Published on April 30, 2005 by the Miami Herald / Florida
Two years have passed since President Bush stood atop an aircraft carrier (May 1, 2003) and announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq. Since that "mission accomplished" photo-op, more than 1,400 U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqi civilians have died. And just recently, the Pentagon acknowledged that insurgent attacks have again increased to last year's levels of some 400 attacks per week.
But the Bush administration continues to claim that Iraq is on the road to recovery, especially now that a new government has been elected. Having traveled to Iraq numerous times in the past three years, what strikes me is how different the opinions of Iraqi people on the street are from the opinions of Iraqis in the government.
On the streets, Iraqis rail against the United States for creating the instability and chaos that plague the country, subjecting them to daily humiliations at checkpoints and in house raids and using their oil money to line the pockets of U.S. companies like Halliburton instead of rebuilding Iraq. They often refer to the U.S. occupation of their country as "the new Saddam."
A Zogby poll taken a week before the Jan. 30 Iraqi election showed just how unpopular U.S. forces are: 69 percent of Shiites and 82 percent of Sunnis want U.S. forces to withdraw "either immediately or after an elected government is in place."
But the new leaders of the Iraqi government -- the ones whose voices are heard in the U.S. media -- insist that U.S. forces will have to stay in the country until enough Iraqi security forces are trained. Even the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite party that took an anti-occupation position in its platform and handily won the most seats in the new constitutional assembly, now says that U.S. troops should stay. Here in the United States, there is a similar disconnect between the political leadership and the general public on the question of whether U.S. troops should stay in Iraq. Politicians -- both Republican and Democrat -- say that the troops shouldn't come home until the country has been stabilized.
The Senate recently voted unanimously to allocate $82 billion for the war, and even former anti-war Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean told an ACLU dinner in Minnesota on April 20 that, ''Now that we're there (in Iraq), we're there and we can't get out.'' Surprisingly, while policy-makers are afraid to have a real discussion about leaving Iraq, a majority of Americans have come to the conclusion that it's time for the troops to come home. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted April 21-24 found that 58 percent of Americans say that the United States has gotten bogged down in Iraq, 60 percent don't think that Iraq will have a stable, democratic government a year from now and 54 percent say the war with Iraq was not worth fighting.
The majority of Americans and Iraqis want to end the occupation. We now have to make our elected leaders -- both in the United States and in Iraq -- reflect our will. Our mission will truly be accomplished when our troops come home and Iraqis are given the chance to rebuild their beleaguered nation.
Medea Benjamin is founding director of the human-rights group Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace.