A History of Just and Unjust Withdrawals
We know full well what will happen if our efforts to help U.S.-affiliated Iraqis amount to too little, too late. The history of withdrawal is a bloody churn of assassination and reprisal, targeting those who ‘collaborated’ with the departing power. Montagnards who assisted U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam fled the country alongside hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese Boat People in 1975. Similarly, the Hmong, who were backed by the U.S. to confront the Vietcong in Laos became prime targets upon our withdrawal from Vietnam and the subsequent overthrow of the Lao kingdom. France’s withdrawal from Algeria in 1962 is scarred by the abandonment of the harkis, Algerians who had served alongside the pied-noirs. Tens of thousands were left behind to face torture and assassination in public squares.
The history of targeting collaborators even runs through our own blood, beginning in the closing months of the American Revolution, when tens of thousands of Loyalists were subjected to reprisals and persecution by Americans.
Violence against collaborators in Iraq is not imagined or new. In 1933, Iraqis massacred thousands of Assyrians who had been in league with the recently-departed British. The ensuing massacre of 3,000 at Sumayl contributed to Raphael Lemkin’s coining of the term genocide.
In the current war, there has been a steady but brutal bloodletting of Iraqis who have assisted American and Coalition forces. While the full scale of violence will likely never be known with certainty, hundreds and likely thousands have already been slain. Many more have been abducted, tortured, raped, and forced to flee as a result of their collaboration.
The consequences of not having any plans for helping Iraqi employees upon our withdrawal have already reared their head. The British conducted little contingency planning throughout their withdrawal from Basrah in Southern Iraq. As they withdrew, militias systematically hunted British-affiliated Iraqis, warning them to “get out or die.” In a single mass killing, 17 interpreters were assassinated; their bodies were strewn throughout the streets of Basrah.
Compounding the urgency, the terrorist group which is responsible for the slaying of many U.S.-affiliated Iraqis over the years, the Islamic State of Iraq, has just issued its strategic plan, which the List Project has examined. There are clear references to steadily and patiently targeting U.S.-affiliated Iraqis in the wake of our departure. The perception, however desirable, that the ‘surge’ eliminated the possibility of terrorist groups to carry out complex and high-impact attacks ignores the numerous attacks during the past year of withdrawal. The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization which includes Al-Qaeda in Iraq, has claimed responsibility the majority of these attacks, several of which targeted foreign embassies.
We ignore these signs at great moral peril.