Iraq: Should we stay or should we go?

The capture of two British soldiers by Iraqi police – and their subsequent jail break with the aid of British tanks showed the growing chaos in Iraq – and how hard it is to tell what exactly is going on there at times.

It’s fairly obvious that either the British Ministry of Defence or the Iraqi police and Basra government were lying – or that both of them were.

There is plenty of evidence that the Iraqi police have been infiltrated by Shia militias like the Moqtadr Al Sadr’s Medhi army – or a faction which has split from it in this case. This does not represent a small minority though. The occupation has resulted in Al Sadr being transformed from a minor political figure to having the support of two-thirds of Iraqis in polls– and coalition trained Iraqis joining his militia in large numbers.

It seems unlikely that the MOD’s version of events which involved an under-cover investigation of infiltration of the Iraqi police force would require the rocket launchers which the two soldiers were armed with. The Iraqi police also claim the captured men were planting bombs. Who – if anyone – is telling the truth is impossible to know..

It seems highly unlikely that the Governor of Basra’s claims that 10 British tanks and helicopters ‘completely destroyed’ the jail where the two were being held. This would have killed the men they were attempting to release. It remains disputed whether the men had been handed over to a Shia militia or were being held by police.

The wider issue raised was whether British and American forces should remain in Iraq until ‘security’ or ‘democracy’ can be established for ‘the Iraqi people’ – or whether they should leave in order to avoid causing more bloodshed.

The views of the various political actors have been widely discussed in the media – with the notable exceptions being any mention of the views of the majority of the British, American and Iraqi people.

A poll of Iraqis in February last year showed over 50% opposed the presence of coalition forces - less than 40% supported their presence. A Gallup poll in March and April last year of 3,500 Iraqis found 57% wanted the occupying forces to withdraw immediately. Polls also show that two thirds of the British public now support bringing our troops home. A majority of Americans in every poll also want some or all their troops brought home from Iraq.

The views of the majority in each country got no mention even in the Guardian or the Independent with the latter’s headline page on 21st September naming the Stop the War Coalition and ‘Iraqi insurgents’ as the only people backing immediate withdrawal - rather than the reality - that the majority of Iraqis, Americans and British citizens want the troops home.

If we want to build democracy shouldn’t we take into account the opinions of the majority of Iraqi and British citizens? Or don’t their opinions matter?

Some argue that the majority are not always right. That may be true – but if we believe in democracy we support the majority view prevailing as long as the fundamental rights of every individual are protected.

It is easy to be drawn into seeing Iraq as a tale of good and evil battling it out – with the British and American military on the side of good - imperfect and not entirely good but still aiming for the best of outcomes.

The facts are much more unpleasant. Both sides are guilty of atrocities. Neither side is trying to give a choice to the Iraqi people. Those who use force on both sides want power – control over Iraq, its people and their resources.

The new Iraqi government forces which our forces are training are using the same torture methods used under Saddam and employing death squads every bit as much as Saddam’s regime did to eliminate opponents.

So not all the ‘execution style’ killings are being carried out by ‘insurgents’ – many are Iraqi government forces eliminating opponents of the occupation. This is a pattern previously seen in Vietnam in the ‘Phoenix programme’ (see offline source 1 at foot of page) – a a version of which is now operating in Iraq. Death squads and torturers trained and armed by the CIA were also seen in Nicaragua and El Salvador – organised by some of the same members of the Bush administration responsible for setting up the new government in Iraq – especially John Negroponte and Paul Bremer in their previous roles in the Reagan administration in the 80s. Negroponte was also involved with operationsin Vietnam. Dick Cheney was involved in opposing congressional attempts to cut funding to these programmes. We also know our that both British and American forces torture and also kill civilians.

These are the realities of military occupation no matter what rhetoric is used to justify it. No wonder Bush and Blair were so keen to secure the UN resolution that granted their forces immunity from prosecution for war crimes which has allowed them to create a new El Salvador in Iraq - and on the basis of which they prevented the two British soldiers arrested by Iraqi police in Basra being held.

Military occupation creates a violent, nationalist reaction which turns the majority towards ‘extremists’ just as the use of military force did in the occupation in Northern Ireland in the past – and just as the Israeli occupation of the West Bank – and their continuing use of force in Gaza – does to this day.

The majority are not wrong this time. If we really believe in democracy we should look at the hard and unpleasant reality of what’s happening and trust the views of the majority. Democracy cannot by definition be imposed by force or against the wishes of the majority – it is as much a culture and a set of beliefs as a system of government.

Certainly we still have a responsibility towards Iraqis - but we have no right to impose our plans on them by the presence of troops - which just makes the situation worse. We could start paying reconstruction funds and war reparations directly to Iraqis rather than giving contracts from taxpayers' money to extremely dubious firms like Halliburton and Bechtel.

Offline Sources –

(1) = Marilyn B. Young (1991), The Vietnam Wars , HarperCollins, New York , 1991 , pages 144-146 , 212-213,265

copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2005


Duncan McFarlane

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