An insignificant Iraq withdrawal

My following article appears in today’s ABC Unleashed:

Retired Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez, the onetime commander of US troops in Iraq, has recently released a book about his time in the country. In Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story, he recalls a teleconference with US President George W. Bush soon after four contractors were killed in Fallujah in 2004. Bush said:

“If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can’t send that message. It’s an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal.

“There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!”

This is the man whose war the former Australian Prime Minister John Howard said this week was his “personal decision” to join due to the September 11 attacks and the US alliance. Kevin Rudd’s belated move to remove the 550 Australian combat troops from the war-torn nation should be welcomed, along with his rationale for doing so.

He rightly chastised the war for inflaming terrorism and causing a humanitarian disaster in Iraq and the region. The exact death toll remains unclear, but well over a million lives is likely, according to Iraqi sources. The Age merely calls the conflict an “unwise military adventure”.

Predictably, Murdoch war boosters criticised Rudd for the withdrawal, praising the occupation as a success and endorsing a comment by Western Australian Liberal senator Dennis Jensen who said this week that the war was “essentially being won”.

The Australian editorialised that “the Iraqi people would be much worse off today had Australia and its coalition partners allowed al-Qa’ida and other jihadist forces to fill the void created by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.”

Unfortunately, US-backed militias are now in control of the country, bounty hunters who have been bought by the highest bidder. Equally forgotten is the fact that, according to author Jeremy Scahill, “without [defence contractor] Blackwater, the occupation of Iraq would be untenable.”

Notably absent from the media coverage of Australia’s partial withdrawal – many troops are remaining to allegedly protect Australian interests in Baghdad – are Iraqi voices. What do they think of the Western influence in their nation? Last weekend’s massive protest in Baghdad proved that a long-term US presence is opposed.

Moreover, a majority of citizens in the US, Australia and Britain oppose the war and want troops withdrawn as soon as possible. Instead, the corporate media publishes articles from “foreign policy advisors” who pontificate on the strength of the US/Australian alliance. The Iraqi people are invisible.

More than five years after the invasion, much of the mainstream media now ignores the war. According to a study by the US-based Project for Excellence in Journalism, “during the first 10 weeks of 2007, Iraq accounted for 23 percent of the news for network TV news. In 2008, it plummeted to 3 percent during that period. On cable networks it fell from 24 percent to 1 percent.”

What our media should be investigating is the real reason for the apparent fall in violence across the country (though still unacceptably high.) Paying off perceived enemies is clearly something to be praised, not questioned. Returned American soldiers continue to speak out publicly about the horrors inflicted by them in Iraq and yet their voices are shunned.

Seth Manzel, a vehicle commander and machine gunner in the U.S. Army, told around 800 people at the Seattle Town Hall in an event last weekend sponsored by the Northwest Regional Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), that, “I watched Iraqi police bring in someone to interrogate. There were four men on the prisoner… one was pummelling his kidneys with his fists, another was inserting a bottle up his rectum. It looked like a frat house gang-rape.” Liberation, indeed. Racism, dehumanisation and random violence were daily occurrences.

The proper role of the media is scepticism and critical thinking. Sadly, the Iraq war has shown the majority of journalists either capitulated to government pressure or saw their role as simply enabling the conflict. With Germany’s former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer this week warning that he feared an American or Israeli attack on Iran before the end of the Bush administration, the Middle East could soon become even more chaotic.

Australia’s relatively insignificant withdrawal from Iraq should be placed in the appropriate context.