price for this occupation. These children, seeking candy from U.S. soldiers, were casualties of a war that puts anyone who is physically near or associated with a U.S. soldier at risk. At least 13,000 Iraqi civilians have died so far. (If the data for the Iraqi dead is incomplete, it is because the U.S. government has consistently refused to tally the civilian death toll.) Members of Iraq's security forces are being killed at a higher rate than before the "transition." At least 127 were killed in June and July 2004, raising the total body count since January 2004 to more than 700. W. Andrew Terrill, a professor at the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute - and the top expert on Iraq there, stated in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian that any sustained U.S. military offensive in Falluja or Najaf "could become so controversial that members of the Iraqi government would feel compelled to resign. If we leave and there's no civil war, that's a victory." Thus, an attempted military solution would destroy the slightest remaining political legitimacy of the Iraqi government.

As I've said before, disengagement from Iraq requires that we end not only our military occupation of the sovereign nation, but also our economic occupation. The limited successes of Capt. Teamey's community based projects do little to offset the destitution that characterizes daily life in Iraq. Iraqi joblessness doubled from 30 percent before the war to 60 percent in the summer of 2003. While the Bush administration now claims that unemployment has dropped, the United States is employing only 120,000 Iraqis out of a workforce of 7 million, in reconstruction projects. Most of Iraq's reconstruction has been contracted out to U.S. companies, rather than experienced Iraqi firms. The top contractor Halliburton (receiving $4.2 billion in government contracts) is being investigated for charging $160 million for meals that were never served to troops and $61 million in cost overruns on fuel deliveries. Halliburton employees also took $6 million in kickbacks from subcontractors, while other employees have reported extensive waste, including the abandonment of $85,000 trucks because they had flat tires. This so-called reconstruction would be more aptly called war profiteering. It is no wonder that the reconstruction is seen not as a recovery from the war, but as an extension of the occupation. And it is this anti-occupation violence that has prevented Iraq from capitalizing on its oil assets. There have been an estimated 118 attacks on Iraq's oil infrastructure since June 2003. By September 2004, oil production had still not reached pre-war levels and major attacks caused oil exports to plummet to a 10-month low in August 2004.

Despite the constant stream of rosy language and endearing anecdotes that emanate from the White House, normal life remains a distant dream in Iraq. Primary and secondary schools were supposed to open their doors on Sept. 11, but the opening day has now been postponed for the fourth time due to the lack of security. UNICEF estimates that more than 200 schools were destroyed in the conflict and thousands more were looted in the chaos following the fall of Saddam Hussein. U.S. occupation forces did little to combat the large-scale looting that ravaged Iraq in the weeks following the invasion. The only Iraqi facility that received protection from coalition forces was the Ministry of Oil. The aggregate effects of the first Gulf War, the 12-year sanctions regime, Operation Shock and Awe, and the widespread looting that ensued after the fall of Baghdad have left Iraq's health facilities in ruins. Iraq's hospitals continue to suffer from an acute lack of supplies and an overwhelming number of patients. The director-general of the Iraqi Health Ministry recently noted that, "the drug shortage is our number one problem." Electricity is still in short supply, and drinking water is scarce. Progress towards rebuilding the civil infrastructure has been continually marred by violence. The opening ceremony for a water treatment plant in Baghdad was the location for a brutal attack that killed over 30 civilians.

I do agree with Teamey that "failure is not an option." It must be known that "success" in Iraq is intrinsically linked to the ending of the occupation. We can use force to win a war; we cannot use it to win the peace. In the Bush Administration's rush to war, far too many people, soldiers and civilians, Republicans and Democrats, underestimated the power of nationalism and placed a false trust in America's ability to shape the future of another sovereign nation. In deciding whether or not to end the occupation of Iraq, let's not make the same mistake twice.