All U.S. Troops Home Now!
The White House on August 18 announced that the last “combat brigades” have left Iraq and the war is “winding down.” The White House said, “After September 1, the United States will have a different mission, one of advising and assisting Iraqi security forces, joining the Iraqis in targeted counterterrorism operations and protecting U.S. troops and civilians who remain in Iraq.” Immediately the military emphasized that the U.S. -occupation will remain, likely for decades. “I don’t think anybody declared the end of the war as far as I know,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. “There’s still fighting ahead.” A report in the Navy Times said the “different” mission involves “facing terrorist attacks, roadside bombs and accompanying Iraqi troops on dangerous counterterrorism missions — essentially combat, but it’s just not classified as such.”
What is clear is that the occupation of Iraq remains and it will be enforced by U.S. troops and mercenaries. But it is also significant that while maintaining a large combat force in Iraq, of at least 50,000, plus as many armed mercenaries, Obama is moving to put the State Department in control of “non-combat” operations. This reflects the further militarization of all aspects of U.S. governance, with statecraft and diplomacy — the State Department’s mission — imbued with militarism and use of force. Further, the U.S. is making clear that there can be no challenge to its demand that U. S.-style democracy is the only model permitted and all governments must submit to this model. The role of the State Department is to guarantee this in Iraq, backed up by use of force.
It is also the case that it is known that the effort to rebrand the war as a “New Dawn,” failed as soon as it was announced. But even so, Obama, the Pentagon and State Department continue with what are known to be lies. This is in part aimed at humiliating the people, forcing them to accept a government that openly lies about such vital matters of war and peace and openly dismisses the demands of the peoples, in Iraq and at home, for an end to the wars and occupations. The rulers are attempting to impose the notion that the people, in Iraq or the U.S., have no role to play. It is to rob the people of their mission to fight for their rights and for governments that empower the people themselves. It is an attempt to deny that U.S.-style democracy and the constitution it is based on has shown that it cannot solve any problem, abroad or at home. U.S.-style democracy is outdated and cannot be the model for anyone, least of all Americans. Having the State Department become an open enforcer of military occupation in another country underlines this reality.
The problem at hand is not so much exposure of the lies of government about the U.S. war and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, but organizing to bring into being an anti-war government of the people, where the demands and desires of the people for peace and international relations based on equality and mutual benefit can be achieved. Putting this problem of political empowerment center-stage is what will serve to break the humiliation being imposed and advance the fight for rights, here and abroad.
All U.S. Troops Home Now!
Thousands of Afghan civilians protested outside the U.S. military base and prison at Bagram on August 23. They were denouncing the U.S. occupation forces for civilian killings. It was the second demonstration in the last 10 days. On August 15 hundreds of residents participated in a militant demonstration to protest the construction of military facilities on land owned by villagers. Protesters threw “baseball-size rocks” at troops as they escorted a mercenary to the base, according to NATO. In addition, in eastern Afghanistan, hundreds of people blocked the main highway linking the Capitol, Kabul, and the eastern city of Jalalabad on August 18. Protesters chanted slogans against the U.S. and all foreign military forces in the country. They too opposed the continuing killing of civilians. A recent UN report states that U.S.-led NATO forces have killed at least 386 civilians in the first six months of 2010.
U.S. troops fired on the protesters at the August 23 action. A provincial Afghani police official said that at least one civilian was killed in the incident. NATO claimed that soldiers had only fired “warning shots” to disperse residents after they surrounded a military patrol and attacked vehicles outside the sprawling facility with rocks and iron bars.
But Parwan province deputy police chief General Faqir Ahmad was adamant that one civilian had been killed. General Ahmad said that the NATO shooting had served to enrage the crowd, which he put at about 2,000 people. He said that some responded by using rocks and sticks to attack police.
Also on August 23, officials and residents of Baghlan province in the north of the country accused NATO troops of killing eight civilians during a pre-dawn raid. Mohammed Ismail, the governor of the Talah wa Barfak District, said that foreign troops broke into a district house at 2am and killed eight civilians, injured 12 and took nine prisoners.
Fort Hood in Texas
Under darkness at about 4 a.m. this morning, buses carrying the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (3rd ACR) to planes were stopped by a group of five protesters that included two Iraq veterans, one Afghanistan veteran, and one military spouse whose husband had been deployed to Iraq three times.
The Fort Hood Disobeys group clambered down from a highway overpass where supporters held banners and signs. Holding banners that said, “Occupation is a Crime” and “Please Don’t Make the Same Mistake We Did. RESIST NOW,” the protesters spread across Clarke Road. Police with automatic weapons and dogs beat them out of the roadway. They were not arrested.
Deployments are usually scheduled for the afternoon with family members present as soldiers board the buses. Whether this deployment left in the dead of night because of planned protests is unknown, but averting media attention was undoubtedly part of the Army calculus.
As the corporate media heralds the “end of combat missions,” the truth about the troops deploying to Iraq has not made mainstream news. Two more deployments of the 3rd ACR, a combat regiment, are scheduled this week. The total 3rd ACR troop deployment to Iraq from Fort Hood will be about 3,000. These will be added to the 50,000 troops remaining.
“Operation New Dawn” is the new brand for the U.S. occupation in Iraq. As combat deployments continue, it rings as hollow as George Bush’s proclamation of “Mission Accomplished.”
Two more upcoming events are aimed at peeling back the deception surrounding the “end of combat operations.”
Dahlia Wasfi, an Iraqi-American doctor, will speak next Sunday in Austin giving a talk titled, U.S. Policy in Iraq: A Humanitarian Disaster. The event is co-sponsored by Texas Labor Against the War and CodePink Austin and will take place at the Texas State Employees Union meeting hall, 5 p.m., Sunday, August 29, 1700 South First, Austin.
The following morning, there will be a press conference at Under the Hood GI Cafe in Killeen that will highlight many facets of the Iraq debacle, including the impact on soldiers, military families, Iraqis, and funding to meet domestic needs. Dahlia Wasfi will speak at this press conference and will be joined by Rep. Lon Burnam from Fort Worth, Texas. Representatives from several groups including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, CodePink, and Texas Labor Against the War will be present. The press conference will take place at 10 a.m., Monday, August 30, Under the Hood, 17 South College, Killeen, Texas.
Statements from Four of the Participants in the Action
Bobby Whittenberg-James, Disobedient:
I am a Marine veteran of the war against the people of Iraq, a Purple Heart recipient, and a third generation military service member. I joined the Marines in June of 2003, believing the lies about weapons of mass destruction and an imminent threat to our safety. I have since come to learn that these wars and occupations do not keep the people of the United States or the Middle East safe, but instead serve the interests of politicians, capitalists, and corporations: the ruling elite.
These unjust wars and occupations rob the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen of their dignity and their right to self-determination and serve to make the people of both the Middle East and the United States less safe. They also serve to further destabilize a region that has suffered under the boot-heel of western colonialism for over a century. The U.S. Empire also supports both financially and militarily the brutal apartheid regime that occupies Palestine. All of this is done in our name with our money, and I am here to say “Not in my name!” I will not be complicit in the killing of people. Since I do not believe that the government or the capitalists will end these wars, I will vote with my body.
Crystal Colon, Disobedient:
I was a sergeant in the Army for five years, stationed at Fort Hood the entire time, save for two deployments to Iraq totaling 26 months. I was a Signal Support Systems Noncommissioned Officer, coordinating communications for various commands. I was honorably discharged in January 2010, and have been organizing in the veterans peace movement ever since.
I first began to question the war in Iraq during my first deployment in ‘05-’06. After my friend Robbie was killed, I was very deeply affected. I started questioning why we were in Iraq. It felt like he had died for nothing. After returning from Iraq, I planned to leave the military. I was stop-lossed and forced to return to Iraq for 15 months, in total held beyond the length of my enlistment more than 450 days. Since leaving the military, I have been active with the veterans’ peace movement, speaking out about my experiences and supporting troops who refuse to fight.
