Troops out of Iraq

The main premise for those who argue against the withdrawal from Iraq of British as well as US occupying forces is that the move would lead to an all-out civil war.

This argument, with its echoes of imperialist, supremacist tendencies, is not only offensive; it is also bewildering to the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, who remind us that Iraq was a richly diverse nation centuries before the US and Britain invaded, more than three years ago, and that Iraqis had managed to construct a state that has since then been systematically stripped back to beyond the bone.

However, when attacks as horrific and gruesome as the one that took place in Basra on Saturday April 3 take place, one cannot but ask exactly what it is that we are doing and what cause we are serving there. Official Iraqi government police, alongside what appeared to be a civilian mob, attacked two of the city’s prominent mosques, killing seven people who had sought refuge inside the place of worship and abducting nine others, whose bodies were found, tortured, mutilated and dumped, the next day.

Basra citizens, of both Sunni and Shia denominations are perplexed. One old Shia man interviewed by an Arab satellite TV’s roaming camera in the area of one of the mosques cried as he choked on words that described how the “true” people of Basra would never commit such a crime, and how the people of the city of all denominations had always been united against the tyranny of the Ba’ath regime and had never descended to this kind of chaos and anarchy.

His next assertion was fascinating: “These criminals only appeared on our streets and donned official uniform after the occupation arrived … The occupation is guarding them and allowing them to carry out these attacks because they claim that they are fighting terrorists … We thought that the job of the occupation forces was to make things better, but they have made things 1,000 times worse.”

So, if our forces are unable to control the escalating violence that has made Basra on par with, if not worse than, the area analysts smugly termed for so long, the “Sunni triangle”, let alone inspire any sort of confidence in their presence among the local population, what exactly is it that they are doing there?

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if a military force occupies a country, it essentially becomes responsible for safeguarding people’s lives and for controlling the peace. We cannot continue to lay blame at the feet of insurgents, terrorists, secular fanatics, the lunatic fringe or anyone else – especially given that Iraqis will unanimously state that not a trace of the anarchy that now engulfs the entire country ever existed before, despite the evil and tyranny of Saddam and the Ba’athist regime.

In the eyes of Iraqis, we either brought the chaos with us as we invaded the country and left its borders open to infiltration by all who cared to come or who had an interest in doing so, or we created it ourselves to validate our continued presence. In their eyes, it’s either a huge failure on our part or a blatant act of complicity. In either case, our role in the Iraqi catastrophe cannot be downplayed or underestimated.

The continued presence of our troops is putting the soldiers themselves in ever growing danger, and seems to be at the very least of no use whatsoever to Iraq and its people if not absolutely counterproductive.

There has to be a point in time when we must come clean and admit to the blunders that we have been partners in committing, from the illegal, immoral and illogical decision to invade the country in the first place to the utter and shameful failure in keeping the country and the elements therein that wish for it to descend into a state of chaos under any kind of control.

That point in time is long since passed, but we could do far worse than to do the right thing by the Iraqi people, whom we have let down so tragically time and time again.

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