Iraq Withdrawal? Don’t Take it to the Bank August 17, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: al-Maliki, charles davis, Iraq, iraq bases, Iraq oil, Iraq war, Iraq withdrawal, lockheed martin, maliki, medea benjamin, Moqtada al-Sadr, Nouri al-Maliki, obama promise, roger hollander, SOFA, troop withdrawal
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// ]]>Roger’s note: If you believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, then feel free to go ahead and believe in Obama’s promise to bring all US troops home from Iraq by the end of the year. After all the investment in the largest embassy in the history of the world, a slew of military bases, and all that OIL, there is no way that the Pentagon will allow their puppet Obama to keep that promise. And for Obama, what is one more broken election promise? And don’t forget that a US pull out from Iraq will cause massive unemployment for all those poor Halliburton and other mercenary contractors.
Since coming to Washington, Barack Obama has won a Nobel Prize for Peace, but he hasn’t been much of a peacemaker. Instead, he has doubled down on his predecessor’s wars while launching blatantly illegal ones of his own. But, as his supporters would be quick to point out, at least he’s standing by his pledge to bring the troops home from Iraq.
That’s certainly what America’s latest war president has been saying. Speaking to supporters this month, he was unequivocal . “If somebody asks about the war [in Iraq] . . . you have a pretty simple answer, which is all our folks are going to be out of there by the end of the year.”
Obama’s statement was a welcome reaffirmation of what he promised on the campaign trail. “If we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am President, it is the first thing I will do,” he thundered in the fall of 2007. “I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank.”
But don’t count on cashing that check. The Washington Post brings the unsurprising news that Iraqi leaders have agreed to begin talks with the U.S. on allowing the foreign military occupation of their country to continue beyond this year — re-branded, naturally, as a mission of “training” and “support.” The move comes after an increasingly public campaign by top White House and military officials to pressure Iraqi leaders into tearing up the Status of Forces Agreement they signed with the Bush administration, which mandates the removal of all foreign troops by the end of 2011.
As with any relationship, saying goodbye is always the hardest part for an empire. The U.S. political establishment has long desired a foothold in the Middle East from which it could exert influence over the trade of the region’s natural resources. Remember, Iraq has lots of oil, as those who launched the invasion of the country in 2003 were all too aware . They aren’t too keen on giving that up.
And as is to be expected when one maintains the most powerful — and expensive — military in world history, there are strong institutional pressures within the Pentagon for maintaining the status quo. Peace may be good for children and other living things, but it’s boring for generals — especially politically ambitious ones — and bad for bomb manufacturers.
The longer U.S. troops stay in Iraq and ensure that country’s fidelity to U.S. policy, the more weapons the Iraqi government will buy from American companies. Indeed, Prime Minister Maliki just announced that Iraq would buy 38 F-16 fighters, taking billions of dollars away from food and shelter for poor Iraqis while boosting Lockheed Martin’s war chest. Add in the fact that Iraq is situated right next to Iran, the one oil-rich country in the region opposed to U.S. hegemony, and you’ve got a good recipe for indefinite occupation.
Of course, if Obama was as committed to withdrawing “all troops from Iraq” as he claims, all he would need to do is stick by the Bush-era agreement for troops to leave by December 31. Doing so would not only provide him cover from claims he is surrendering to the terrorists — hey, a Republican negotiated the deal — but it would fulfill a key campaign pledge and help soothe liberal anger over his escalation of Afghanistan and his illegal war in Libya.
Obama has no plans for a full withdrawal, though, as his hand-picked appointees make clear. You can almost hear him thinking: What are liberals going to do, vote Republican?
Echoing the top military brass, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates first noted earlier this year supposed Iraqi “interest in having a continuing presence” in Iraq. His successor, Leon Panetta, then told senators during his June confirmation hearing that he had “every confidence” the Iraqi government would ask for such a U.S. presence beyond 2011.
Like clockwork, Iraqi leaders are set to ask for just that, with The Washington Post reporting that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies have decided any request to extend the U.S. occupation will “not require signing a new accord.” That means no messy parliamentary battles or referendums, where the popular anti-American sentiment would surface.
