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Finding resolution in Iraq

Posted December 29, 2006

It’s that time of year when everyone is making resolutions — to quit smoking, eat better, help combat global warming, etc.

This year, we ask each of you to resolve yourself to learning more about the Middle East, its countries, and its people.

For starters, learn to locate it on a map, along with the countries that comprise it.

The results of a recent Zogby International poll show that we have a long way to go. Nearly 60 percent of those polled in the United States thought that the population of Bethlehem was either Muslim or Jewish or a mix of both. Only 15.6 percent knew it was a mix of Christians and Muslims. And, nearly 60 percent of those polled thought Bethlehem was in Israel while only 26 percent knew that the town of Jesus’ birth is in the Occupied Territories.

Second, we need to learn more about the various sects that comprise Iraq if we’re ever going to understand why we’re not being treated as liberators, and why the country has devolved into a chaotic civil war. When you hear “sectarian violence” do you know what it means, and who the sects represent?

Finally, if we want to know the real way to get out of Iraq, we need to continuously look back to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. More than any other issue, this is what fuels the hatred for U.S. occupation in the region.

When Hamas was voted into power by Palestinians in democratic elections earlier this year, the United States and Israel led a coalition of countries to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority, the main government entity that receives financial aid that it, in turn, uses to provide medical care, food, shelter, and other government services to the people of the Occupied Territories. The funding would be restored, these countries decreed, when Hamas changed its policies, or new elections were held and the people of Palestine changed their minds about electing Hamas.

Ten months after putting the Palestinians “on a diet,” as one Israeli observer put it, Palestinians are no better off and are likely more inclined to vote for Hamas, whom they see as the only group that is truly focused on throwing out the occupiers and standing up for the rights of return for Palestinians.

Iraq, too, has seen democratic elections heighten sectarian divisions and tensions rather than placate them.

But, is it any wonder. An occupied country with a foreign military patrolling its streets and engaging in warfare doesn’t usually bring about solidarity; rather, it escalates age-old differences in the struggle to claim power, both militarily and morally, to throw out the occupying force and get a leg up on the other group.

That brings us back to Iraq.

As we enter the new year, Pres. George W. Bush is expected to announce a new direction for Iraq. The talk at the end of 2006 is that it would include a boost in troop strength in order to essentially decimate Baghdad in the way that Fallujah was taken earlier in the war. Or, the way that Israel has taken Gaza.

In the final three months of 2006, attacks on U.S. troops escalated to all-time highs, with each month taking a heavier toll than the last. Allowing more troops to be sent in can only mean an increase in violence and clashes.

Our troops have done what they were asked to do originally by their civilian military leaders. And it is becoming clear that elections and allowing Iraqis, or Palestinians, to govern themselves is not really the final solution.

Bush himself has said: “We support democracy, but that doesn’t mean we have to support governments elected as a result of democracy.”

Let that statement sink in for a minute.

Given the ongoing lesson in Palestine, this reasoning is not only flawed, but tantamount to declaring war in the entire region.

Bush’s statement speaks volumes that the U.S. presence in the Middle East is not about letting one country throw off a brutal dictator and create their own government. It’s about controlling who is in charge, and then keeping the peace between warring factions who are opposed to a foreign occupation.

This is not what the U.S. public signed up for (given that they were misled by the Bush administration) nor is it a legacy they should be stuck with going forward.