Only end of occupation can restore self-determination!
The author is an Iraq war veteran.
On the heels of the Status of Forces Agreement, the Iraqi flag was raised for the first time since the 2003 invasion in a symbolic handover of the Green Zone to the Iraqi government.
The Green Zone is a 5.6-square-mile community along the west side of the Tigris River in central Baghdad. It is home to roughly 30,000 residents, including 14,000 U.S. and coalition forces. For nearly six years, the Green Zone has been used to paint a picture of stability and U.S. success in Iraq. When U.S. and foreign politicians visit occupied Iraq, they stroll around the Green Zone, being shown beautiful gardens and lavish palaces that paint a picture of a safe and successful occupation.
But the Green Zone itself is nothing more than a public relations prop and a headquarters for the military brass, private military contractors, and Western corporations to conduct their affairs in luxury. It is off limits to most Iraqi citizens.
Its relative safety is due to a 13-foot concrete wall, miles of barbed wire, machine gun nests every few hundred meters and tightly controlled entry points. Anyone entering the Green Zone is searched thoroughly with high-tech devices such as body scanners. While the Green Zone is frequently attacked from outside with rockets and mortars, there have been few attacks within its walls due to the overwhelming security measures.
The situation just outside the walls of the Green Zone is drastically different. The Green Zone sits in one of the areas where the Iraqi resistance is strongest. Residents outside its walls must cope daily with the severe manifestations of the occupation-extreme poverty and violence.
With U.S. officials coordinating every aspect of Iraqi governance from within its walls, the Green Zone has long been a symbol of U.S. colonial occupation in Iraq. But now, in a move to further tout the occupation, the Green Zone is being manipulated to become a symbol of Iraqi sovereignty.
The handover of the Green Zone, in fact, does nothing except place Iraqi guards in charge of security. Essentially, the “sovereignty” heralded by the handover only gives the Iraqi security forces backed by Washington the sovereignty to protect their occupiers as they continue business as usual within its walls.
Public spectacle changes nothing
Still, Iraq’s puppet president, al-Maliki, declared Jan. 1 a national holiday titled “Sovereignty Day.” A banner at the transition ceremony read in Arabic, “Receiving the security of the Green Zone is a major step toward full independence and the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.” Once the ceremony concluded, the banner was taken down, and behind it was a sign listing a set of rules created by the U.S. military. (Washington Post, Jan. 1)
While the Iraqi security force in the Green Zone-the “Baghdad Brigade”-has supposedly been put in charge, that too is a farce. The Baghdad Brigade is under direct control of President al-Maliki-a U.S. puppet whose government would collapse without Washington’s backing. Furthermore, U.S. forces will continue to be in direct control of security for the next 90 days, at which point the arrangement will be “re-evaluated.” While the Status of Forces Agreement mandates that U.S. forces in the Green Zone come under Iraqi control, U.S. officials have acknowledged that how and when that will happen is uncertain, and unlikely for the time being.
Even if the Baghdad Brigade does officially control security in the Green Zone, it will only be under the strict watchful eye of the U.S. forces. Baghdad Brigade commander Brigadier General Emad al-Zuhairi said, “The Americans will supervise us.” (Washington Post, Jan. 1)
Majid Mola, a resident of Baghdad, commented on how he viewed the newly gained “sovereignty”: “Where are the government services? Where is the electricity? People want practical things.” (Reuters, Jan. 1)
The handover of the Green Zone serves only to improve the public image of a brutal occupation that has killed more than 1 million Iraqis, displaced 4.5 million more, and plunged the Iraqi population into deep poverty. The symbolic handover should be seen for what it is: a public-relations ploy detached from the reality on the ground. While the Iraqi flag now flies over the hub of the occupation, nothing has changed for the Iraqi people.
