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UNITED FOR PEACE OF PIERCE COUNTY

"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."

On the Course of the War in Iraq

August 26, 2004

The war provoked by the invasion of Iraq goes on. The so-called transfer of "sovereignty" executed in a small private ceremony behind closed doors on June 28, 2004, two days before the pre-announced date (out of fear of attacks), has had the desired effect of permitting the State Department and the Pentagon to pretend that the real decisions for the future of the Iraqi people are being made not in Washington, D.C., but in Baghdad. It has permitted the nation's media to package the bad news from Iraq differently and less prominently. But to the American men and women who are dying in Iraq, the transfer of "sovereignty" has made little difference. It seems a sort of cruel joke, like the U.S. mission's name, "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

We think of these American deaths, whose number stands today at 970 and will soon pass 1,000, as tragic, because although they were unnecessary, they were, in some sense, foredoomed, caused by decisions that had little to do with them as individuals. Many of the Americans are expressing, in dying, high and admirable ideals. On page 24 of Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War (Putnam, 2004), a book discussed earlier this month in Digging Deeper, a weekly book discussion series conducted by United for Peace of Pierce County, Evan Wright wrote this about contemporary American marines: "What unites them is an almost reckless desire to test themselves in the most extreme circumstances. In many respects the life they have chosen is a complete rejection of the hyped, consumerist American dream as it is dished out in reality TV shows and pop-song lyrics. They've chosen asceticism over consumption. Instead of celebrating their individualism, theyíve subjugated theirs to the collective will of an institution. Their highest aspiration is self-sacrifice over self-preservation."

A web site calling itself Iraq Coalition Casualty Count scrupulously tracks this irreplaceable loss of precious American lives on an hour-by-hour basis. There, a table shows month by month the average number of U.S. military fatalities in Iraq per day since the March 19, 2003, invasion. It is a vivid demonstration of the failure of U.S. policy in Iraq, as well as of the failure of the transfer of "sovereignty" to satisfy Iraqis -- tens of thousands of whom have died in the war, including at least 11,700 civilians, according to the web site Iraq Body Count -- that they are now in control of their own destiny.

Since the beginning of August, the holy city of Najaf has been racked with fighting between U.S. troops and Iraqis. Tonight though, prospects for peace in Najaf are bright. Earlier today, only hours after the Ayatollah Sistani arrived in the holy city of Najaf, site of the shrine of the Imam Ali -- the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Mohammed and the founder of Shi'ism --, BBC World News reported that the ayatollah's spokesman announced an agreement with Moqtada al-Sadr at a press conference, according to which the Mahdi Army is to leave the shrine by 10:00 a.m. Friday local time. Al-Sadr's men have promised to disarm as they leave, but since journalists reported that Mahdi Army fighters out of respect for the sanctity of the site carried no weapons in the shrine, this part of the agreement is not likely to be of much significance. Al-Sadr himself is to remain free, and may participate in the political process, according to an the agreement that the Iraqi government has accepted. After three weeks of intense urban combat, the city is said to be quiet tonight.

But the peaceful resolution of the situation in Najaf, if it holds, is no cause for optimism. With each confrontation with Iraqi and U.S. authorities, Moqtada al-Sadr, a young religious figure whose popularity derives largely from the fact that he has always resisted the legitimacy of U.S. power in Iraq, grows stronger. In April, the Coalition Provisional Authority promised to "capture or kill" Moqtada al-Sadr. Now the CPA no longer exists, and Moqtada al-Sadr is stronger than ever. Many times in recent weeks, the government of Iyad Allawi has vowed that negotiations with al-Sadr were over and his Mahdi Army would be crushed. Soon, perhaps, the government of Iyad Allawi may go the way of the Coalition Provisional Authority that created it, and Moqtada al-Sadr may still be there, an authentic voice of the national self-determination to which the United States pays lip service but will not accept.

What should the United States do, with about 140,000 troops in Iraq (the true number is unknown, since the number of Special Forces is classified) -- enough to prevail in any battle, but unable to prevail politically? Many are now saying that although we should not be there, we cannot responsibly leave.

U.S. policies in the 21st century often seem to be characterized by their defiance of elementary notions of morality and justice. Two wrongs do not make a right -- but many Americans imagine that it can be right for our military to continue to occupy a country where it was wrong for it to go in the first place. No one should be judge in their own cause -- but many Americans believe that the Pentagon is capable of judging its own misdeeds in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you -- yet millions of Americans take for granted that the United States should dictate to others policies that it would never be willing to accept for itself. No human beings should be tortured -- unless the American government declares them evil. The Bill of Rights embodies universal principles of justice that it is America's mission to foster in the world for all people -- except for those the U.S. president designates "enemy combatants." And so on.

In a recent exchange of letters, Tom Engelhardt wrote to author Jonathan Schell: "Part of our problem, I suspect, lies in conceiving of an empire-less world . . . .We don't quite know what to do without the idea of empire. We simply can't imagine a functional world that lacks the imperial element . . . . A world without its sheriff still seems a fearsome prospect to us. . . . Whether we hate the global policeman or love him, all we can imagine is a kind of chaos without him, not the possibility of new kinds of order as yet unimagined (and perhaps still unimaginable), as yet, as youíve said to me many times, 'to be invented.' "

UFPPC is dedicated to imagining, and working toward, such a world. Our mission statement rejects unilateral military action as the basis of U.S. national security. We are convinced that the security and foreign policies that have been pursued by the Bush administration are recipes for disaster that are making us more insecure with every passing day.

The war in Iraq goes on, and so does the struggle against it.

UNITED FOR PEACE OF PIERCE COUNTY

"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."