Blind To Iraq's Majority
By Tom Hayden
While the current buzz in Washington is about partitioning Iraq into ethnic enclaves, completely ignored is the fact that most Iraqis, and perhaps a majority of the Iraqi parliament, wants America to set an immediate deadline for military withdrawal. The American people deserve to know the choices, and we don't.
On the one hand, Sen. Joseph Biden and former Ambassador Peter Galbraith are drawing attention to their proposal to carve up Iraq. They claim that sectarian civil war already is a reality, that the US should redeploy forces to pro-US Kurdistan and support de facto autonomy for proposed Shiite regions in the south and Sunnis in the western provinces.
The practical problems with partition are enormous. For one, the Shiite ruling bloc supported, funded and armed by the US are expected to share oil revenues and political power with their enemies, the Sunni Arabs. Second, coerced ethnic cleansing would be necessary [under another name]. There are one million Sunnis in the Shiite city of Basra who would have to move somewhere. Baghdad, once a multi-ethnic city of six million, would have to be uprooted into separate zones. More important, the US military and their Iraqi allies would have to win the war against the present insurgency which violently resists partition.
There is no doubt Iraqis are divided along ethnic lines as a direct outcome of the 2003 American invasion. But that is like using forced confessions in a trial. What do the Iraqis really want?
Reliable surveys show that the percentage of Iraqis favoring a withdrawal timeline has risen from thirty percent in February 2004 to 76 percent in February 2005 to 87 percent earlier this year. [NYT, Mar. 19, 2006] of 70 to 82 percent, Moreover, 47 percent of all Iraqis, including 88 percent of Sunnis and 41 percent of Shiites, approved attacks on American forces in a January 2006 survey. [Knight Ridder, Jan. 30, 06, posted on www.worldpublicopinon.org] Only the pro-Western Kurdish minority want the US troops to stay. Perhaps in response to this overwhelming popular sentiment, large numbers of elected Iraqi parliamentarians have been trying to force the US pullout by legislation.
On September 12, 104 Iraqi parliamentarians signed a petition calling for a withdrawal timetable. There are 275 members of the Iraq parliament, and frequently as many as eighty are not present. The constitution allows a measure to become law if supported by a majority of those present and voting. So the withdrawal proposal suddenly would have become law if it wasn't arbitrarily ordered to a committee for "review".
A similar scenario occurred in July 2005 when at least 82 parliamentarians signed a petition for the "speedy departure of the occupation", and denounced the Iraqi executive for failing to consult parliament as required by law.
Since this year's parliamentary election, when large numbers of Sunnis chose to vote rather than abstain, the number of anti-occupation parliamentarians inevitably grew. According to one Iraqi analyst I have interviewed, between 140 and 160 members would vote for a timetable if one was proposed. That would end the United Nations authorization of the occupation, and presumably force the withdrawal of American troops. It would be the signal the international community is looking for before engaging in a stabilization process.
Apparently only the Associated Press reported this squelching of the parliamentary peace protest. By contrast, the American media has overflowed with discussion of partition as the only response to civil war without end.
Several questions should be asked at this point. Why do American officials avoid any mention of this rebellion among their "puppet" regime? Why do the American journalists fail to report these developments? And why do so many Iraqis want us to leave despite the White House propaganda that we are there for their own good? What kind of "democracy" are we exporting?
Perhaps the cause is a blindness rooted in superpower condescension, as if it is our right to carve other countries up regardless of what their people think. Who can know? But unless the condition is corrected, we will be wasting lives, taxes and honor to support the folly of smugness. We will be destroying still more people and places to save them. #
TOM HAYDEN, a former state senator, was a leader of the movement against the Vietnam War. He has been writing about Iraq since 2003.