The Obama administration is prepared to keep about 10,000 troops in Iraq, and their “non-combat” tasks could include training, air defense, intelligence, reconnaissance and joint counter-terrorism missions. These are the same sort of operations that have left at least 56 U.S. soldiers dead since Obama announced the end of U.S. combat operations last August.
One thing is certain: U.S. officials who once claimed to be bringing democracy to Iraq couldn’t be more thrilled at the subversion of it. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, alluded to that in a comment remarking on the Iraqis’ recent decision to open talks with the U.S. on an extended, rebranded occupation. “There are some very difficult political challenges, internal challenges associated with reaching this decision,” he noted, said “challenges” being the fact that the people the occupation is ostensibly being extended to protect don’t actually want the “protection” the U.S. government is offering.
Mullen added that a final agreement must include “guarantees of legal immunity for American forces.” Obviously, we wouldn’t want any ungrateful Iraqis to prosecute U.S. soldiers if they kill civilians while engaging in “non-combat” duties.
Here at home, opinion polls have for years shown that two-thirds of Americans oppose the war in Iraq. Opposition to a continued presence has also been building in Congress, always the most lagging indicator. On July 22, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and 94 other representatives sent a letter to President Obama urging him to bring all U.S. troops and military contractors home by the end of this year and she is introducing a bill that would cut off funding.
As for the Iraqi opinion, anti-U.S. cleric and politician Moqtada al-Sadr put out a statement on August 3 saying that any foreign solider remaining in his country after 2011 would “be treated as an unjust invader and should be opposed with military resistance.” We’ll mark him down as a “no thanks.” According to Al-Iraqiya TV, meanwhile, 2.5 million of al-Sadr’s compatriot s have signed a petition calling for U.S. troops to get out.
“We want them to leave, even before the end of this year,” Youseff Ahmad, a tribal sheik from the Iraqi town of Al Rufait, recently told one reporter . “They’ve destroyed us. They’ve only brought killing and disaster.” Ahmad spoke after having just witnessed U.S. troops’ “training” and “support” mission in action, the consequence of which was “a shootout involving bullets, grenades and American Apache helicopters that left the tribal Sheik and two others dead, and several wounded, including two young girls.”
Even top members of the Iraqi government are saying no thanks, even if their more powerful colleagues are toeing the U.S. line. On Sunday, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi said that a continued American military presence in Iraq would be “a problem, not a solution,” adding that training could be done by other countries at a cheaper price.
American officials acknowledge that al-Hashemi is speaking for the bulk of his fellow countrymen, with U.S. diplomats telling The New York Times that their own polling shows a “majority of Iraqis have a negative view of the American role in Iraq.”
No wonder Nouri al-Maliki and his thuggish cronies, fearful their power to torture and suppress political opponents will evaporate without U.S. support, aren’t willing to let average Iraqis have a say in their country’s future. The question is: will Americans, who support a complete withdrawal and want to bring the war dollars home , ever get a say in the future of their country? Tell President Obama to stick to his promises and bring the troops home.
If the US Doesn’t Pull Every Soldier from Iraq by Midnight, Dec. 31, 2011, Expect Serious Trouble April 16, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: al-sadr, Iraq, iraq government, Iraq occupation, Iraq war, maliki, pepe escobar, roger hollander, SOFA
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(Roger’s note: as far as the American media is concerned, the war in Iraq is over. There may be 50,000 American soldiers still there, god knows how many mercenaries, a slew of scattered military bases, and a US Embassy on steroids, but, with all the fun and games still going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Libya, it just feels right to forget about Iraq. To quote that great American Statesman and Patriot: “Mission Accomplished.” One small problem, however, the Iraqis refuse to forget about Iraq. Quite selfish of them after all we’ve done for them, but there you have it.)
Asia Times / By Pepe Escobar
Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was finished eight years ago this past Saturday; Shi’ite Sadrists and most Sunnis regard April 9 as the ignominious day Iraq was annexed by Washington. Iraq is that Arab nation that was under a no-fly zone for a decade – and then had almost all of its society and infrastructure smashed by the Pentagon (neo-conservative Washington dreamed of rebuilding it, for a profit).
