Is the Iraq war over?

Photo-op: 'Last combat brigade leaves Iraq

The author is an Iraq war veteran and co-founder of March Forward! an organization of veterans and active-duty service members against the war.

Early in the month, on Aug. 7, Army Specialist Faith Hinkley dove for cover from a rocket propelled grenade while on her base in Iraq. She was hit with shrapnel from the explosion, and bled to death in Baghdad. She was 23 years old.
A week later, on Aug. 15, Army Specialist Jamal Rhett was on patrol in Baquba, Iraq, when resistance fighters attacked his vehicle with grenades. The blasts tore through his body, killing him. He was only 24.

And on Aug. 19, just one day after the “end” of the Iraq war was announced, a young Army soldier, Christopher Wright, was killed by shrapnel.

For the family and friends of these three soldiers, August does not seem like a month to be announcing the “end” of the Iraq war.

But the Pentagon arranged a photo-op convoy of armored vehicles crossing the Iraqi border into Kuwait—a symbolic convoy of the “last combat brigade” exiting the country.

With that, we are told by Washington, we have seen the end of the war in Iraq. Combat operations are over, they say.

This declaration, essentially begging for applause, is reminiscent of George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” performance aboard the USS Lincoln in May 2003, where he announced the “end of major combat operations” in Iraq.

Announcing the end of combat operations in a war still taking the lives of U.S. service members is the same type of doublespeak we have been getting since the lies started flowing in the buildup to the invasion.

Since the war is supposedly over, and the Obama administration is demanding a pat on the back for its “promise kept,” let us see what “postwar” Iraq really looks like.

Iraq today

This past May, a study called The Mercer Quality of Living survey released its results of “most livable city” in 2010. It ranked Baghdad dead last—the least livable city on the planet.

This is due to the complete destruction of Iraq’s sewage treatment plants, factories, schools, hospitals, museums and power plants by the U.S. military.

For most people in Iraq, access to clean water is extremely difficult.  Access to electricity is also extremely scarce. In sweltering 130-degree F heat, Baghdad residents might get a total of three hours of intermittent electricity—much like the rest of the country.

According to the UNHCR, the Iraq war made more than 4.7 million Iraqis refugees—the worst humanitarian crisis in the Middle East since the Palestinians were driven from their homes in 1948.

They are the survivors of a slaughter that killed over 1 million innocent people, and maimed millions more, with U.S. bombs designed to “shock and awe.”

Those who survived the onslaught must live with the aftermath—the toxic gift left by the most high-tech weapons, professionally crafted by the defense contractors that made billions from the war. In Fallujah, which was bombarded by Marines in 2004, the stunning rate of infant mortality, cancer and birth defects have revealed a health crisis that has been called “worse than Hiroshima.”

But violence in Iraq is far from being in the past. In fact, it has spiked in recent months. In July 535 Iraqis were killed, making it the deadliest month in two years. With the Iraqi government still locked in a political crisis, there is little hope of the violence subsiding.

This violence was consciously fostered by the U.S. when it violated international law and forced Iraq’s government to be divided along sectarian lines and when Gen. Petraeus promoted civil war by arming “local militias” to fight each other, as he is now doing in Afghanistan. As a U.S. military study "discovered" in November 2007, "Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them.” (Washington Post, Dec. 19, 2007)

All this, not to mention grinding poverty, rampant unemployment, food insecurity and severe lack of medical supplies, has replaced their once reputable health care system. For the Iraqi people, life prior to the invasion—even with the decade of crippling sanctions and brutal bombings—was far better than the conditions today.

In a country of nearly 30 million people, one in three Iraqis have been killed, wounded or displaced by the United States since the 2003 invasion. Every single day in Iraq continues to produce more killed, more wounded and more displaced.

The occupation

What does the “end of combat operations” really mean, anyway?

The State Department will more than double the number of private security personnel, who will guard five heavily fortified compounds throughout the country. The mercenaries on these bases will pilot drones, conduct patrols and operate as “quick-reaction forces” to chase down insurgents. The much-hated and notorious mercenaries, receiving millions from the Pentagon, will continue to shoot Iraqis in their own country.

While U.S. troops leave Iraq, U.S. military equipment flows in to beef up the Iraqi puppet forces that follow the orders of the Pentagon. Cruising Iraq’s streets will be 60 new MRAPs, or “mine resistant ambush protected” vehicles. Their swarm of armored cars will be multiplied. Their number of military airplanes will increase four fold. Their helicopter fleet, piloted by mercenaries, will grow from 17 to 29.

This is the real crux of the U.S. drawdown in Iraq: the ability to push the Iraqi army and police to the front lines, with U.S. troops standing a few steps back and the same Pentagon generals sitting atop the chain of command.

This was the Bush plan from the beginning, when the invasion was launched: to topple the Iraqi government and prop up a new government, friendly to U.S. business and military interests, that will use its state power—its police, military, courts and prisons —to serve the interests of Washington and Wall Street.

This initially ended in disaster for the Bush administration. However, over seven years of bombing, brutality and documented war crimes and human rights violations, the Iraqi government was able to recruit enough job-hungry Iraqis to serve in uniform—one of the few job opportunities in a country now wracked with unemployment—and replace thousands of U.S. troops needed in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Those Iraqi troops are performing the same mission as the U.S. troops before them: using brute force to keep the unpopular U.S.-backed regime in power. They ride in the same Humvees, and even inherited the same uniforms. Iraqi families still have their doors kicked down in the middle of the night and are dragged from their beds—only now, they are being screamed at in Arabic instead of English.

