Among the many imperishable truths about the Iraq war, one of the more galling is the claim that American troops have “occupied” Iraq since 2003. We hear this assertion repeated by Stanford Says No to War and the rest of the usual suspects. A little history lesson is in order to put this falsehood to rest.
Created in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s downfall, the Coalition Provisional Authority occupied Iraq in the absence of an Iraqi government. The CPA operated under an explicit United Nations mandate, as set forth in UN Security Council Resolution 1483, which called upon the United States and the United Kingdom “to promote the welfare of the Iraqi people through the effective administration of the territory, including in particular working towards the restoration of conditions of security and stability and the creation of conditions in which the Iraqi people can freely determine their own political future.” UNSCR 1483 was passed without objection on May 22, 2003, three weeks after the infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech by President Bush.
The UN authorized a military force to support the Authority’s efforts. On October 16, 2003, the Security Council unanimously adopted UNSCR 1511, which explicitly mandated “a multinational force under unified command to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq.” The resolution also called upon the international community to contribute troops to the cause. Today, 24 countries, excluding the United States, have nearly 10,000 soldiers deployed as part of the Multi-National Force, and 20 have lost personnel in the line of duty.
On June 8, 2004, the Security Council unanimously adopted UNSCR 1546. This resolution determined that “the situation in Iraq continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security,” welcomed the efforts of the MNF to fight this threat, and affirmed that the CPA would dissolve by June 30. At this point, it declared, “Iraq will reassert its full sovereignty.” CPA dissolved two days early and Iraq’s sovereignty was restored.
The Security Council renewed the Multi-National Force’s mandate on November 8, 2005, in UNSCR 1637; again, on November 28, 2006, in UNSCR 1723; and again, on December 18, 2007, in UNSCR 1790. The vote was unanimous in every case. In each resolution, the world body reaffirmed Iraq’s sovereignty, acknowledged that the MNF continued to operate “at the request of the Government of Iraq,” and made the mandate conditional on sovereign Iraq’s desire for the international force to remain.
The MNF has remained in Iraq because the Iraqi government badly needs help fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, militias, and Iranian-backed Special Groups. While Iraqis have made tremendous strides (nine of Iraq’s eighteen provinces are under provincial control, up from just three roughly a year ago), recent fighting in Basra shows that the training of government security forces must continue if the Iraqi government is to ever stand on its own. This fact is why the Iraqi government has consistently opposed any precipitous withdrawal.
Iraq’s sovereignty has been recognized repeatedly by its regional neighbors and global partners. Its membership in the Organisation of Islamic Countries and the United Nations, and its active participation in a long list of other international organizations, testifies to this fact. Foreign ministries and heads of state from Bulgaria to South Korea, from Russia to Germany, from France to China, all welcomed the 2004 transfer of sovereignty. The Turkish foreign minister stated at the time, “Now, it should be everyone’s duty to support the Iraqi government.” War protesters who deny Iraq’s sovereignty today stand against the international community, international law, and the principles of multilateralism.
The MNF’s mandate expires at the end of this year. At that point, Iraq can decide to ask the MNF
to remain or demand that it withdraw. Either way, the occupation has been over since before the Class of 2008 started its undergraduate career.