Congratulations to my Iraqi friends on the occasion of the significant (if not quite total) withdrawal of US military occupation rule from your cities and towns that has been taking place today according to the November 2008 Withdrawal Agreement between our two governments.
I wish you all the very best as you continue working to reconstruct lives, communities, and a nation that have been harmed very severely indeed by the actions and decisions of my government and its military (as well as by others.)
I am so sorry that we in the peace movement were unable to prevent the disastrous (and lie-based) decision our government took to invade your country in 2003. We tried, but we were not strong enough.
I hope that the rest of the US withdrawal, as mandated in the Withdrawal Agreement, goes ahead smoothly.
The PDF of the Agreement’s text can now be found here.) It stipulates, Article 24 (1) that:
- All United States forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.
I hope, additionally, that we in the US peace movement can work effectively with our fellow citizens here to persuade our government to pay due reparations to your country for the harm we have caused you– though of course many of these harms can never be adequately “repaired.” The 600,000-plus Iraqi citizens killed by and as a result of the US invasion and occupation cannot be brought back to life. I mourn the loss of their lives and send compassion and love to the family members and friends they left behind.
But our government is now, even if with painful slowness, doing the right thing in withdrawing the troops and ending their occupation of your country. We shall try to make sure the rest of the withdrawal occurs according to, or in advance of, the agreed timetable.
Foreign military occupation is always, in itself, a major infringement of the rights of the residents of the area occupied. How could it be otherwise when military rule is established over an entire civilian population– and this military is, furthermore, in no way directly accountable to or connected by ties of common nationality to the residents of the occupied area?
As we Americans withdraw our military occupation regime from Iraq, we must equally work to ensure that Israel, a state to which we have given– and continue to give– an extraordinary level of all kinds of support, likewise speedily ends the military occupation regime that it has maintained for 42 years over the residents of the non-Israeli territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan; and that it withdraws its troops from those areas back inside its own borders.
The US has committed many bad–indeed, under international law, illegal– acts during its six years of occupation so far in Iraq. These included the mass detentions and the major abuses in the detention facilities; the complete (and quite illegal) transformation of the political and economic order in the country; use of excessive force in numerous military engagements; and so on.
However, one violation of international law it did not commit was to seek to implant its own citizens as settlers inside Iraq.
During Israel’s 42-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza it has committed all or nearly all of the same abuses the US committed in Iraq. (Including, after the free and fair Palestinian election of January 2006, it decided to work to overthrow the results of that election; and outrageously, it received full backing from Washington in that endeavor.) But in addition to all those violations of international law, successive Israeli governments since 1967 have also worked systematically to implant large numbers of their own citizens into the occupied areas.
This has constituted a major and ongoing infraction of the natural rights of the Palestinians and the Golani Syrians to the free use of their own land’s resources. It has also made the act of withdrawing from the occupied areas, as international law stipulates must happen, that much harder for any Israeli government to contemplate. But that is the fault of all those Israeli citizens who for 42 years now have participated in, profited from, supported, or condoned the settlers’ project. Now, Israelis need to take the settlers back into their own country.
When I was growing up in England in the 1950s and 1960s our country was also facing the demographic consequences of seeing an empire retract. English settlers had gone to many countries under British rule, in good faith and with the full backing of the British government. Many had lived in those other countries for some generations. Now, they had to face the choice of either living under the newly independent national governments of those countries, or of returning “home” to an England that many of them had never even seen before.
For the Israeli settlers, returning “home” to Israel will be, by comparison, an easy matter. They all know Israel well. They will not have to move far. Those who want to stay in their current settlement homes may be offered the chance to do so– but they would have to live peaceably as foreigners under the government of an independent Palestine and would have no special privileges at all over their Palestinian neighbors. It is also possible that the PLO/PA may negotiate a land swap arrangement that would transfer some portion of the settlement areas to Israeli rule; but many of the current settlers would not be covered by it.
Anyway, that is the Palestinian issue– though we Americans can understand what occupation rule means a lot better now that we have had six disturbing years of our own foreign-occupation rule in Iraq to look back on. So let’s wish the Palestinians and Israelis well in their pursuit of a fair and durable agreement that mandates not only peace but also the end of foreign military occupation and the complete withdrawal of the troops that have maintained it.
Today, though, is primarily a day for congratulating Iraqis (and Americans) on their progress towards this goal.