Monday, December 11, 2006

Iraq Study Group Report "Offers Only Slight Correction"

Interview, Democracy Now!

8 December 2006

As the Iraq Study Group issues its report, Democracy Now! speak with Anthony Arnove, author of "Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal." He is also editor of "Iraq Under Siege" and co-editor, with Howard Zinn, of "Voices of a People's History of the United States."

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Congressmembers Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee. They are outside the Capitol Building. And we're going to bring in now Anthony Arnove, the author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal. He’s also editor of Iraq Under Siege and co-editor with Howard Zinn of Voices of a People's History of the United States.

Anthony Arnove, your response to the report and what you think needs to happen now?

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Well, I think the report offers only a slight correction of course for a policy that needs fundamental reversal. We need to bring the troops home, not to talk about prolonging the presence of the United States in Iraq. This report of the Iraq Study Group lays out keeping troops, not only combat troops, in Iraq until 2008, but well beyond that.

And, in effect, it continues a policy that the Bush administration has put forward, of we will stand down as the Iraqis stand up, and it suggests that there’s somehow a technical solution to the problem of Iraq, if we just had better training of the Iraqi security forces. But the problem isn’t a technical problem, it’s a political problem. The Iraqis want the US troops to leave. They reject a foreign occupation. And as long as US troops are there, the US troops will be a source of instability and will fuel sectarian conflict, rather than dampen it, and they will fuel the kind of violence which we see escalating and getting worse every day in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: And what Harry Reid is calling for, the Democratic leader in the Senate?

ANTHONY ARNOVE: He has come in and said that we should spend $75 billion more on the military. And we see also, of course, as you mentioned, Pelosi and Reid both saying that the idea of cutting off funds for this war is off the table. I think we have to put that back on the table, and we have to push for a proposal for immediate withdrawal, cutting off funds for this war.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Lee, I know that you have to leave, but at this point, as people demand an end to the war in Iraq -- and the question is what the strategy is right now -- do you see as much struggling to be happening with your own Democratic Party as with the Republicans?

REP. BARBARA LEE: Well, I think the American people spoke. We had elections in November. The defining issue of this election was Iraq and, of course, the economy. We have to deliver on the promises that were made to the American people. And quite naturally, we’re going to have discussions, disagreements, but I think at the end of the day that our Democratic caucus will listen to the will and the voice of the people, and our caucus will come to some position with regard to Iraq.

It’s up to the President and the administration to figure out the details. They put us in this mess. That’s their job. It’s up to us to set the policy, and I think our policy should be -- and I support a great, courageous man, Congressman Murtha. I support his resolution on redeployment and bringing our troops home and getting the heck out of there as quickly as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Lee, thanks so much for joining us. Congressmember Woolsey will stay with us for a few more minutes. But, Anthony Arnove, in one piece I’m looking at today, it says a call for President Bush to reduce US support to Iraq if Baghdad fails to improve security drew a sour response from Iraqi politicians, who said Washington had an obligation to back their government. It says Bassim Ridha, a top advisor to Maliki, said the White House has to support Baghdad all the way. If they don’t support the government, then it will look as if they don’t do what they preach. We need their support to go forward.

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Well, you have a situation where the people in Iraq who are supporting continued occupation are the people who the United States has put in positions of power. So there’s a conflict that’s emerging, where you have an Iraqi government, which is seen as collaborating with an unwanted foreign occupation, an occupation that poll after poll, including polling done by the US State Department itself, shows that a majority of Iraqis, whether they’re Sunni or Shia, reject.

And so there’s people now who are allied with the United States in Iraq, and their position, their power, their privilege depends on that allegiance. The United States is the major source of security for those people, and so you have a situation where the main people today supporting continued occupation are alienating themselves from the majority of Iraqis, and that’s further destabilizing the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a clip of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who also served on the Iraq Study Group. On Wednesday, she urged the country to rally around the US efforts in Iraq. And we're going to go to that in a minute. But I wanted to ask Lynn Woolsey, at this point in Congress, what do you see as the key strategy that the Democrats should adopt in ending the war in Iraq?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Well, the Democrats need to listen to the public. We have the majority now, because the voters said, “We want you to change what the President is doing. We want you to challenge him. We want you to correct what he’s about.” And that’s what they asked, and it was about Iraq. So the Democrats are talking about this. We know that we need to get together and be a group, supporting possibly Jack Murtha, possibly Senator McGovern -- has a great book out on how to leave Iraq, and it makes wonderful sense.

