'W' Is for Withdrawal

08/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"From now on, the war they started is ours."

Seemingly these words of an Iraqi soldier, noted in a Guardian U.K. story, were uttered in pride. This was on June 30: National Sovereignty Day, the day U.S. troops withdrew from Iraqi cities. Sorry, but it sounds more like someone enthusing over a case of venereal disease.

Oh national sovereignty! Could its inadequacies as a concept -- as a means of dividing and governing the human race -- be more painfully exposed than in Iraq on its day of faux-celebration? Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki got his chance to strut and reclaim some of the old glory from the, ahem, Saddam era. Fireworks went off. Troops marched in review. Trucks hauling scud missiles were part of the day's show-and-tell.

"The war-ravaged state's new military and police force rolled around the giant war memorial that its executed president built," the Guardian article explained.

"Yesterday's parade started and finished near Saddam's crossed swords. . . . Iraq's new leaders seemed willing to stake a claim on their country's former glory, but not by stirring too many ghosts of its past."

Iraq is still America's sovereign lackey: broken and smoldering. Some 130,000 U.S. troops remain in the country, withdrawn for the most part to the permanent bases we've built over the last six years. The country's infrastructure is shattered, and shocking bursts of violence remain a common occurrence: 30 or so dead in Kirkuk from a car bomb the day before the big withdrawal, or W Day. In recent weeks, even more devastating blasts, generating horrific death tolls -- 81 here, 78 there -- continued to add new meaning to that quintessential American expression of indifference, "ho hum."

As I recall, when we launched our little war on terror, we were championing not only democracy but women's rights -- or was that only in Afghanistan? In any case, as Jodie Evans of Code Pink reported, six years of U.S. occupation have left women's rights dead in the desert.

"Just six years ago," Evans writes, "only the old and very religious were covered, women were employed everywhere and Baghdad University was bustling with young women. Now it is bleak. Zainab (Salbi, of Women for Women International) was able to go uncovered, but it is still mandatory for the Iraqi women. Most businesses she visited had no women working, not to say they did not try, but they're just fired within days. Some older women were able to keep their jobs but young women have no way in. . . . Women, young women, have been sent back to the dark ages."

Now, Evans adds, the only flourishing work for women is prostitution -- often against their will. Young women -- teens, preteens -- may be abducted, "sold," shipped abroad, used as prostitutes till they're used up, then shipped back to Iraq, where, lacking papers, they often wind up in prison. Oh, and prostitution-related abortions are also way up in liberated and sovereign Iraq.

And lest we forget, when U.S. troops were on the job, before the Iraqi army was quite ready to step up and take responsibility, a million or so civilians -- no one knows for sure, no one was counting -- died in the invasion and occupation. And this doesn't include the increase in cancers, neurological diseases, birth defects and such, the inevitable consequence of war's toxic waste, including depleted uranium munitions.

And the future for sovereign Iraq? An AP analysis quotes an estimate by Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations that, if full-scale civil war erupts, the civilian death toll could be as high as 2 million. "Given its role in precipitating the war in Iraq, the United States would bear special responsibility for such a catastrophe," Biddle wrote.

Special responsibility! That's the closest I've seen any mainstream analysis come to hinting that America in its ideological heedlessness has loosed tectonic forces in Iraq, or come to suggesting that what goes around comes around.

To pretend that Iraq is sovereign -- to pretend that there's such a thing as "Iraq" at this point, stalwart, gutsy, ready at last to take responsibility for its own defense -- is just the latest insulting verbal Quonset hut the Washington military-political-media establishment has constructed for its own temporary shelter.

Meanwhile, the puppet prime minister of Iraq half-pretends to be Saddam Hussein himself and that glorious national unity is just around the corner. Behold our scud missiles! And as the missiles lumber past, sweat-drenched young men, so the Washington Post reports, chant, "Out, America, out!"

Truly, my fellow Americans, this is a moment to savor: the culmination of all the sacrifices we've made, the hardships we've endured, the multi-trillions we've poured into the sand. Now it's your turn, Iraq. We've given you a war. Make the most of it.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.

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