By Brian Becker

Nov. 19, 2003--A political debate is raging among U.S. antiwar forces over the appropriate slogans for the movement today. At the Oct. 25 demonstration of 100,000 in Washington, D.C., the main slogan was "Bring the troops home now--end the occupation of Iraq." This slogan was agreed to by the two coalitions sponsoring the protest--Act Now to Stop War & End Racism and United for Peace & Justice. The ANSWER coalition has been using the slogan since the U.S. military conquest of Baghdad on April 9, 2003. UFPJ agreed to co-sponsor the demonstration with ANSWER under the slogan, although its member groups hold a variety of views on the issue of immediate withdrawal.

Prior to the Oct. 25 demonstration, some groups in the movement opposed this orientation and called for changing the slogan from "Bring the troops home now" to "Turn over security and rebuilding to the UN." The rationale cited for the proposed change was that "Immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops would probably create chaos and anarchy, a situation even worse than what it is now."

The dispute over slogans reflects two completely different views on the political direction that needs to be taken by the global mass antiwar movement that has emerged in the last year. In essence, the dispute hinges on whether 1) modern war is the consequence of bad or mistaken policies by certain political leaders, or 2) it is the inevitable outgrowth of capitalism as it has evolved into a global system of imperialism.


The debate is not really new and closely mirrors two earlier disputes over slogans that sharply divided the movement. Prior to the 1991 Gulf War the antiwar movement split into two sharply contentious coalitions. One coalition, led by Ramsey Clark and other leaders who later formed the International Action Center, condemned both the U.S.-sponsored war mobilization and the imposition of economic sanctions on Iraq. The other wing of the peace movement organized under the slogan, "Sanctions, not war."

The struggle between these two wings of the peace movement was very sharp at the time. The coalition led by Ramsey Clark and the IAC insisted that economic sanctions were not a benign alternative to war but an act of war. The analysis held that the U.S. was simply using the Iraq-Kuwait issue as a pretext for a long-planned U.S. military intervention whose goal was to both diminish Iraq as a regional power and permanently insert U.S. military forces in this oil-rich region.

The opposing coalition took the position that, unless the peace movement called for economic sanctions against Iraq, it would be open to the accusation that it was functioning as an apologist for Saddam Hussein's government and providing tacit consent to Iraq's takeover of Kuwait.

Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 a similar, although less contentious, debate emerged over slogans and some of the same political forces were involved. This time some of the antiwar forces who a decade earlier had insisted on economic sanctions as an alternative to war called on the Bush administration to "let the UN weapons inspections work" rather than race to war. Core to this argument was the fallacious assumption that the current crisis was caused by Iraq's weapons program.

By chanting "Let inspections work," they appeared to agree with Bush that Iraq was a real danger and thus must be disarmed. While agreeing with Bush's goal that "Iraq must be disarmed," these groups asserted that Bush was making a tactical error by resorting to military force rather than letting weapons inspectors find and destroy Iraq's weapons.

The ANSWER coalition thought it was ludicrous to agree with Bush's stated goal of disarming Iraq at the very moment that it was being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops poised to attack with the most advanced bombs and missiles. ANSWER asserted that the planned U.S. war was motivated by purely imperialist interests and had nothing to do with a supposed "danger" from Iraq.

It will remain one of the great ironies in military history that Iraq, under the demand of the UN weapons inspectors, was forced to publicly destroy--right on television--its own medium-range conventional missiles right up until the evening of March 19, when the country came under a destructive rain of terror from U.S. cruise missiles and bombs. And all in the name of disarmament, no less.

Under the circumstances of early 2003--and the looming invasion and aggression against Iraq--wouldn't it have been more appropriate for all forces in the peace movement in the United States to call for the disarming of the Pentagon, rather than Iraq?


Now, during the U.S.-occupation phase of the struggle, the debate in the antiwar movement is around the slogan "Bring the troops home now." Instead of immediate withdrawal, others call for the United Nations to take over the occupation as a transitional regime leading eventually to a sovereign government.