I am doing this today because I can’t allow this war in which I have fought to continue. I can’t allow other soldiers to make the same mistake I did, deploying in support of a war crime. As a veteran of Iraq, how could I not do this today? For the people I helped occupy, for the friends I lost and still have over there, for the soldiers on those buses. How could I not do this today? I should have disobeyed. I should have never boarded those buses to Iraq. I wish someone had tried to stop me.
Matthis Chiroux, Disobedient:
I am a former Army sergeant and war resister. I was press-ganged into the Army by the Alabama Juvenile “Justice” System in 2002. While in the military, I occupied the nations of Japan and Germany for more than four years, with shorter tours in the Philippines and Afghanistan. I was a Public Affairs noncommissioned officer specializing in strategic communications. In reality, I was a propaganda artist. I was discharged honorably to the Individual Ready Reserve in 2007.
While I have always been against the war in Iraq, I began resisting it actively in 2008, after I received mobilization orders for a yearlong deployment to Iraq. I refused those orders in Congress in May of 2008, calling my orders illegal and unconstitutional. I believed appealing to Congress would end the war. When 13 Members signed a letter of support for my decision and sent it to Bush, I thought we had won a victory for peace. This was more than two years ago. The president has changed, and the wars and destruction drag on.
Today, I am blocking the deployment of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment with my fellow vets and military family members because the wars will continue to victimize our communities until we halt this bloody machine from within. I am putting my body on the line in solidarity with the people of the Middle East, whose bodies have been shot, burned, tortured, raped, and violated by our men and women in and out of uniform. I cannot willfully allow Americans in uniform to put their lives and the lives of Iraqis in jeopardy for a crime. We are here because we have a responsibility to ourselves as veterans and as humans of the world. I will not rest until my people, ALL PEOPLE, are free.
Cynthia Thomas, Disobedient:
I have been an Army wife for 18 years. My husband has been deployed three times since the wars began. During his second deployment, he was severely wounded taken by medi-vac to Walter Reed Army Hospital on life support. Even though he had posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, and suffered three fractures in his back, three fractures on his pelvis, and countless other injuries, the Army deployed him a third time. This was devastating to our two daughters, our stepson and to me.
Three months after my husband deployed for the third time, our stepson called to inform me he was joining the Marines. That was the exact moment I realized that our children would be fighting these endless wars. I decided that I needed to start resisting.
The reason I am doing this today is because for the past three years that I have been speaking out and advocating for Soldiers, things have only gotten worse. I have heard countless stories from vets and active-duty soldiers that give people nightmares. I have heard stories from family members that would shock people awake if they would just listen! Our military community is being destroyed!
If these wars are destroying our soldiers and military families with 12 to 15-month, often repeat deployments, how do you think the Iraqi and Afghan people doing? They have been living these wars 24/7, 365 days a year for nearly a decade! My youngest daughter is an Operation Iraqi Freedom baby. She was less than one-year-old when her father left to invade Iraq. I look at her, and I see an Iraqi or Afghan child having to live in constant fear with no end in sight! I am doing this for our community, for my girls, for my husband and our Marines. I am doing this for the Iraqi and Afghan People. Enough is enough. If soldiers really want to go fight, they’ll have to go through me.
The action organizers have established a website at forthooddisobeys.blogspot.com where they will be posting statements, photographs and video from their actions. For more information call 347-613-8964 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Alice Embree is a long-time Austin activist and organizer
The soldiers of the US 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division hollered as they made their way into Kuwait. “We won,” they claimed. “It’s over.” But what exactly did they win? And is the war really over?
It seems we are once again walking into the same trap, the same nonsensical assumptions of wars won, missions accomplished, troops withdrawn, and jolly soldiers carrying cardboard signs of heart-warming messages like “Lindsay & Austin ... Dad’s coming home.”