But we have to remember that when I started asking the President to put together a plan to bring the troops back more than two years ago, I was vilified. And, you know, when you lead, people follow. And now the country is way ahead of the Congress. It’s our turn to catch up with the people of the United States of America.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Woolsey, I want to go to this clip of one of the members of the Iraq Study Group, yes, the former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

SANDRA DAY O’CONNOR: We’ve said in the report that we agree with the goal of US policy in Iraq as stated by the President: an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. And to do that, we’ve made these various recommendations on a consensus basis. It’s my belief that if a large segment of our country gets behind that on a consensus basis, that it’s very likely we can move forward and make some progress toward that statement of goals. And this is not an ongoing commission. It really is out of our hands, having done what we did. It’s up to you, frankly. You are the people who speak to the American people. You’re there interpreting this and talking to America. And I hope that the American people will feel that if they are behind something in broad terms, that we’ll be better off.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. One of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations was to stress a diplomatic, as well as military, solution. This is former Secretary of State James Baker.

JAMES BAKER: The United States should promptly initiate a new diplomatic offensive, and working with the government of Iraq, should create an international Iraq support group to address comprehensively the political, economic and military matters necessary to provide stability in Iraq. That support group should include Iraq, of course, but also all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria; the key regional states, including Egypt and the Gulf states; the United Nations Security Council Perm Five member countries; a representative of the United Nations Secretary General; and the European Union. Given the central importance of the Arab-Israeli conflict to many countries both in and out of the region, the United States must again initiate active negotiations to achieve a stable Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts and in the manner that we outlined specifically in the report.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s former Secretary of State James Baker, heading up the Iraq Study Group with former Congressmember Lee Hamilton. Congressmember Woolsey, this issue of the Israel-Palestine conflict being an issue that must be resolved, this came up over and over again. How do you think it needs to be resolved?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Well, I think, first of all, I am very critical of our administration for not being ahead of this over the last three, four years. They dropped the ball. They need to get involved with the Israel/Palestinian people, and they need to act like Bill Clinton did -- get involved and care and help come to some solution and resolution in that part of the world, which will help the rest of the Arab worlds.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Arnove, your suggestion of what has to happen here, and were you surprised about the, really, centrality of this issue that was raised in this Iraq Study Group? Do you sense a shift in the establishment around the issue of Israel and Palestine?

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Well, I think there’s a recognition right now that the United States has set back its overall standing in the Middle East, and it now faces a series of regional challenges, so that the problem can’t be isolated to Iraq. But there’s also, I think, an emphasis on the role of Iran and Syria in Iraq that is a bit distorting. It suggests that somehow the opposition that the United States is facing in Iraq isn’t indigenous, isn’t rooted in domestic grievances over the occupation, and that somehow it is being directed by outside forces, by Iran and by Syria.

Secondly, I’m also very skeptical that the kind of pressure it would take on Israel to reach some kind of settlement of the Palestinian conflict will be brought to bear by the United States. And the Bush administration has already made it very clear that they’re very skeptical of negotiations with Iran and Syria, that wouldn’t put preconditions to those negotiations that would, in effect, nullify any impact that they would have. And I think this administration has made it very clear that they’re not going to put the kind of pressure on Israel that is necessary, including talking about cutting off funding for the settlements, funding for the expansion of Israeli domination of Palestinian territories.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Jimmy Carter’s new book is making any difference? While he’s gotten on TV, the major newspapers have hardly touched it in their news pages, his book called Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Absolutely. I think it’s opening up a debate. And what we see happening in the country around Iraq and around the Middle East more generally and with the case of Palestine is that people nationally have a much greater awareness of the need for change than seems to be reflected in the establishment press and seems to be reflected in the debates within Congress. So I think people really are far out ahead on Iraq. They’re far out ahead on the need for a settlement in Palestine. And Jimmy Carter's book, I think, reflects that. But it’s going to take much more mobilization and pressure to open up the debate in the establishment media and to open up the debate in Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank Congressmember Woolsey for joining us. We’re going to stay with Anthony Arnove, and we’re going to head to Iraq. But I want to ask you a final question, Congressmember Woolsey, on the issue of what difference it makes now for people around the country, for constituents, to weigh in on this issue with their congress members?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: It makes a great difference. We know they’re ahead of the Congress on what we should be doing and that we must leave Iraq, and they need to tell their members of Congress. I hope the people of this country aren’t lulled by this report, because, you see, it’s way too late. This is too little, too late to start, all of a sudden, realizing we’ve got a disaster in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Lynn Woolsey, thanks for joining us. She’s in the Cannon Building on the balcony just overlooking the Capitol, one of the co-founders of the Out of Iraq Caucus, the first congress member to call for bringing the troops home from Iraq.

