Viewpoint: Iraq, U.S. at critical juncture

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-113338382511410.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of’, ‘Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi met with President George W. Bush at the White House Sept. 23, 2004. In November 2005, Allawi said: “People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam, and now we are seeing the same things."’);

While President George W. Bush and other high-level administration officials are publicly claiming that things are going well in Iraq and that we are making good progress, is the administration quietly preparing plans to withdraw troops beginning next year?

In the interim, conditions on the ground in Iraq have deteriorated badly. Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told the UK’s The Observer that human rights abuses are as bad or worse now than they were under the regime of Saddam Hussein.

“People are doing the same as [in] Saddam’s time and worse,” Allawi told the newspaper. “It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam, and now we are seeing the same things.”

In a blistering indictment, Allawi accused fellow Shias in the government of responsibility for death squads and secret torture chambers. He said some in the new security forces rival the brutality of Saddam’s secret police.

Allawi, who was a strong backer of the U.S.-led coalition, served as prime minister until last April. He made his comments as hints circulated that President Bush plans to withdraw up to 40,000 U.S. troops next year when it’s believed Iraqi forces will be ready to take over security duties.

Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, writing for, said: “The surprising degree of consensus reached by the main Iraqi factions at the Arab-League orchestrated Reconciliation Conference in Cairo last weekend sharply undercuts the unilateral, guns-and-puppets approach of the Bush administration to the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

“The common demand, by Shia and Kurds, as well as Sunnis, for a timetable for withdrawal of occupation forces demolishes the administration’s argument that setting such a timetable would be a huge mistake. Who would know better—the Iraqis or the ideologues advising Bush?” McGovern added.

Here is one passage from the final communique of the conference, as translated by the Arab-language newspaper Al Hayat in London: “We demand the withdrawal of foreign forces in accordance with a timetable, and the establishment of a national and immediate program for rebuilding the armed forces…that will allow them to guard Iraq’s borders and to get control of the security situation.”

McGovern notes that the demand for U.S. troop withdrawal is first, and rebuilding of the Iraqi army comes second. That, he says, is not an accident. The Bush administration insists rebuilding the army must come first and then the withdrawal. It maintains that rebuilding the Iraqi army is a precondition for U.S. troops leaving the country.

The Arab conference also sharply distinguished between terrorism and “legitimate” resistance to foreign occupation. It did not condemn violence against occupation troops.

The final communique also called for “an immediate end to arbitrary raids and arrests without a documented judicial order,” release of all “innocent detainees” and investigation of “allegations of torture of prisoners.” American officials attended the conference.

Any claims that conditions in Iraq are improving were shot down by Allawi’s assessment of the current situation. “We are hearing about secret police,” he said, “secret bunkers where people are being interrogated. A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations. We are even witnessing Sharia courts based on Islamic law that are trying people and executing them.”

Allawi called for immediate action to disband militias that continue to carry out atrocities with impunity. Should nothing be done, he said, “the disease infecting [the Ministry of the Interior] will become contagious and spread to all ministries and structures of Iraq’s government.”

The former prime minister warned the West not to pull out and leave behind a chaotic and disintegrating Iraq. “Iraq is the centerpiece of this region. If things go wrong,” he said, “neither Europe nor the U.S. will be safe.”

The various Iraqi factions attending the Cairo conference showed considerable willingness to compromise to attain consensus on key issues, such as the withdrawal of occupation forces. A key Sunni leader, Saleh Mutyla, hinted the resistance would approve a ceasefire in exchange for U.S. withdrawal.

These developments were greeted with petulance by the Bush administration, which declared it would “stay as long as it takes to achieve those goals and no longer.”

But in the meantime, field commanders in Iraq have been talking to Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, and Rep. John Murtha, a blunt-spoken retired Marine, has introduced a bill in the House calling for U.S. troop withdrawal “as soon as practicable.”

These events are a watershed in this war, but it is unlikely that George W. Bush will listen to anyone but the ideologues who are his advisers. Perhaps the Republicans running next year will be able to get past the inner circle and argue convincingly against the absurdity of “staying the course.”

From the Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2005, issue

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