What Iraqis Really Think about the Occupation
Tuesday 11 October 2005
The lack of critical media coverage at the beginning of the Iraq War is widely acknowledged. But the media's failure to cover Iraqi voices of opposition is arguably a greater default.
The mainstream media convey the impression that there are two categories of Iraqis-the handful of fanatical jihadist terrorists and the majority who showed their yearning to be free during January's election. In this paradigm, our troops are seen as defending, even cultivating, a nascent democracy. Not surprisingly, a Fox News poll in February revealed that 53 percent of Americans believed the Iraqis wanted our troops to stay while only 35 percent thought the Iraqis wanted us to leave.
To a public fed this distorted narrative and nothing more, the actual facts may be too jarring to believe. There has been little or no coverage of these realities:
A majority of Iraqis in polls favor US military withdrawal and an end of the occupation. At the time of January's election, 69 percent of Shiites and 82 percent of Sunnis favored "near-term withdrawal." Surveys done for the Coalition Provisional Authority in June 2004 showed that a 55 percent majority "would feel safer if US troops left immediately."
A recent summary of numerous Iraqi surveys, by the independent Project on Defense Alternatives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, concluded that a majority of Iraqis "oppose the US presence in Iraq, and those who strongly oppose it greatly outnumber those who strongly support it." The PDA report went on to say that "the fact that [these surveys] have played little role in the public discourse on the Iraqi mission imperils US policy and contributes to the present impasse."
The only Iraqis who strongly support the US occupation are the Kurds, less than 20 percent of the population whose semi-autonomous status is protected by the United States, and who are represented disproportionately in the Iraqi regime. By backing the Kurds and southern Shiites, the United States is intervening in a sectarian civil war. The US-trained Iraqi security forces are dominated by Kurdish and Shiite militias.
In mid-September of this year, the eighteen-member National Sovereignty Committee in the US-sponsored Iraqi parliament issued a unanimous report calling for the end of occupation.
In June, more than 100 members of the same parliament, or more than one-third, signed a letter calling for "the departure of the occupation." They criticized their regime for bypassing parliament in obtaining an extension of authority from the United Nations Security Council.
In January, US intelligence agencies warned in a "grim tone" that the newly elected Iraqi regime would demand a timetable for US withdrawal, which indeed was the platform of the winning Shiite party. After the election, nothing came of the worry. The winners simply abandoned the campaign pledge that helped elect them.
In June, the former electricity minister of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Aihim Al-Sammarae, created an organization to begin dialogue with eleven insurgent groups. The London Times reported that high-ranking US military officials joined one round of talks.
In 2004, twenty Iraqi political parties formed a National Foundation Congress to become a public voice for withdrawal. In May 2005 it held a second Congress, releasing a three-point platform demanding a withdrawal timetable, an interim international peacekeeping force, and internationally supervised elections.
Virtually none of these realities have been reported in the American media, with the exception of articles by Nancy Youssef of Knight-Ridder.
These various Iraqi peacemakers deserve to be heard by Congress and the American people. Some of them are risking their lives. Al-Sammarae reportedly discovered a car bomb next to his Baghdad home. Another high-status Iraqi leader, who asked that his name not be used, wrote of being "active in trying to bring the US & UK embassies to negotiate with heads of the opposition in Iraq...[but] unfortunately had been dismissed by representatives of both countries. He did meet with some of the US senators who visited Baghdad some time ago and suggested ideas but it seemed that no one was really interested in settling the issue and military force was believed to be the only means of stopping the uprising and insurgency."
What could account for the failure of the mainstream media either to report these facts or interview these respected opponents of the war? There are apologists like Charles Krauthammer, who falsely asserted in the Washington Post that "there is no one to negotiate with," as if military suppression is the only option. But what accounts for the failure of more objective reporters to notice what is before their eyes? Are they embedded in the biased assumptions of empire? Supportive of the American troops? Blinded by the paradigms presented them?
From its beginning, this war has been one of perception. Perhaps the media elites, whose collaboration with the Pentagon gave public justification during the 2003 invasion, now worry that if they report that a majority of the Iraqis we are supposedly "saving from terrorism" are actually calling for our departure, any remaining support for the war will collapse.