As we go now to Iraq, joining our discussion from the Iraqi city of Mosul is Sami Rasouli. He grew up in Najaf. He left in the 1970s, eventually moved to the United States. In November 2004, nearly 30 years after leaving Iraq, Sami Rasouli returned home to help rebuild his country. He’s currently a member of the Muslim Peacemakers Team in Mosul. Sami Rasouli, have you gotten a chance to hear what the report’s recommendations are and the response in Iraq right now?

SAMI RASOULI: Yes, indeed. But before I start talking about this issue, I would like to make a little correction, that I’m situated in Najaf, not in Mosul. But I’ve been to Mosul and Northern Iraq, as well, the Southern area, too. But I’m speaking to you from Najaf right now.

Well, please take in consideration that I’m talking as an American Iraqi, Muslim Arab. And when I view the study that the group came with, I see lots of flawed of seriousness in it. The study is targeting Iraq as a country and Iraqi people, but I don’t see participant as key players from Iraq Arab Muslim world participating, except there is a large number of Iraqis who came upon the invasion, when it took place almost four years ago. I don’t care, as, again, as Iraqi American Muslim Arab, about the formation of this study, whether there are Republicans or Democrats.

We need an action. We need the policies, foreign policies, that the administration, over six decades, failed to address the Palestinian issues. In Iraq today, the disaster is a byproduct of serious failures that the US administration and the West committed when it comes to a biased standing position toward the state of Israel against the Palestinians.

And I see also the study of Baker/Hamilton ignored largely to talk about the violations of human rights in Iraq, as well the international law that’s violated by the invasion of the US/UK and their coalition forces back in March 2003. There are mentioning for these four words -- international law and human rights -- when the study described some background of key participants -- Mr. Hamilton, probably Jordan, and the third, Baker, the third -- so ignoring the violations of the US forces in Iraq by military operations day after day for the last three years and a half or so, by storming houses, detaining innocent people, killing innocent people, women, children, bombing them from the air or from the land, building and peppering the Iraq cities, provinces, by checkpoint.

And the study just waived this position of the occupying forces, waiving and not mentioning the key player in the violence that we are suffering in Iraq. The study mentioned al-Qaeda, the militia, Shia militia, and also named the Sunnis as Arab -- and ignored the Shia are Arab, too. So, when Bremer first came and was appointed as the US administrator, civil administrator, in Iraq, he announced the abolition of the Iraqi army and also the de-Baathification. I don’t know if the Baathists in Iraq are different than the Baathists in Syria. How could you ask al-Maliki to advance adequately in his national reconciliation? But the de-Baathification is still on, but at the same time, asking him to normalize his relationship with the neighboring country as Syria, which is ruled majorly by the Baath Party.

We are not stupid here. We see facts that doesn’t match what the administration or its consultants, through this study, is telling them. I wish this study came first, before the invasion, and advised the administration what to do, not to come now to help the administration to get out as a way.

Also, mentioning that al-Qaeda’s goal in Iraq, which they number it as 1,300, only 1,300, that’s facing 140,000 American troops, plus about 27,000 coalition troops. Only 1,300 that are troubling the US in Iraq, and therefore, the US President is not saving any chance to tell the whole world that the troops in Iraq to face the terrorists, al-Qaeda terrorists, which is 1,300. John Murtha mentioned that about a year ago, told a number about a thousand, but as we know, according to the intervention and the continuation of the US occupation in Iraq, the violence, the counter-occupation is growing in Iraq.