So this is what the Sadrists sent as a gift card to the “liberators”; you’d better leave our land by the end of 2011, for good, as agreed. Or else one of the Pentagon’s ultimate nightmares will be back; a revived, revamped Mahdi Army unleashing guerrilla tactics.
Muqtada’s gift card message – he continues to study theology in the Iranian holy city of Qom – was delivered via his spokesman Salah al-Obaidi and backed up by a million-man-march across Baghdad. The masses came from all over Iraq’s south and from Diyala province to the east (the crowds were smaller because security closed off streets and bridges leading to the rally, near a US military base.)
The message came like clockwork, just one day after Pentagon head Robert Gates visited northern Iraq to convince the Nuri al-Maliki government to, well, keep occupying the country to an indefinite future. By then, the US State Department had already announced it wanted to keep an army of mercenaries and what could amount to thousands of bureaucrats in the largest US Embassy in the world. The mercenaries allegedly will protect the bureaucrats. Talk about American exceptionalism.
According to Muqtada, “The first thing we will do is escalate the military resistance activity and reactivate the Mahdi Army in a new statement which will be published later … Second is to escalate the peaceful and public resistance through sit-ins.” So if the US stays, Muqtada will turn Baghdad into a giant Tahrir Square – with the added bonus of commandos turning the Green Zone red and condemning contractors to road-kill status. The great 2011 Arab revolt keeps reinventing itself in myriad ways.
Anyone who seriously bet years ago that Washington would pull no punches to edit the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) it signed with Iraq must have reached Wall Street investment banker status by now.
The SOFA was signed by former president George W Bush in November 2008. According to the text, the whole of the US military, plus their civilian personnel, must exit Iraq by December 31, 2011, at midnight. If Washington does not honor the agreement, the US will be technically at war with Iraq – as in US soldiers illegally deployed without the consent of the US Congress.
There’s absolutely no evidence this SOFA will be amended before the deadline, although Maliki’s government, under extreme pressure, could always ask the Barack Obama administration to extend the occupation. But for this, Maliki needs the Sadrists – which are part of the government.
So Muqtada’s message is actually a stern warning to Maliki. And by the way, this is not only about 47,000 US boots off the ground; it’s about the end of the Iraq chapter of the US empire of military bases (other rallies went on Saturday near US bases in Kirkuk, Dhi Qar, and al-Asad base in Anbar province).
No wonder both the Obama administration and the Pentagon are on red alert. Vice President Joe Biden urgently called Maliki after Gates left Iraq to keep up the pressure. Iraqi parliamentarians, for their part, stress any extension would have to be approved by parliament. And Muhammad Salman, from the Sunni Iraqiya party (most Sunnis are Iraqi nationalists who also want the US out) has already talked about a popular referendum.
The SOFA itself was supposed to be approved by referendum (it never happened). In a nutshell, the only players who want the US to stay are the military in Iraqi Kurdistan – who fear they may be overpowered by Iraqi Arabs.
Essentially, Washington is bewildered in its reaction to the House of Saud’s power-play in Bahrain – a ruthless counter-revolution imposing its intolerant/repressive/militaristic brand of Sunni Islam over Shi’ites all across the Gulf. The anger felt by Gulf Shi’ites is shared by Iraqi Shi’ites; but from that to assume that Iran will increase its influence with them is not a given. The Maliki government is close to Iran – but that does not imply that without US boots on the ground Baghdad will become a Tehran protectorate.
Shi’ite Iraqis also routinely accuse wealthy Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of having funded hardcore Sunni guerrillas during the civil war in Iraq between 2005 and 2007 (a claim I confirmed at the time in Baghdad).
Most of all, Washington worries about the future of the US 5th Fleet in Bahrain. Judging by the Saudi power-play, it does not seem the base is going anywhere else; even if it did, bets can be made that Qatar or the UAE would be more than happy to welcome it.
The bottom line is that the majority of Iraqis, Sunnis and Shi’ites want the US to pack up and go on December 31. In the unlikely event Baghdad would want air security (against whom? The House of Saud?), the US could come up with an arrangement out of the al-Udeid base in Qatar. The Maliki government is not suicidal; forget about a SOFA extension. As of December 31, 2011, the tragic Iraqi chapter of the US worldwide empire of bases may be finally over.
