The Secret of Al Kut

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In Iraq, there is a city called Al Kut. Mostly Shia, 300,000 souls, southeast of Baghdad along the Tigris River, doesn’t like Chalabi or the Iraqi National Congress and it has no oil. These facts probably make it uninteresting to neo-conservatives, but Al Kut holds a fascinating secret about recovering our national honor.

Third Battalion, 23rd Marines took over the city in early April, reportedly without firing a shot. An important Shia cleric assumed control of city hall for a short but tense interval, but was ultimately talked out of the building. Our Marines in Al Kut are typical. Led by Lieutenant Colonels and below, they value honor, discipline and a kind of personal courage that is part of Marine training, daily demonstrated by older Marines and emulated by younger ones.

Recently, our Marines handed over Al Kut to some smaller Polish and Ukrainian military units. Our troops are coming home.

Some Marines, when asked, were not sure which way Al Kut would lean (or fall) after they leave. Al Kut has a strong Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution (SCIRI) presence and was a site of a Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) training camp that had been targeted by Iran in the recent past. American and British planes, of course, had repeatedly bombed sites in and around Al Kut during the twelve years of "enforcement" of the Iraqi Southern No-Fly Zone. Saddam had also assaulted Al Kut, during the post-Desert Storm Shia uprising encouraged by the U.S. Being beat down and springing back seems almost a city tradition. During World War I, Al Kut was mostly destroyed when it hosted a great British humiliation delivered by German and Turkish troops.

The future of Al Kut won’t be smooth. But we might reasonably expect that it will be a future largely shaped by the people in Al Kut with their friends and contacts elsewhere in the country and the region.

Because our Marines are coming home.

Amid the crime against Iraqis, attacks against the occupiers, and the odd bombing, the marketplace is thriving and the pace of civil society is picking up. The Poles and Ukrainians pretty much stay out of town, holed up at the airport and rarely venturing into Al Kut proper, in effect leaving the Iraqis alone to rebuild their lives.

The Marines — in coming home from Al Kut — are setting the standard in more ways than one. Untrained in occupation, they are indeed trained in what used to be understood as Americanism. As much as I hate to quote from neocon fluff-for-brains and Council of Foreign Relations member Max Boot, he observed in a recent visit to this part of Iraq that the Marines are guided by three basic principles. Show restraint, win hearts and minds, while retaining a robust, split second, and deadly offensive capability.

And they are coming home.

Millions of Americans, me included, want a complete Congressional rejection of the President’s heavily padded and detail-sparse $87 billion request. So does Congressman Ron Paul. One reader writes "You can’t be serious. Have you considered the consequences?" Another asks, "What can ordinary citizens do?"

Of course I am serious! What seems incredibly difficult (stopping in our tracks in Iraq and coming home) is, in fact, not difficult at all. As usual, the Marines are leading the way and setting the standard. They have shown us how to come home. Yes, occupation is not ended. We transferred our power over Iraqi cities to replacement occupying forces that we continue to fund and support logistically. But this second wind of occupiers will be short lived and largely irrelevant. In fact, they will be about as effective as a full-fledged U.N. occupation would be, in this case an ideal and sought-after kind of irrelevance. It’s exactly the type of occupation we should be striving for in Iraq. Some Iraqis were interested in being relieved of Saddam and his Ba-ath command economy. None of them asked to be occupied. If we can’t all leave at once, at least we can leave city by city and make sure the remaining occupiers are unnoticed, passive, ignorable and irrelevant.

A full and immediate rejection of the $87 billion will do nothing but assist the President in making these right decisions.

The consequences of leaving are many and powerful. Leaving will open the door to genuine trade and friendship with Iraq, or at least with the cities and regions our military exits soonest. Imagine the trade opportunities when we and the Iraqis don’t have to gain Jerry Bremer’s blessing of every contract beforehand! Opening this door is far better than burning economic and cultural bridges, apparently an ongoing priority of Bush-Cheney foreign policy. Yes, Halliburton, Bechtel, Worldcom and Big American Oil may be able to retain contracts through force, political puppetry, U.S. taxpayer subsidies, and some might say, Mafioso banditry. But real and open exchange of goods, services and ideas, simultaneously blessing people on both sides of the globe with true opportunity and productivity, requires and demands that the bridge burning stop now.

People worry about Iraq, now that we have crashed their command state and crushed their dictator, but the Iraqis are a heck of a lot smarter than Jerry Bremer, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Yegor Gaidar about what works in their country. They — like all citizens in command economies and dictatorships — coped pretty well in preserving their privacy and their private economies, often in ways that would surprise rule-bound Americans. We need to set them free, by leaving. If indeed, as Robert Fisk estimates, 1,000 Iraqis are dying every week to crime and occupation related violence, chances are excellent to outstanding that our military pull-out won’t increase that number of dead and maimed Iraqis. Pulling out absolutely guarantees fewer dead and maimed Americans at the hands of Iraqi nationalists, al Qaeda sympathizers, and accidents brought on by poor logistics, training, stress and confusion about the real mission.

Most Americans agree that we want peace, prosperity and friends in the region. To get there we have to bring our military boys and girls home. Don’t believe for a minute that we are conducting some kind of new-age neo-conservative Marshall Plan. We are not. There was no after-war plan, except to squeeze American taxpayers for those billion dollar contracts already mentioned, and to crown Chalabi or someone like him as our next Saddam-lite. Iraq 2003 is a replay of our experience after the Spanish American War when we "liberated" the Philippines, only this time we have Al Jazeera helping spread the word and the ever-helpful Osama Bin Laden as an anti-American organizing construct. If you like the odds, by all means, join up and deploy yourself to Iraq. But fighting corporatist wars of empire isn’t what Marines sign up for, and it isn’t in the top ten list of how U.S. taxpayers like to waste their money.

We have to bring them home now. Freedom to do this seems theoretically inconceivable to those locked inside a neo-Jacobin world where the Rousseau-esque cry is "Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains." Our Washington-bound neo-Jacobins are interested in global values of "freedom" everywhere, as long as all the world gratefully accepts the yoke of U.S. empire and militarism, and does it our way.

The secret of Al Kut is that we are not in chains. We choose, we act, we are not locked into stupid Vietnam-style patterns of denial and crushing soulless ideologies. Our Marines are coming home. American families and friends will welcome them warmly and start putting lives back together. Al Kut is better for it and so are we.

It seems our poor President and Vice President can’t keep their lies and untruths synchronized these days, a problem not unknown among habitual dissemblers and other liars. So what can ordinary citizens (and their representatives in Congress) do about all the confusion in the political storyline? Stop payment and credits advanced for Washington’s agenda, foreign and domestic, listen closely to what our returning soldiers will tell us about their experiences in Iraq, bring the rest of our troops home, and work to make anti-Republic neo-conservativism politically irrelevant in both Democratic and Republican parties. It sounds like a lot, I know, and maybe, even probably, it won’t work. Far be it from me to suggest paying fewer taxes, withdrawal from the overall political process, striving for community and individual self-sufficiency from federal benefits and regulations, and being generally well-armed, loud and cantankerous.

Al Kut tells us that we can bring our troops home, with honor for both America and Iraq. We also know a short-lived 50 mile per hour wind and rain with the sweet name of Isabel shut down Bush’s White House and the rest of the Federal Establishment in D.C. for two days. Let that be an inspiration to all of us as we create our own hurricane.

Karen Kwiatkowski [send her mail] is a recently retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley.

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