Raising the Iraqi flag is a symbolic step that brings Iraqis no closer to sovereignty, but is a real step towards cementing U.S. imperialism’s geopolitical and economic goals. Real sovereignty requires an immediate end to U.S. occupation and intervention-a goal the Iraqi people have bravely been fighting for, and for which they deserve our full support.
Perhaps, I was not alone. I stood watching the images and listening to the discussion; I was mesmerized. Senator and Presidential candidate John McCain stood, straight faced, and stated, Iraq, specifically the Green Zone is safe. Perchance the Wizard, the once magical McCain, is hiding behind the curtain, oblivious to the strife that exists daily in the world of Oz.
Michael Ware, Cable News Network Correspondent has spent more than one short day in the Emerald City. He rebuffs the senior Senators claim. The battle is on, or perhaps, it is only continuing. Is the mission in Iraq accomplished or aggravated by the presence of America troops. Stay tuned.
Wolf Blitzer, of Cable News network offered an introduction to his interview with the esteemed Senator McCain. Notably, the Presidential candidate McCain ends his commentary by chastising the Journalist.
Senator John McCain [R], Arizona: You know that’s where you ought to catch up on things, Wolf. General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee. I think you ought to catch up.
After, this snippet, Wolf Blitzer resigns himself and remarks . . .
Still ahead tonight here in The Situation Room, our man in Baghdad wonders if Senator John McCain is living in Neverland.
We, the audience are then introduced to Michael Ware, war Correspondent in Iraq. We hear him state . . .
Ware: To suggest that there’s any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. I’d love Senator McCain to tell me where that neighborhood is and he and I can go for a stroll.
The segment is followed by another. The Senator suggests . . .
McCain: If I’m wrong, you’ve got a lot more problems than anything it does to my political reputation.
It seems we have trouble, right here in the Emerald City. We also have deep dilemmas in the United States. The divide in the States is evident to us, citizens of America. However, what is a world away is less so. Who might we believe, a beleaguered Presidential candidate, or the press, Michael Ware a Cable News Network Correspondent stationed in Iraq.
Our elder statesman loudly proclaims that a surge is and has been sufficient, that peace is found within the Iraqi borders, within Baghdad. Yet, we watch as the United Nation Secretary General Ban Ki-moon flinches in the face of bombing in the Green Zone. We hear haranguing tales. Still, a former prisoner of war declares, there is no need for distress. Everything is working well. There is no reason for concern. Oh really?
I offer the transcript of the interviews, the intial discussion with Senator John McCain of Arizona, and the ensuing dialogue with Reporter, Michael Ware, postioned and holding on for dear life in Iraq. Dear reader, you decide.
I’m Wolf Blitzer. You’re in The Situation Room. Tonight, Democrats say they’re taking a new step toward bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq. The Senate voted 50-48 in support of a timetable for withdrawal of the U.S. forces in defiance of a presidential veto threat, but some Republicans calling it a surrender date.
The debate is weighing very heavily on the race for the White House and Republican Senator John McCain. I pressed the Arizona Republican about his support for the president’s troop buildup and Democrats demands to begin a pullout. But the Democrats, or at least some of them are saying, you know what, let’s say you’re right. Maybe you give them another year, the Iraqis — it’s now year five of this war — give them another year to get their act together, strengthen their military, strengthen their police force, strengthen their whole political environment there and then you begin to leave. Do you think they can get their act together over the next year?
McCain: I’m sure. I’m confident that they can to a large degree, but that’s like saying after the Korean War, after we had a cease-fire that we would immediately pull out. We kept our troops there and we keep them there as a stabilizing force. I think that there’s no doubt that we may require troops there for a long period of time, a long period of time, but at the same time we can achieve success and American troops withdraw from the front battle lines…
Blitzer: How much time do you think, Senator, the Iraqis need to be really in charge of their own security?
McCain: I don’t know the answer to that. And when I venture a guess, then we have a date for withdrawal. What I’m saying is we are achieving success. The key to it is not U.S. presence. It’s U.S. casualties and if we can keep U.S. casualties down as we did after the Korean War, obviously, Americans won’t mind that and Americans have got to understand the consequences of failure.