And to ask the American troops to leave, it’s an Iraqi demand. More than 80% to 85% now, Iraqis asking the US to leave. Only people who are willing to have the US forces staying here, who ask the UN to extend Resolution 1546 for another year to stay, which is a puppet government of Iraq.

I mean, there are lots of flaws in this study, and I wish the study also took the advantage of their effort to advise the President and his administration not to attack Iran and Syria. It’s good they mentioned to talk to Syria and Iran. As an Iraqi American, globally thinking, also I would like the administration to talk to North Korea, as well, to reduce the violence and possible wars to take place against humanity.

AMY GOODMAN: Sami Rasouli, I wanted to ask -- again, Sami Rasouli speaking to us from Najaf in Iraq. None of the people on the Iraq Study Group were Iraq experts. Sami Rasouli lived in the United States for years, but decided to return home in November 2004, leaving his family in the United States, to help in his home country, to help in Iraq, where he is currently a member of the Muslim Peacemakers Team. If US soldiers were to leave tomorrow, could you paint a scenario of what you see would then unfold?

SAMI RASOULI: If this happened now, before tomorrow, believe me, the 1,300 al-Qaeda members that the Study Group mentioned, they would leave, or they have no business in Iraq anymore. They are here to target American forces. You know, it’s a war against them, whether they are here or in Lebanon, in Afghanistan or elsewhere. So this is the first thing. Iraqis will take care of them. Right now, they are not bothered with them, because they help the resistance element to fight the US army.

And as the study admitted it, that October was the deadliest month ever since January. There were about a hundred, two, American women and men fell in this tragic war, beside the Iraqi forces who suffered a loss that was initiated after the invasion, like police forces and national guard. And between the US forces and the Iraqi forces, innocent people are falling every day by hundreds. I mean, the Iraqi -- American media talk about this with limitation, but what we see here are corpses and dead bodies, tortured, killed execution style, beside the kidnapping and the organized crime, for robbery and killing for money.

Economy is collapsed, and the study didn’t talk about this much. Talking about Iraqi experts participating in the study, I don’t know how much they study. The group spent only four days in Iraq. So I don’t know how much participation from Iraqis did in this study.

The question, again, what will happen? Believe me, peace will happen, because Iraqis, even if they need to kill each other, to draw into a civil war, they will need to have a sophisticated weapon, which they don’t have. They need to buy it from the West. So if US forces leave, please take your weapon with you. Don’t leave it, because otherwise, as I hear the President every time saying, “I’m staying ’til the job is done, until we complete the mission” -- of course, this is since May 1st, 2003, supposed to be the mission was “accomplished." But what kind of mission that the US is after?

AMY GOODMAN: Sami Rasouli, we’re going to have to leave it there, Iraqi American who went home to live and to help his people in Iraq, with the Muslim Peacemakers Team. Tomorrow on Democracy Now!, we’ll be joined by two members of the Christian Peacemakers Team who were kidnapped in Iraq. They are holding a news conference in London. Harmeet Singh Sooden and James Loney, they’ll be joining us from London.

Last response from Anthony Arnove, as we wrap up this discussion and then head to talk about a key recommendation in the report that hasn’t been talked about, and that is privatization. We will talk about that with Antonia Juhasz. Anthony Arnove.

ANTHONY ARNOVE: I think if you’re going to talk about what the impact would be of the US withdrawal, you have to talk about what happens after withdrawal. And I think we have to raise a demand for reparations to be paid to the Iraqi people, reparations not only for the harm and destruction caused by this illegal invasion and occupation, but all the years before that, when the United States supported sanctions on the country, and before that supported the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, armed, trained, funded and backed Saddam Hussein as he carried out the worst of his abuses. And so, withdrawal of troops is the beginning of a process of genuine reconstruction in Iraq. The money that’s now being allocated for reconstruction is not going to rebuild roads, schools, hospitals in Iraq. It’s going to benefit the few corporations that have contracts in Iraq. We need to provide genuine humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Arnove, thank you for being with us, author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal.

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