The core problem with "Turn over security and rebuilding to the UN" is that this demand stands in contrast to the fundamental right of the Iraqi people to determine their own destiny. Iraq has formally been a sovereign country for 80 years and a genuinely sovereign country for the last 45--since the Iraqi Revolution of 1958. Its sovereignty has been suspended only by an illegal invasion and occupation.

Those who advocate for a UN takeover of the occupation argue that without a "neutral" outside supervising force, and one that can provide reconstruction resources, Iraq will descend into further anarchy and chaos. This argument, however, which seems to be based on seeking the least bad of the available bad options, is premised on two false assumptions: 1) that the current United Nations can play an independent and progressive role in Iraq and, 2) that the Iraqi people would be content with something less than complete independence for their country.

It is the occupation by the U.S. and Britain--whose authority was entirely ratified on May 22 by UN Security Council Resolution 1483--that has led to a condition that they themselves call "chaos and anarchy." While Iraq was under Iraqi authority, this condition did not exist.

If the U.S. troops leave immediately and if sovereignty is returned to Iraq, a new government will take shape. No one knows for certain if there will be a struggle between contending factions in Iraq. This is certainly possible, given the "chaos and anarchy" created by the violent destruction inflicted by outside forces. But unless sovereignty is returned to Iraq, the current chaos and anarchy will inevitably continue.


Iraqis don't want foreign, imperial forces to become the arbiters of their political and economic process, and have shown this with their actions. Some people in the United States may think that this is in the Iraqi people's best interest, but the Iraqi people do not agree with the implicit assumption that they are not "up to the task" of building an independent Iraq. In fact, the Iraqi people rightly believe that the foundation of this argument is based in conscious or unconscious paternalism and even racist stereotyping.

Nor do they agree that the record of the United Nations, as an institution, suggests that it has the interests of the Iraqi people as its first priority, particularly given the pressures applied to the UN by the United States.

This opinion is confirmed by the comments of Dennis Halliday, the former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq. Following the first bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad in August--which killed 23 people, many of whom were Halliday's friends and colleagues--Halliday commented on the sharp difference in perception of the United Nations between Iraqis and people in the United States and other Western countries:

"The West sees the UN as a benign organization, but the sad reality in much of the world is that the UN is not seen as benign," Halliday said.

"In Iraq, the UN imposed sustained sanctions that probably killed up to 1 million people. Children were dying of malnutrition and water-borne diseases. The U.S. and U.K. bombed the infrastructure in 1991, destroying power, water and sewage systems against the Geneva Convention. It was a great crime against Iraq. Thirteen years of sanctions made it impossible for Iraq to repair the damage. That is why we have such tremendous resentment and anger against the UN in Iraq. There is a sense that the UN humiliated the Iraqi people and society. I would use the term genocide to define the use of sanctions against Iraq. Several million Iraqis are suffering cancers because of the use of depleted uranium shells. That's an atrocity. Can you imagine the bitterness from all of this?" (Sunday Herald, Aug. 24)

Why, then, would the Iraqi people agree, given the UN's record over the last 12 years, that it should be the institution to serve as the guarantor of a transition to renewed sovereign control?


The imperialist government of the United States certainly owes a debt to the Iraqi people. It should be forced to pay reparations for the death and destruction inflicted on the country. But that is not about to happen. On the contrary, under the guise of humanitarian reconstruction, all sectors of the resource-rich country of Iraq are now being opened up for the profit of corporate and banking interests, especially those from the United States. That's what this war was all about.

Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloom, who was educated in the U.S., worked for U.S. oil companies in Kuwait, and is described as a champion of foreign investment and privatization (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 25), announced last month that Baghdad welcomes proposals from foreign oil companies to develop Iraq's oil. He was immediately chosen by the U.S. overlord in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, to become Iraq's oil minister.

