A statement by March Forward!
On March 19, 2003, U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq in an attempt to force the oil-rich country to accept imperialist rule. “National defense” and “building democracy” were simply lies to mask the real aim of the war: the de-nationalization of Iraq’s oil. Eight years later, over 1 million Iraqis are dead, millions are refugees and living conditions have deteriorated to the point that last year Baghdad was rated the least livable city in the world.
Although the invasion began in 2003, Iraq has been the target of U.S. aggression since 1991, when tens of thousands of civilians died in the “Gulf War.” This was followed by genocidal sanctions that led to 1.5 million deaths, including half a million children under the age of 5.
This brutality, however, did not succeed in forcing the Iraqi people to surrender their sovereignty. Starting in 2002, the Bush administration began a racist, fear-mongering campaign to drum up support for an outright invasion. The claim that Iraq was harboring terrorists or developing weapons of mass destruction were obvious lies, but nevertheless politicians from both the Republican and Democratic parties overwhelmingly voted to authorize the war.
Although Baghdad fell just a few weeks after the invasion, popular Iraqi resistance bogged down occupation forces and challenged the U.S.-backed regime. The fighting escalated and in 2007 the Bush administration announced the “surge,” involving increased troop levels and cash payments to buy off the formerly anti-occupation Awakening Movement. Violence declined but the Iraqi people never fully accepted foreign rule.
The war continues today, by virtue of both the physical presence of U.S. forces and the economic and social devastation caused by nearly a decade of occupation. Although combat operations have officially been declared “over,” 50,000 U.S. troops remain in the country.
While the withdrawal from Iraq is supposed to be completed by the end of 2011, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has strongly hinted that the deadline will be ignored. Rep. Adam Smith, a high-ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, said that the number of troops still in Iraq after the end of this year “could be 20,000.” Permanent U.S. bases and compounds are set to remain.
Occupation brings death and suffering
The Iraq war has led to a staggering number of deaths. According to the results of a 2008 study by the UK-based Opinion Research Business, 1,033,000 people have died as a result of the war. This is consistent with the findings of a study conducted by The Lancet, one of the oldest and most respected scientific journals in the world.
But even this figure does not truly convey the magnitude of the human suffering caused by the invasion and occupation. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 4.7 million Iraqis, about 15 percent of the population, have been forced to flee their homes. 2.7 million are internally displaced and 2 million have left the country entirely; 5 million Iraqi children are orphans.
Corruption is rampant at all levels of the illegitimate Iraqi government. A 2009 document issued by the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity reported 5,031 complaints of corruption the previous year. However, out of over 3,000 cases sent to courts, only 97 officials, less than 3 percent, were convicted. Iraq was ranked the fourth most corrupt country in the world in 2010.
Excluding Baghdad, about 30 percent of the population does not have access to potable water. In the capital the figure is slightly lower, around 25 percent, but much higher in some rural areas, at roughly 50 percent. Iraq is only capable of producing slightly more than half of the electricity it needs, leaving most Iraqis without power on a regular basis.
Outright unemployment stands at 15 percent, but rises to 43 percent if the underemployed are included. Young people are especially affected by joblessness and 23 percent of the population lives on less than $2.20 a day.
Iraq is now poisoned with the remnants of depleted uranium and chemical weapons. Staggering levels of birth defects, cancer, and infant mortality has labeled parts of Iraq with a fallout “worse than Hiroshima”—or, worse than the worst fallout in history.
Those who fantasized that somehow U.S. intervention would create a better life for the Iraqi people than under the government of Saddam Hussein are left looking at the biggest humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and civilian casualties at genocidal proportions.
The people fight back
Far from being helpless victims, the tenacity of Iraqi popular resistance caught the arrogant politicians and the Pentagon brass totally off guard. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously predicted that the war would last “six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.” Their hopes for a quick war and the installation of a stable puppet regime were shattered by the Iraqi people’s determination to defend their independence. Iraqis from all walks of life—teachers, doctors, farmers, students—took up arms in a popular uprising against the invading superpower.
Nearly 5000 U.S. troops came home in coffins. Tens of thousands endured life-changing injuries. Hundreds of thousands were psychologically traumatized, then abused and neglected by the U.S. military, leading to the current suicide epidemic. More soldiers now kill themselves than are killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who don’t take their own lives are sent over and over back to combat, drugged up by deadly cocktails of sedatives and anti-depressants.
Although the armed struggle has subsided in recent years, daily violence is still a constant reality. Everyday there is fighting between the Iraqi people and the U.S.-backed Iraqi military forces. Even though U.S. troops have been able to retreat back to fortified bases, there are dozens of attacks on U.S. forces on a daily basis. U.S. troops are still killed and wounded.
Mass demonstrations have recently swept Iraq as part of the wave of uprisings in the Arab world. On Feb. 16, thousands of protesters in the city of Kut stormed government buildings, burning some down. Demonstrations then spread to the northern Kurdish region, where people faced deadly repression.
On Feb. 25, thousands took to the streets in major cities throughout Iraq as part of a “day of rage.” Several provincial governors resigned. In Iraq’s new “democracy,” police and mercenaries killed at least 29 peaceful demonstrators. Journalists were arrested and tortured. Offices of protest organizers were shut down by the government and leaders were arrested.
Far from unanimously supporting the actions of the U.S. government, the people of the United States have participated in huge outpourings of solidarity with the people of Iraq. On Feb. 15, 2003, millions around the globe turned out for the largest coordinated anti-war demonstrations in history. Recognizing that the war would be devastating not only to Iraqis but to the working class domestically, hundreds of thousands took part across the United States. Over the years, thousands of U.S. troops and Iraq war veterans have also joined the anti-war movement, refusing their orders to deploy, speaking out about their experiences and organizing mass actions against the wars.
The movement against imperialism continues today. On March 19, thousands will take part in protests in dozens of cities to demand an end to the Iraq war and the increasingly brutal war in Afghanistan. Through determined struggle, the people can end the imperialist occupation and restore full sovereignty to Iraq.