Senior Correspondent

Americans may want to ignore it, but the invasion, occupation and cost of Iraq aren’t over

WASHINGTON ( – With the sixth anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq on March 19, 2003, one of the longest wars in American history was observed in this country by many people trying to not notice it. 

With the worldwide economic meltdown dominating the 24-hour news echo-chamber; Iraqi deaths as high as one million according to some analysts; and U.S. military deaths at more than 4,250 and counting, a sense of fatigue over the Iraq war has settled in among the American public.


In a speech to military troops and officers at Camp LeJeune, N.C., President Barack Obama announced that his administration will “proceed cautiously” on the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from the country and that U.S. commanders will bring it about in close consultation with the Iraqi government.

That withdrawal process, involving 100,000 of the 145,000 troops stationed in Iraq will take 18 months, rather than the 16 months promised during the campaign by candidate Obama. All U.S. troops he said would be removed by the end of 2011.

That’s one reason the International ANSWER Coalition organized thousands of protestors to march on the Pentagon, and in San Francisco and Los Angeles March 21.

“The reason tens of thousands of people are marching on March 21 is that the war is not over,” Brian Becker, national co-director of the ANSWER Coalition told The Final Call. “The occupation of Iraq continues. It’s an illegal occupation. It was illegal under Bush and it’s still illegal. There’s 150,000 U.S. troops, 200,000 other mercenaries. And right now, the U.S. is preparing to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan.

“All the troops should be brought home today,” Mr. Becker continued. “I mean, if it’s an illegal occupation, that means it’s illegal to continue any kind of occupation. The president used carefully chosen words when he said he ‘intends to leave by the end of 2011.’ That leaves a big loophole so that (Central Command chief) Gen. (David) Petraeus or (Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman) Adm. (Michael) Mullen or the other figures in the Pentagon establishment can say, ‘well necessity requires the U.S. presence to continue, and perhaps for years.’

“We believe that people have to stay in the streets, not to let down, not to sit on the sidelines and let the military industrial complex pursue the agenda that they want for the new administration. We have to be in the streets to say that the people elected the president because they want the wars to end. Now, they must end,” said Mr. Becker.

Obama plan for withdrawal questioned

Mr. Obama said that between 35,000 and 50,000 troops will initially remain in Iraq to help train Iraqi forces and undertake counter-terrorism missions.

The potential size of that remaining force doesn’t please leaders of Mr. Obama’s own Democratic Party, who had envisioned a fuller withdrawal, although Republicans, including GOP Presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) were generally pleased with the strategy. The president personally briefed House and Senate members of both parties about his intentions behind closed doors before he publicly announced his plan.

Mr. Obama’s nuanced language is all the more reason for continued vigilance by the war’s critics. “What he calls for on the immediate is a partial withdrawal, leaving part of the current 145,000 troops behind, leaving the mercenaries behind,” Phyllis Bennis, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies told The Final Call. But Mr. Obama did not make a “commitment for total withdrawal, no commitment around the bases. But he also referred to this as a strategy to end the war. He said, ‘I intend to have all the troops out by the end of 2011.’

“So, even though we understand that: 1. that’s not soon enough; and 2. an intention is not the same as a commitment, it gives us a very crucial tool to hold up and say: ‘This was your commitment, this is what you promised as recently as March of 2009.’ So when he starts to back away from that, when the generals get the upper hand, if they do, he will have to counter that with the fact that all around the country people believe his commitment was to end the war,” Ms. Bennis continued.

“The key is, we can’t simply give up and say, ‘Well okay. Obama’s going to do it, so we can move on to Afghanistan for instance. We do have to do more work on Afghanistan than we have been. That is going to be the centerpiece. Obama unfortunately seems to believe that to run for president you have to have a war of your own. That’s a terrible scenario, but it is a reality that he has shaped,” Ms. Bennis said.

Israel’s interests and U.S. policy in Iraq

While the U.S. invested trillions of dollars and thousands of lives and tens of thousands more U.S. personnel injured and maimed, this country will not be able to claim a victory, according to one analyst. Israel, said Eugene Bird, a former naval officer, former Foreign Service officer, and now president of the Council for the National Interest, based in Washington.