Hassan al-Musawi, an official with the U.S. hand-picked governing council, said oil companies from the U.S. may be given "preferential treatment in contract negotiations in a sign of gratitude" for having toppled the old government.

The state-owned oil and natural gas resources that allowed Iraqis to enjoy rapid social and economic development in the past are slated to be turned over to foreign oil companies. Their profits will not be used for the development of Iraq, but to reward investors back home.

Iraqi officials are now working with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which helps promote U.S. investment overseas. U.S. taxpayers fund OPIC, which in turn provides loan guarantees to U.S. corporations so they cannot fail to benefit and profit from investments in foreign countries. This accelerates the tempo and pace of U.S. foreign investment in Iraq, even before the security situation has been resolved.

Using the OPIC loan guarantees as the ultimate cushion, the Bush administration is signaling U.S. corporations and the oil monopolies that "You can invest in Iraq right now, because, if the investment goes sour, U.S. taxpayers will bail you out." In short, the Bush administration is racing to reorganize the entire Iraqi economy, including the formerly state-run oil industry, prior to the creation of a politically "sovereign" Iraq.

The so-called transition period is nothing more than the de facto looting and plunder of Iraq by the U.S. Occupation Authority. This is no secret. Yet the UN Security Council, in the resolution adopted on May 22, gave the Occupation Authority full legal status and full control over the reorganization of Iraq's economy.

On the same day that the UN resolved to give the U.S. Occupation Authority full control over Iraq, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13303 that provides full immunity to all U.S. oil companies and other energy corporations investing in Iraqi oil. The order explains that U.S. oil companies must be exempt and given immunity from all lawsuits because any potential lawsuit "obstructs the orderly reconstruction of Iraq."

Iraq's constitution under the Baathist government insulated the country from some of the worst features of what is now called globalization. These constitutional measures are being scrapped by decree and edict under the new authority prior to the formation of a new government.

Under the previous constitution, foreign investment in Iraq was restricted to resident citizens of Arab countries. On Sept. 19, the Coalition Provisional Authority issued Order #39 that permits 100- percent foreign ownership and management in most Iraqi business entities.

On Sept. 21, Iraqi Minister of Finance Kamel Al-Gailani--also hand- picked by Bremer--announced that new foreign owners of Iraqi companies would be permitted "full remittance of profits, dividends, interest and royalties" to investors from their home countries. Instead of Iraq's wealth being used to finance domestic development, it will be sucked out by transnational corporations.

Foreign banks that were barred from Iraq will now be allowed to "enter Iraq as branches, subsidiaries," according to the Sept. 21 decree on finance reform. The decree also "permits six foreign banks to purchase up to 100 percent of local banks within the next five years."

These facts taken together should indicate that the U.S. occupation of Iraq cannot be compared in any way to a genuine humanitarian effort. What is happening, to be honest, is the economic recolonization of Iraq.

U.S. soldiers and their families, many of whom marched in Washington on Oct. 25, are coming into the anti-war movement because they now realize they have been lied to by the Bush administration. Many were willing to risk death and injury when they believed the president's assertion that Iraq posed a grave and imminent danger to the people of the United States. Having learned that this was a lie, the idea of sacrificing even one more life becomes too much to bear.

Why should U.S. soldiers or any foreign soldiers be put in a situation where they must kill and be killed for a brazen colonial project? These soldiers want to come home, not tomorrow but today. The Iraqi people through myriad forms of resistance, both armed and peaceful, have shown they want the foreign occupation of their country to end now.

By fully embracing the slogan "Bring the troops home now, end the occupation of Iraq," the antiwar movement sends a message to both the Iraqi people and U.S. soldiers. It affirms support for the basic right of self-determination for Iraq, while saying to U.S. soldiers: This is a rich man's war. Your lives and your dignity are too precious to be used as cannon fodder for imperialism.

Becker is a member of the national steering committee of ANSWER.


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