Failure is catastrophe. Failure is genocide. Failure means we come back. Failure means they follow us home. The consequences of failure that one of the most disingenuous — two disingenuous aspects about the Democrats’ position — one is what do you do if we leave? What do you do if Iraq deteriorates into chaos? And second, if you really feel this way, if you really feel it, then bring them home tomorrow. That’s the intellectually honorable thing to do.
Blitzer: Here’s the latest poll in the “USA Today”/Gallop poll asked about setting a timetable for withdrawal by fall of 2008. Sixty percent say they favor such a timetable. Thirty-eight percent say they oppose it. You would be in the 38 percent. Why is the American public or at least the majority of the American public disagreeing with you?
McCain: Because the American public is frustrated and angry and saddened by our failure and mismanagement of the war for nearly four years. And they would like to see us be out of there, but they also want us to succeed. You know better than I do, it’s how you ask the questions in a poll.
If I ask the question, if I can show you a path to success that involves maintaining a U.S. presence there for an extended period, you have 80 percent of the American people say yes, if we can show them path for success. And Joe Lieberman could never have been reelected in Connecticut if it was as clear cut as some describe it that Americans just want us out. Because his opponent, clearly that was his position.
Blitzer: If the situation a year from now, Senator, is what it is basically today, what will that say to you? McCain: It won’t be. It won’t be. It will be better or worse. No military person…
Blitzer: Well, what if it is worse?
McCain: Then obviously we are going to have to examine a set of bad options. But I’m confident it won’t be. I’m confident hell won’t freeze over. I’m confident we can succeed if we stay with this strategy. And if I’m wrong, we have got a lot more problems than anything it does to my political reputation.
Blitzer: Here’s what you told Bill Bennett on his radio show on Monday. “There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today. The U.S. is beginning to succeed in Iraq.” Everything we hear, that if you leave the so-called Green Zone, the international zone, and you go outside of that secure area, relatively speaking, you’re in trouble if you’re an American.
McCain: You know, that’s where you ought to catch up on things, Wolf. General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in a non-armed Humvee. I think you ought to catch up. You see, you are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it.
You certainly don’t get it through the filter of some of the media. But I know for a fact that much of the success we’re experiencing, including the ability of Americans in many parts. Not all. We have got a long, long way to go. We have only got two of the five brigades there to go into some neighbors in Baghdad in a secure fashion.
Blitzer: Let me refer to a few of your colleagues in the Senate and the House. Chuck Hagel, John Murtha, former Senator Max Cleland, the current Senator Jim Webb, they’re all like you, Vietnam War veterans. You say this is potentially a worse situation if the U.S. were to withdraw from Iraq as opposed to when the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam. Why are — because they’re saying, just get out, basically, and you’re saying you have got to say. Why do you think these Vietnam War veterans, decorated just as you are, disagree?
McCain: Well, because I hope that all of our experience, knowledge, background, and decision-making is not driven by the experience of the Vietnam War. I hope it’s an accumulation of all the training, experience, and knowledge I had, including 22 years in the military and 24 years in the Congress and the Senate. But, look, don’t take my word for it that they’ll follow us home.
Look at what they say. Look what bin Laden says. Look what Zarqawi says. Look at what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said at his tribunal down in Guantanamo. They all say the same things. Go on their Web sites. They’ll tell you. They want to follow us home. We’re their enemy. They’re the ones we want to destroy. They win in Iraq the way they won in Beirut and the way that they won in Somalia, then they will be following us home. Again, it’s not my stated — not from anything I’ve written or said. It’s what they’re saying and writing. (END VIDEOTAPE)
Blitzer: So is Baghdad really getting safer? A very different view of the reality there from our own reporter on the ground who says Senator McCain couldn’t be more wrong. Let’s go back to CNN’s Michael Ware. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
Well, Senator John McCain states his claim and offers a defense against attack from the press vetted on the war-front. You may have noticed this statement, embedded his ample and rosy assessment, “You certainly don’t get it through the filter of some of the media.” I guess we do not. It is difficult to imagine what life is like when missiles are whizzing overhead. When bombs blast and that seems so ordinary that we do not move, though we hear the sound of a projectile hitting its target only yards away from our feet, admittedly, we do not understand.