While much of the media is focused on the logistics of the misleading withdrawal of the “last combat brigade” from Iraq on August 19 — some accentuating the fact that the withdrawal is happening two weeks ahead of the August 31 deadline — most of us are guilty of forgetting Iraq and its people. When the economy began to take center stage, we completely dropped the war off our list of grievances.
But this is not about memory, or a way of honoring the dead and feeling compassion for the living. Forgetting wars leads to a complete polarization of discourses, thus allowing the crafters of war to sell the public whatever suits their interests and stratagems.
In an August 22 Washington Post article entitled “Five myths about the Iraq troop withdrawal”, Kenneth M Pollack [formerly of the CIA and National Security Council] unravels the first “myth”: “As of this month, the United States no longer has combat troops in Iran.” Pollack claims this idea is “not even close” because “roughly 50,000 American military personnel remain in Iraq, and the majority are still combat troops — they’re just named something else. The major units still in Iraq will no longer be called “brigade combat teams” and instead will be called “advisory and assistance brigades. But a rose by any other name is still a rose, and the differences in brigade structure and personnel are minimal.”
So what if the U.S. army downgrades its military presence in Iraq and re-labels over 50,000 remaining soldiers? Will the U.S. military now stop chasing after perceived terrorist threats? Will it concede an inch of its unchallenged control over Iraqi skies? Will it relinquish power over the country’s self-serving political elite? Will it give up its influence over every relevant aspect of life in the country, from the now autonomous Kurdish region in the north all the way to the border with Kuwait in the south, which the jubilant soldiers crossed while hollering the shrieks of victory?
The Iraq war, in terms of its language and discourse, has been one of the most well-controlled wars the U.S. has ever fought, Even those opposed to the war tend to be misguided as to their reasons: “Iraqis need to take charge of their own country”; “Iraq is a sectarian society and America cannot rectify that”; “It is not possible to create a Western-style democracy in Iraq”; “It’s a good thing Saddam Hussein was taken down, but the US should have left straight after.” These ideas might be described as “anti-war,” but they are all based on fallacious assumptions that were fed to us by the same recycled official and media rhetoric…
President Barack Obama merely shifted military priorities from Iraq to Afghanistan. His government is now re-branding the Iraq war, although maintaining the interventionist spirit behind it. It makes perfect sense that the U.S. State Department is now the one in charge of the future mission in Iraq. The occupation of Iraq, while it promises much violence and blood, requires good public relations.
The State Department will now supervise future violence in Iraq, which is likely to increase in coming months due to the ongoing political standoff and heightened sectarian divisions. An attack blamed on al-Qaeda in an Iraqi army recruitment center on August 17 claimed 61 lives and wounded many. “Iraqi officials say July saw the deaths of more than 500 people, including 396 civilians, making it the deadliest month for more than two years,” reported Robert Tait in Radio Free Europe.
Since the March elections, Iraq has had no government. The political rift in the country, even among the ruling Shi’ite groups, is large and widening. The disaffected Sunnis have been humiliated and collectively abused because of the misguided claim that they were favored by Saddam. Hate is brewing and the country’s internal affairs are being handled jointly by some of the most corrupt politicians the world has ever known.
Washington understands that it needs to deliver on some of Obama’s many campaign promises before the November elections. Thus the re-branding campaign, which could hide the fact that the US has no real intention of removing itself from the Iraq’s military or political milieus. But since the current number of military personnel might not be enough to handle the deepening security chaos in the country, the new caretakers at the State Department are playing with numbers.
“State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said [a] plan would bring to some 7,000 the total security contractors employed by the government in Iraq, where since the 2003 U.S. invasion private security firms have often been accused of acting above the law,” according to Reuters.