“I am always disturbed at the way in which the Israel lobby is able to divert American policy to its own ends, to the ends that have been decided by the strategic warriors in Israel,” Ambassador Bird said in an interview, or by people like (Bush administration Defense Policy Board Chairman) Richard Perle, or Douglas Feith (former Undersecretary for Defense Policy), and others that were very much involved in this. The origin of the Iraq War was in 1996, when (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu was elected, in a thing from the Israel Lobby called the ‘Clean Break Memorandum.’

“The essence of it was that Israel should concentrate on the threat from Saddam Hussein. And while the Iranian threat was there, the first thing to take care of was Saddam Hussein, and this went directly to (Mr.) Netanyahu just after his election in the spring of 1996. The Clean Break Memorandum essentially said, Israel can’t necessarily do this against Saddam by itself, so we’ve got to get the United States involved. The United States has got to topple Saddam Hussein. That was the beginning of 1996. It took seven years and a new administration.

“If you look back at the history, the reason that we went into Iraq, one of the major reasons–not entirely–but one of the major reasons was the influence of these people who were convinced that Israel had to topple Saddam Hussein. It didn’t gel–it didn’t come to fruition–until the Bush administration came in and 9-11. Nine-eleven triggered it, but the whole thing was in place even before that. ‘Let’s help Israel, by toppling Saddam Hussein.’

“(Now) here comes (Mr.) Netanyahu again (recently re-elected Israeli prime minister). Here comes the influence of the Israel lobby as expressed in the Chas Freeman incident, and God knows how many other people are not being considered for being a part of the Obama administration because they have spoken out honestly and cleanly about the pejorative influence of Israeli strategic thinking, which is seriously lacking in intelligence frankly. The Israelis have told me this. ‘We are very good at short-term, tactical–and this is a short-term, tactical, Saddam Hussein toppling–but long-term, strategic, such as what might be the consequence,’ they don’t do well.”

The so-called “Chas Freeman” incident was the withdrawal of his name for consideration by Mr. Obama’s pick to become the nation’s top intelligence analyst after an intense lobbying campaign by backers of Israeli government policies.

Former U.S. Ambassador Charles “Chas” Freeman had come under Republican-led opposition over his comments criticizing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Mr. Freeman has years of diplomatic experience, including stints as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and assistant secretary of defense.

In a statement, Mr. Freeman blasted lobby groups, lawmakers and pundits who support Israeli government policies for forcing his withdrawal. “The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency,” Mr. Freeman wrote. “The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.

“I regret that my willingness to serve the new administration has ended by casting doubt on its ability to consider, let alone decide what policies might best serve the interests of the United States rather than those of a lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government,” Mr. Freeman continued.

The only good news out of Iraq, if it can be called that, is that violence is down significantly in Baghdad and most of Iraq, although many areas remain unstable. U.S. military deaths in Iraq plunged by two-thirds in 2008 from the previous year, a reflection of the improving security after the so-called “surge” troop buildup in 2007.

“People are still dying in huge numbers. I think what’s important to remember and to reflect on, is that for all that we hear about how Iraq is so much more peaceful now, that’s when weighed against the period from 2006-2007 when the level of lethal violence was at globally record-breaking levels. So, saying it’s not there is a far cry from saying the country is peaceful,” said Ms. Bennis.

“In the first few years of the war when it was still being questioned, whether the U.S. could quote: ‘win’ the war, incidents that killed (15 or 20) people were being held up as evidence of how the U.S. could never win and was going to be driven out almost at that moment. Now, when we hear that the U.S. is, quote ‘winning,’ a violent incident like that which kills twice as many people doesn’t even make it to the front page. I think that that’s a very dangerous reality because the occupation continues,” she continued.

“The possibilities are there for ending the war. The fact that President Obama was able to mobilize the movement which led to his being elected, means we can hold him accountable to precisely that, even though his actual stated strategy in his withdrawal statement was very clearly not a commitment to full and complete withdrawal. It does pose that contradiction,” Ms. Bennis said.