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How to Get Out of Iraq

Any "practical" approach to the situation in Iraq, any prescription for what to do now, must start with the understanding that the present US military occupation is morally unacceptable. Amnesty International, a year after the invasion, reported: "Scores of unarmed people have been killed due to excessive or unnecessary use of lethal force by coalition forces during public demonstrations, at checkpoints and in house raids. Thousands of people have been detained [estimates range from 8,500 to 15,000, often under harsh conditions] and subjected to prolonged and often unacknowledged detention. Many have been tortured or ill-treated and some have died in custody." The prospect, if the occupation continues, whether by the United States or by an international force (as John Kerry seems to be proposing), is of continued suffering and death for both Iraqis and Americans.

The history of military occupations of Third World countries is that they bring neither democracy nor security. The laments that "we mustn't cut and run," "we must stay the course," our "reputation" will be imperiled, etc., are exactly what we heard when at the start of the Vietnam escalation some of us called for immediate withdrawal. The result of staying the course was 58,000 Americans and several million Vietnamese dead.

The only rational argument for continuing on the present course is that things will be worse if we leave. In Vietnam, they promised a bloodbath if we left. That did not happen. It was said that if we did not drop the bomb on Hiroshima, we would have to invade Japan and huge casualties would follow. We know now and knew then that this was not true. The truth is, no one knows what will happen if the United States withdraws. We face a choice between the certainty of mayhem if we stay, and the uncertainty of what will follow if we leave.


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What would be a reasonably good scenario to accompany our departure? The UN should arrange, as US forces leave, for an international group of peacekeepers and negotiators from the Arab countries to bring together Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and work out a solution for self-governance that would give all three groups a share in political power. Simultaneously, the UN should arrange for shipments of food and medicine, from the United States and other countries, as well as engineers to help rebuild the country.

The one thing to be avoided is for the United States, which destroyed Iraq and caused perhaps a million deaths through two invasions and ten years of sanctions, to play any leading role in the future of that country. In that case, terrorism would surely flourish. It is for the United States to withdraw from Iraq. It is for the international community, particularly the Arab world, to try to reconstruct a nation at peace. That gives the Iraqi people a chance. Continued US occupation gives them no chance.

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn (August 24, 1922 - January 27, 2010) was a historian, playwright, and activist. Howard authored many books, including A People’s History of the United States,” “Voices of a People’s History (with Anthony Arnove), and A Power Governments Cannot Suppress."

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