It is important that we understand the numbers game is just a game. Many colonial powers in the past controlled their colonies through the use of local forces and minimal direct involvement. Those of us opposed to the Iraq war should do so based on the guiding principle that foreign invasions, occupations and interventions in sovereign countries’ affairs are a direct violation of international law. It is precisely the interventionist mindset that must be confronted, challenged, and rejected.
While it is a good thing that that thousands of American dads are now coming home, we must also remember that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi moms and dads never did. Millions of refugees from the US-led invasion are still circling the country and the Middle East.
War is not about numbers and dates. It is about people, their rights, their freedom and their future. Re-branding the army and the war will provide none of this for grief-stricken and vulnerable Iraqis.
The fact is, no one has won this war. And the occupation is anything but over.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle. com.
In the week since the much publicized withdrawal of "combat" troops from Iraq it has become more evident that the Iraq War continues under a new name: "Operation New Dawn."
The first off-message comments came from the Department of Defense. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said shortly after the "end" of the war, "I don't think anybody has declared the end of the war as far as I know. Counter-terrorism will still be part of their mission." He said the more than 50,000 remaining troops will be well armed and that among their responsibilities will be counter-terrorism which will mean taking on [Iraqi resistance] in combat situations. The former head of the Central Command who had been in charge of military operations in Iraq echoed the Pentagon sentiments when Petraeus told CBS News, "We're not leaving" Iraq and that the troops remaining behind will have "an enormous capability."
General Ray Odierno said it was possible that U.S. combat troops would return to Iraq if the security situation worsened. Odierno also said that he was certain the U.S. would consider staying in Iraq after 2011 if invited. There is more talk of the U.S. staying beyond the 2011 deadline for withdrawal of all troops. Iraq's top military officer said last week that American forces may be needed for another decade, something to which Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says the U.S. is open.
Army Times reported that combat brigades remain in Iraq but their name has been changed to “Advise and Assist Brigade,” the Army’s designation for “brigades selected to conduct security force assistance.” There are seven “Advise and Assist Brigades” in Iraq, as well as two additional National Guard infantry brigades “for security” and two combat aviation brigades also remain in Iraq. Combat Brigades are the source for the “Advise and Assist Brigades,” “to retain their inherent capability to conduct offensive and defensive operations, according to the Army’s security force assistance field manual, which came out in May 2009.”
As the Washington Post reports combat is still on the agenda for America’s no longer labeled combat troops: “American troops in Iraq will still go into harm's way. They will still accompany Iraqi units on combat missions — even if only as "advisers." American pilots will still fly combat missions in support of Iraqi ground forces. And American Special Forces will still face off against Iraqi groups in high-intensity operations. For that reason, when American troops leave their bases in Iraq, they will still, almost invariably, be in full "battle rattle" and ready for a fight.”
The “war’s end” also does not mean an end to deployments of new troops to Iraq. Five peace activists blockaded six buses carrying Fort Hood Soldiers deploying to Iraq. The buses were slowed to a halt; while police made no arrests, they forced the activists out of the street using automatic weapons and police dogs so the deploying soldiers could proceed.
In addition to soldiers remaining in Iraq, the country remains in miserable condition. Foreign Policy in Focus reports: "Iraq has between 25 and 50 percent unemployment, a dysfunctional parliament, rampant disease, an epidemic of mental illness, and sprawling slums. The killing of innocent people has become part of daily life." They also report that half the urban residents in Iraq live in slums, up from 20 percent before the U.S. invasion.
But the deception continues. President Obama is planning a speech on Iraq when he returns from summer vacation. Reportedly the speech will highlight Obama keeping his promise to end the war. In fact, keeping troops in Iraq was always part of Obama’s plan. During the campaign he called them “residual” troops and would never say how many tens of thousands would remain after he “ended the war.” More than 100,000 U.S. troops and mercenaries remain.
Join efforts to really end the Iraq War, bring home all the troops and hand over all military bases. The U.S. needs to get out of Iraq – as well as Afghanistan.
Kevin Zeese is executive director of Voters for Peace (www.VotersForPeace.US).