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On Fifth Anniversary, Rep. Waters Urges Change of Course in Iraq

July 30, 2009
Press Release

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-35), Chairwoman and co-founder of the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus, issued the following remarks on the 5th anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq.

It has been over five years since President Bush's war in Iraq began—longer even than World War II.  At the time the war began in March of 2003, who would have thought we were being led into perhaps the worst foreign policy disaster in America's history?  Well, I certainly had a pretty good idea when I urged my colleagues to oppose the authorization for war on October 7, of 2002.

Many of us voted against the war authorization in the first place, and many more Members wish they had voted against it.  But here we are, five years later, saddled with a seemingly endless war in Iraq that continues to drain the lifeblood of this country.

As Chairwoman and co-founder of the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus, I know that the American people have long since turned against this war.  Americans know that when our military invaded Iraq, we opened up Pandora's Box and unleashed countless tragedies onto the Iraqi people and the region.  These tragedies are all the more deplorable because we were brought into the war with propaganda, manipulation, and flat out lies.

The power vacuum we have created has allowed a violent insurgency to break out in Iraq—some have even suggested civil war—as various factions fight for power.  In five years, nearly 4,000 American men and women in uniform have been killed in Iraq, and tens of thousands more have been seriously injured.  Military experts tell us that years of full-paced war have left our all-volunteer military overstretched and nearing its breaking point.

Many political leaders have claimed that the "surge strategy" has been a success.  The American military has been assigned the duty of policing the streets of Iraq, and it is performing admirably under difficult conditions.  But, does anyone really believe the dip in violence created by the presence of 160,000 highly trained American troops is a sustainable strategy for stability in Iraq?

In reality, the surge has done nothing to address the reasons for the violence in Iraq in the first place.  Meaningful political reconciliation has been nonexistent, and regional leaders are still violently competing for power. 

The destruction caused by years of war has decimated an Iraqi society that was once educated, culturally progressive, and wealthy.  Some studies suggest that 600,000 Iraqis have died since the U.S. invasion.  As many as 4.5 million Iraqis have fled their homes to escape the violence with perhaps half having become refugees in neighboring countries.  Forty-three percent of Iraqis suffer from "absolute poverty" and an estimated 80% of Iraqis lack access to effective sanitation.  If ignored, the role of "protector and provider" of these desperate populations may be provided by sectarian actors in the pattern of Hamas or Hezbollah.

Iraq's neighbors were sympathetic and supportive of the U.S.'s efforts to weed out terrorists following the attacks of September 11th, but have been pushed toward extremism by the perception of an American occupation at their borders.  Our short-sighted and arrogant foreign policy has left the United States in very low regard on the world stage, especially in the Middle East.

The war has already cost over $535 billion in direct spending, and a Nobel Prize winning economist has suggested it will likely end up costing our economy trillions. The war has siphoned away precious resources that should have been invested domestically on affordable housing, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and homeland security.

The cascade of problems created by our invasion of the Middle East is truly heartbreaking.  But, as bad as the situation is right now in Iraq, it is not enough to merely point out all the mistakes President Bush has made throughout the course of his Administration.

We must offer a better vision for the challenges we face, and that is exactly what I have done.  I am pushing for legislation requiring a safe redeployment of our troops and military contractors from Iraq.  There is no military solution to the problems of Iraq, but American diplomatic and humanitarian engagement in the Middle East is necessary for the long term recovery and stability of the war-torn region.  It is long past time for someone inside the U.S. government to be put in charge of this effort.

That is why I recently introduced H.R. 5488, The Recovery and Stability of Iraq Act.  This legislation would address the growing crisis confronting the Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons by creating an Iraqi Displacement Coordinator in the Executive Office of the President.  The Coordinator would with work with Iraq and other regional actors to create a long-term, comprehensive, and durable strategy to address the humanitarian crisis.  By focusing our energy on this front, the United States can begin to stabilize the Middle East and rebuild our international credibility.

On this fifth anniversary of the war, we should reflect on the incredible sacrifices our troops are making, and the great suffering of the Iraqi people.  The five-year anniversary of War in Iraq is a sobering reminder of lives lost and the failures of leadership that have been exhibited over the course of President Bush's tenure.  However, that the anniversary coincides with the most exciting presidential election in recent memory should be a reminder of the importance of re-engaging the political process.  Our disappointment with the current direction of our country should inspire us to become more politically active, not less.

The only responsible option for Iraq is to end the war as safely and quickly as possible and bring our troops home, and we must hold our elected officials accountable to this reality.  Together, let's work to bring our troops home to their families as soon as possible and refocus this country's resources on the issues that matter the most to the American people.