April 9 was the sixth anniversary of the fall of the Saddam Hussein government in Iraq. The date passed without much remark in the United States, which is consumed with its own domestic economic problems and high rates of unemployment, rendering a distant foreign misadventure virtually invisible. Gone are the debates over whether a US military occupation could jump-start democratization throughout the Middle East, creating a shining city on a hill rather than an economic and political basket case. Gone are the confident assertions that the path to peace in Israel/ Palestine goes through Baghdad. Gone is the quixotic sabre-rattling against neighboring Iran, which was premised on the false notion that the US did not need Tehran to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
All gone, to be replaced by a yawning silence on this side of the Atlantic, with perhaps a touch of regret or shame among the sliver of observers who remembered the date at all.
Indeed, the big news on Thursday was not the anniversary but the request put forward by the Obama administration for an $83 bn. supplemental appropriation for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, of the sort Bush routinely requested and carefully kept out of the budget deficit statistics.
In Iraq, the date is marked by ambiguity and high passion. Some Iraqis observe it as a celebration of the end of a horrific tyranny. Others mourn the day as the anniversary of a foreign military invasion and occupation, an occupation from which Iraq has still not escaped.
McClatchy reports that tens of thousands of protesters came out in Baghdad to demand the withdrawal of US troops. They chanted and reminded Obama of his pledge to draw down the US military in Iraq by the end of 2011. The crowd was mostly Shiites of the Sadr Movement, followers of Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr, who called for the rally to protest the US presence in Iraq. They were joined by some Sunni Arabs from one of the Awakening Councils.
Al-Hayat writes in Arabic that the Iraqi Islamic Party in Fallujah organized a similar demonstration there against continued US military presence. In November and December of 2004, the US damaged 2/3s of the buildings in Fallujah and more or less destroyed the city. The hardline fundamentalist Association of Muslim Scholars issued a statement accusing the US military of killing a million Iraqis. The statement of the Iraqi Islamic Party reminded Barack Obama that he has a legal and moral responsibility to distinguish his policies from those of Bush, which visited such calamities on the innocent Iraqi people.
Meanwhile, Gen. Ray Odierno cautioned that more, not fewer US troops might be needed in Mosul and Baquba, two largely Sunni Arab cities that still witness frequent guerrilla violence. There has been open disagreement between Obama and his military commanders on the Iraq withdrawal and its pace, and this interview was clearly intended to put the brakes on Obama’s withdrawal train.
Nir Rosen reports from on the ground in Iraq, finding it still dangerous, its security forces sectarian, its Sunnis uncertain of the future. [link fixed]
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