Public Comment

Let the Iraqis Vote on U.S. Troop Withdrawal

By Laurence Schechtman
Friday May 04, 2007

There is a way out of Iraq. There is one strategy which has not yet been tried, which may survive a Senate filibuster and possibly even a presidential veto. 

Congress can invite the Iraqi people to vote in a referendum about whether they want an American withdrawal. Or more precisely, Congress can vote a pledge that the United States will respect the results of an Iraqi referendum. 

Polls in Iraq show that strong majorities of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds want a timetable for withdrawal, and that a majority say they would feel safer with the United States gone. 

It is likely that a Congressional vote to respect an Iraqi referendum will unite all Democratic factions and even win over an increasing number of Republicans who will never vote for a pullout or a fund cutoff. The idea of a referendum changes the debate from “cut and run” or “deserting the troops” to one of fulfilling the democracy which we say we are in Iraq to create. 

Even the Bush administration would feel pressure not to oppose the embodiment of its own rhetoric. Already between 55 percent of Americans (Rasmussen Poll, Feb. 2) and 66 percent (Harris Interactive, Dec. 22, 2006) say they want a withdrawal. What would happen to those figures if people began to ask, “Do the Iraqis want us there?” and “Do the Republicans want to know, or are their protestations about Iraqi democracy just empty words?” Many Republicans would find it easier to take credit for the growth of democracy in Iraq. 

The prospect of a referendum in Iraq would also be the fastest way to reduce violence there. In December 2005 most Iraqi militias observed a truce for the parliamentary elections. Would they not do the same to facilitate a credible, internationally monitored vote to end the occupation? We have to remember, however, that Iraq is, or should be, a sovereign nation. The United States cannot force Iraq to hold a referendum. But if the United States Congress passes a bill that we will respect the results of an Iraqi referendum, this will unleash a new political dynamic within Iraq, especially now that Iraqis have started peacefully marching for withdrawal. There will be a clamor which will reach across ethnic divisions, as Sunni, Shiite and Kurd demand that their “democracy” apply to the one paramount question: can their nation be free of foreign occupation? And they will be joined in their demand by the people and governments of most of the world. 

A referendum movement will reinvigorate the peace movement, and will be supported by hundreds of millions of people, in the United States and around the world. And the American congress will recognize that an internationally monitored referendum may be the only way that the United States can recover its reputation as a respecter of democracy. 

Next Monday, May 7, the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission will consider a resolution supporting United States respect for an Iraqi referendum. If you want to help support this resolution, you can be there: 7 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center, Hearst and MLK, second floor. 


Laurence Schechtman is a Berkeley resident and activist.