Operation Enduring Occupation March 18, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: balad base, bhaswati sengupta, dahr jamail, foreign policy, green zone, imperialism, Iraq, Iraq oil, Iraq war, iraw occupation, maliki, military bases, national security, peace, Pentagon, Petraeus, phyllis bennis, Robert Gates, roger hollander, SOFA, us bases, us embassy, war
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(Roger’s note: you read it here first: the US government, regardless of what the golden tongued mendacious president tells us, HAS NO INTENTION OF LEAVING IRAQ for the foreseeable future. In the Orwellian world we inhabit today, where war is peace, where failure is too big to fail, where we don’t escalate but “surge,” and where torture doesn’t hurt that much; we can add that WITHDRAWAL MEANS STAYING.)
[‘On March 4, 2010, as a guest on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show,” Thomas Ricks, who was the military correspondent for the Washington Post, referring to President Obama’s promises to withdraw from Iraq, said, “I would say you shouldn’t believe [it] because I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think we’re going to have several thousand, several tens of thousands of US troops in Iraq on the day President Obama leaves office.”‘]
Thursday 18 March 2010
The 2008 National Defense Strategy reads:
US interests include protecting the nation and our allies from attack or coercion, promoting international security to reduce conflict and foster economic growth, and securing the global commons and with them access to world markets and resources. To pursue these interests, the US has developed military capabilities and alliances and coalitions, participated in and supported international security and economic institutions, used diplomacy and soft power to shape the behavior of individual states and the international system, and using force when necessary. These tools help inform the strategic framework with which the United States plans for the future, and help us achieve our ends.
… Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing or equaling the power of the US. To accomplish this, the US will require bases and stations within and beyond western Europe and Northeast Asia.
In light of such clear objectives, it is highly unlikely that the US government will allow a truly sovereign Iraq, unfettered by US troops either within its borders or monitoring it from abroad, anytime soon.
The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the Iraqi and US governments indicate an ongoing US presence past both the August 2010 deadline to remove all combat troops, and the 2011 deadline to remove the remaining troops.
According to all variations of the SOFA the US uses to provide a legal mandate for it’s nearly 1,000 bases across the planet, technically, no US base in any foreign country is “permanent.” Thus, the US bases in Japan, South Korea and Germany that have existed for decades are not “permanent.” Technically.
Most analysts agree that the US plans to maintain at least five “enduring” bases in Iraq.
Noted US writer, linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky, said, “Bases [abroad] are the empire. They are the point of projection of power and expansion of power.”
Chalmers Johnson, author and professor emeritus of UC San Diego commented, “In a symbolic sense [bases] are a way of showing that America stands there watching.”
Longtime defense analyst from George Washington University, Gordon Adams, told The Associated Press that in the broader context of reinforcing US presence in the oil-rich Middle East, bases in Iraq are preferable to aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. “Carriers don’t have the punch. There’s a huge advantage to land-based infrastructure. At the level of strategy it makes total sense to have Iraq bases.”
According to Professor Zoltan Grossman of The Evergreen State College, who has been researching military bases and participating in the global network against foreign bases for several years, the US has no intention of releasing control of its bases in Iraq. The Pentagon, he believes, has many old tricks to mask a military presence and armed pressure.
In an interview with Truthout he observed:
Since the Gulf War, the US has not just been building the bases to wage wars, but has been waging wars to leave behind the bases. The effect has been to create a new US military sphere of influence wedged in the strategic region between the E.U., Russia and China. The Pentagon has not been building these sprawling, permanent bases just to hand them over to client governments.
Grossman’s prediction for Iraq:
Look for a Visiting Forces Agreement – of the kind negotiated with the Philippines – that allows supposedly ‘visiting’ US forces unrestricted access to its former bases. Similarly, constant joint military exercises can keep US troops continually visible and intimidating to Iraqis. Even after 2011, nothing in the Iraq Status of Forces Agreement prevents US bombers (stationed in Kuwait and elsewhere) from attacking Iraqi targets whenever they want, just as they did between 1991 and 2003. Nothing prevents the type of missile or Special Forces attacks like we’re seeing in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Nothing prevents CIA or contractors from participating in Iraqi missions or intelligence operations.