Fifty thousand U.S. troops will remain in the country. But, as the generals and politicians insist, they are no longer “combat” units. They’ve been renamed “advise and assist” units.

So the remaining U.S. troops will “advise” their Iraqi puppet forces of what combat operations to carry out, and will “assist” them in carrying out those operations if they need help.

"Every soldier is a combat soldier. It's about the change of mission. It doesn't change who we are or what we do. You won't see this big change on 2 September, " said Major General Stephen Lanza, the U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.

This is far from ending combat operations for U.S. troops. They will continue to be blown up by IED’s, shot and killed by rockets. Only this will happen less frequently, for the time being, because there are enough Iraqis to bear the brunt of the resistance to foreign domination—there are enough Iraqis to be killed in their place.

Those 50,000 troops are promised to leave by the end of 2011. Of course, this is subject to “conditions on the ground.” The Aug. 19 New York Times reports that top Iraq strategists predict that “thousands of additional troops will be needed after 2011.”

If Washington gets its way, U.S. troops will continue to kill and be killed in Iraq despite their redefined role, and will remain in the country for an indefinite length of time, required to prop up a weak and increasingly unpopular puppet government and protect U.S. business and geopolitical interests. The continued deaths of U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians, with no end in sight, are the components that turned the vast majority of people in the U.S. against the war. Those components remain.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

For U.S. troops, the only thing changing for us is the name of the country where we will be sent to be killed and maimed. It is no secret that the troop reduction in Iraq is necessary because more GIs are needed to be sent to fight the other colonial-type war in Afghanistan, where the size of the occupation has tripled, and where the U.S. is clearly being defeated at the hands of a popular resistance.

We will continue to be deployed to both wars when so many of us have psychological traumas that should exempt us from deployments.

For us, the Iraq drawdown means this: that we are able to be deployed more frequently on repeated tours to the bloody battlefields of Afghanistan, with maybe some more relaxing deployments to Iraq in between, where it is currently less likely that we will die.

Returning Iraq to colonial status

From 1920 to 1958, Iraq was a British colony. Iraq’s oil was 100 percent foreign owned, divided up between U.S., British, French, and Dutch companies.

After Iraq won independence, it nationalized its vast oil wealth, immediately putting it in the crosshairs of the imperialist powers that had just lost “their” seas of oil.

Iraq’s oil revenue modernized the country, dramatically improved living conditions and provided free quality health care and a world-renowned university system—also completely free.

But an independent, developing country controlling its own resources cut into the bottom line for the oil giants. Iraq’s entire history of independence is one of fending off attempts by the United States and its imperialist allies to re-colonize the country.

Constant bombings, genocidal sanctions and CIA-backed anti-government groups failed to overturn Iraq’s independence. In the flurry of 9/11 hysteria, the U.S. government seized on the opportunity to drum up lies about weapons of mass destruction and the need to “ liberate” Iraq, and launched a full-scale invasion to take Iraq by force.

The Iraqi people, who we were told were desperate for liberation, overwhelmingly turned against the U.S. occupation. So the Pentagon surged tens of thousands more troops into the country, unleashed the full might of the most powerful military on the planet and indiscriminately rained depleted uranium, artillery and Hellfire missiles on all its cities. Large swaths of the Iraqi resistance that could not be defeated were simply put on the U.S. payroll, bribed to stop resisting.

The U.S. government never wanted to endlessly have U.S. combat patrols on Iraq’s streets. It wanted a new compliant government that would do its bidding, and some offices, including the world’s largest embassy, to conduct its business.

Now the U.S. is a step closer to its goal of returning Iraq to a colonial-type status. The announcement that combat operations have ended is really just the announcement that the puppet forces have improved to the point where they can take over some of the duties of the U.S. military—mainly, the fighting and dying.

Iraqi sovereignty is a myth. The “democratically elected” government would crumble if it did not have Washington’s backing. The Iraqi government does not have the authority to make any military, political or business decisions without the approval of their masters in Washington. U.S. officials will continue to pull the strings of its new comprador government from the largest embassy in the world, and from its military bases and fortified compounds that will remain in Iraq indefinitely. So much for “Iraqi freedom.”

While we are being prodded to rejoice over the “end” of the wildly unpopular war—to divert attention from the other unpopular war—the relative calm in Iraq at this point is teetering on the edge. This is obvious by the spike in violence over the past couple of months. Iraq is still in a fragile position with election disputes, power struggles, deep-seated and widespread opposition to U.S. domination, and armies of resistance fighters who took a break from fighting the occupiers to collect a paycheck.

Iraq could very quickly be thrust back to its highest levels of resistance—to which the U.S. would respond by doing everything possible to prevent losing Iraq as a colony. The reduced number of occupying troops would again be increased. In as little as a single day, the Iraq war could again become the bloodbath that so many took to the streets to end. Pres. Obama said it himself as he announced the end of the war: “The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq.”

For the Iraqi people, for U.S. troops and our families, our lives will be absolutely no different than they were before we were shown the media stunt of armored vehicles “leaving” Iraq.

The change in Iraq means the goal of controlling Iraq’s natural resources, markets and financial sector are proceeding more smoothly for Wall Street. Impoverished Iraqi civilians will continue to be killed every day in the rubble and ruins of their now-devastated country. U.S. troops will continue to die there endlessly, when not being sent to die endlessly in Afghanistan, while our families wait at home for our coffins.

This is nothing to celebrate—it is something to fight against.

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