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The US Choices in Iraq
Publication date: 2004-04-16

The current increase in anti-American resistance in Iraq is confronting the US government with difficult choices. Can they still hand over the power in Iraq to an Iraqi government on June 30, 2004 as they planned before? Should they increase the number of troops and stay longer? How much longer and at what point can they really say that they have achieved whatever the goals they had and withdraw with a real sense of a completed mission?

The problem with answering the last question is that there has never been a clearly defined goal of the American war against Iraq.

There were attempts to find a justification for the war. But even these justifications were neither clear nor consistent. First they tried to justify the war by enforcement of UN resolutions. Then to "disarm Saddam Hussain". Then to "remove Saddam Hussain". Then to "democratize" Iraq ... and the middle East.

What exactly "democratization" means is not clear. So, the only clearly defined goal was the "removal of Saddam Hussain".

This goal has been achieved - Saddam Hussain has been removed. But what now?

And now there is chaos.

This chaos has two causes: (1) absence of effective Iraqi government, (2) resistance of the Iraqis to the American occupation.

The Americans are aware of the need for an Iraqi government and they did appoint an interim government representing a range of ethnic and religious groups. But this government has no authority among the Iraqis, because it is seen as a government "imposed upon the Iraqis by the Americans".

To be effective a government has to have sufficient support of at least some significant group of the Iraqi population. Often such support needs a "cause". And the only cause that can rally the Iraqis today to support a government is "struggle against the American occupation".

This was clearly demonstrated by the support that was given to Muqtada al-Sadr, the moment the Americans proclaimed him as their "enemy".

Also, the new Iraqi Army which the Americans hoped could be relied upon to support them against the anti-American resistance either refused to "fight against the Iraqis" or even joined the resistance.

Because the resistance is not a solid regular army which can be located, attacked and destroyed, but is inseparably inter-mixed and often indistinguishable from the civilian population, attempts by the Americans to "hit hard" the resistance invariably result in heavy civilian casualties. And these civilian casualties increase and broaden the support for the resistance.

So what would happen if the Americans withdrew in three months and left the Iraqis to deal with the chaos into which the American war has plunged Iraq?

One of the causes of the chaos would be eliminated. Without the American presence the reason for "fighting the American occupation" would disappear - there will be nobody to "resist".

But the second cause of the chaos - the absence of effective government will remain, until such government emerges out of the chaos. It is clear that the Americans will have no direct control over such government. But they could eventually establish a cooperative relationship with whatever government will emerge. Just as Britain had learnt eventually to cooperate with governments which emerged out of the struggles against the British colonial rule.

But what if the Americans remain and seek to continue in their attempt to establish an Iraqi government "acceptable" to themselves?

The resistance will continue, and so will the chaos caused by the resistance and the absence of an effective government.

The Americans will seek to crush this resistance and this will lead to strengthening and broadening of the resistance.

As this resistance grows in strength and scope, it will give birth to a leadership which will command a broad popular support among the Iraqis. In the end the Americans will have no choice but to recognize the de facto authority of that leadership, even if only for the purpose of "negotiating cease fires". This de facto recognition will evolve into an explicit legal de jure recognition. And then the Americans will leave Iraq and the resistance leadership will become the government of Iraq. And again the Americans will have no control over that government, but could eventually learn to cooperate with it.

This is the historical pattern of all the struggles against foreign occupation. The struggle against the occupation becomes the rallying cause unifying a nation under the resistance leadership, which, after the occupiers are forced to withdraw, becomes the post-occupation government. And this is how continued American presence will unify and stabilize Iraq.

So whichever choice the Americans make, be it leave early, or leave later, the outcome will be the same - free independent Iraq under an Iraqi government.

And George Bush and Tony Blair will be able to say, "Look what we have achieved! Was it not worth it? Was not our war justified? Have not we liberated and unified Iraq?"


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