However, we can try to imagine what life is like for those living amongst the barrage of bombs and the people as they panic in the streets. The voices we hear that have firsthand experience may be working with the media. Still, as the images race by on our screens, as we see the strife from a safe distance, we can only surmise, this seems authentic. At least it does to this writer. I believe a war Correspondent has more credibility than Senator McCain. I wonder; has the Senator forgotten what it means to be on the front. Michael Ware may wish he could.
Journalist Wolf Blitzer turns to Mister Ware and ask for his appraisal. I watch as he introduces the topic. I see Ware look on and listen to McCain’s words. I witness his raised brow and I am anticipating. Will this mainstream media reporter offer a stilted evaluation. Will he underestimate so as not to upset Americans or the White House or will he do as he did.
Blitzer: Michael, you’ve been there, what, for four years. You’re walking around Baghdad on a daily basis. Has there been this improvement that Senator McCain is speaking about?
Michael Ware, CNN, Correspondent: Well, I’d certainly like to bring Senator McCain up to speed, if he ever gives me the opportunity. And if I have any difficulty hearing you right now, Wolf, that’s because of the helicopter circling overhead and the gun battle that is blazing just a few blocks down the road. Is Baghdad any safer? Sectarian violence, one particular type of violence, is down. But none of the American generals here on the ground have anything like Senator McCain’s confidence.
I mean, Senator McCain’s credibility now on Iraq, which has been so solid to this point, has now been left out hanging to dry. To suggest that there’s any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. I’d love Senator McCain to tell me where that neighborhood is and he and I can go for a stroll. And to think that General David Petraeus travels this city in an unarmed Humvee?
I mean, in the hour since Senator McCain has said this, I’ve spoken to some military sources, and there was laughter down the line. I mean, certainly, the general travels in a Humvee.
There are multiple Humvees around it, heavily armed. There are attack helicopters, Predator drones, sniper teams, all sorts of layers of protection. So, no, Senator McCain is way off base on this one — Wolf.
Blitzer: Michael, when Senator McCain says that there are at least some areas of Baghdad where people can walk around and whether it’s General Petraeus, the U.S. military commander, or others, are there at least some areas where you could emerge outside of the Green Zone, the international zone, where people can go out, go to a coffee shop, go to a restaurant, and simply take a stroll?
Ware: I can answer this very quickly, Wolf. No. No way on Earth can a Westerner, particularly an American, stroll any street of this capital of more than 5 million people. I mean, if al Qaeda doesn’t get wind of you, or if one of the Sunni insurgent groups don’t descend upon you, or if someone doesn’t tip off a Shia militia, then the nearest criminal gang is just going to see dollar signs and scoop you up. Honestly, Wolf, you’d barely last 20 minutes out there. I don’t know what part of Neverland Senator McCain is talking about when he says we can go strolling in Baghdad. (END VIDEOTAPE)
Blitzer: And we have just learned that two Americans were killed tonight in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.
Swoooh! A moment of truth, or so I believe. We may laugh at the striking contrast in views. People safely in the states might debate the conflict. Perchance we can relax around our round tables or sit in Senate seats and muse, ‘What might we do?’ congress claims to care. They are setting dates for an allied and American exit. Still soldiers and civilians are slaughtered daily. “Do we need more time to see if this strategy will work?” asks Michael Ware. He rhetorically answers his own query, “No!” Ware states, “It is in no one’s interest to change their minds.” Perhaps, that is the problem.
You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it.
~ Albert Einstein