Adding credence to this, we have Article 6 of the US/Iraqi SOFA discussing “agreed facilities,” Article 27 mentions “mutually agreed … military measures” after 2011 and Article 28 talks of a scenario where Iraq is able to “request” US security in the International Zone (Green Zone.)
Chapter six of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Report stated:
In February 2009, President Obama outlined the planned drawdown of US forces in Iraq to 50,000 troops and the change in mission by August 31, 2010. By this time, US forces will have completed the transition from combat and counterinsurgency to a more limited mission set focused on training and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces ($2 billion has already been set aside for this for FY2011); providing force protection for US military and civilian personnel and facilities; and conducting targeted counterterrorism operations and supporting US civilian agencies and international organizations in their capacity-building efforts.
The report further clarifies that US troop drawdowns “will occur in accordance” with the SOFA, but that “the pace of the drawdown takes into consideration Iraq’s improved, yet fragile, security gains” and “provides US commanders sufficient flexibility to assist the Iraqis with emerging challenges.”
On May 15, 2006, Gen. John Abizaid, overseeing US military operations in Iraq at the time, said, “The United States may want to keep a long-term military presence in Iraq to bolster moderates against extremists in the region and protect the flow of oil.”
On March 12, 2010, Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, the commander of US troops in Northern Iraq, told reporters during a conference call that it might be necessary to keep combat troops involved in the security mechanism that maintains peace between Iraqi national and Kurdish regional forces beyond the August deadline.
The National Security Strategy for US Missions abroad proposes to “Ignite a new era of global economic growth through free markets and free trade and pressing for open markets, financial stability, and deeper integration of the world economy.” This fits perfectly with the policy outlined by the Quadrennial Defense Review Report, which says there is a stated ability for the US military to fight “multiple overlapping wars” and to “ensure that all major and emerging powers are integrated as constructive actors and stakeholders into the international system.”
Such gray language and loopholes in policy documents have been common since the US invaded Iraq seven years ago. This has not changed with the SOFA.
“The likelihood of the US planning to keep troops in Iraq after December 31, 2011 has to be measured in the context of the history of US violations of other countries’ sovereign territory, airspace, etc.,” Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, explained to Truthout. “At the moment, this is perhaps most obvious in Pakistan – where the US has been routinely attacking alleged Taliban or al Qaeda supporters with both air and [limited] ground troops in Pakistani territory despite the stated opposition of the Pakistani government which is nominally allied to the US.”
“The early public discussions of ‘re-missioning’ combat troops, changing their official assignment from combat to ‘training’ or ‘assistance,’ thus allowing them to remain in Iraq after the August 2010 deadline for all combat troops to be removed from the country, provides the model for how such sleight of language will occur,” Bennis said, adding, “It may or may not be linked to a future ‘need’ for US troops to remain to protect the increasing numbers of US government civilians assigned to Iraq as the official number of troops decreases.”
Bennis explained that the language of the SOFA is grounded in the claim that Iraq is a sovereign nation and that the government of Iraq is choosing freely to partner with the US government. But the reality, according to Bennis, is that the SOFA was negotiated and signed while Iraq was (and continues to be today) a country occupied and controlled by the United States. Its government is and was at the time of the SOFA’s signing dependent on the US for support.
In Article 27 of the SOFA, the text stated, “in the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq that would violate its sovereignty, political independence, or territorial integrity, waters, airspace, its democratic system or its elected institutions, and upon request by the Government of Iraq, the Parties shall immediately initiate strategic deliberations and, as may be mutually agreed, the United States shall take appropriate measures, including diplomatic, economic, or military measures, or any other measure, to deter such a threat.”
While the agreement is ostensibly binding only for three years, Article 30 permits amendments to the SOFA, which could, of course, include extending its timeframe – and with the Iraqi government still qualitatively dependent on US support, this appears likely. The same is true for Article 28, which states, “The Government of Iraq may request from the United States Forces limited and temporary support for the Iraqi authorities in the mission of security for the Green Zone.”
There is no question that the US has wanted for many years to establish and maintain military bases in Iraq, whether or not they are officially designated as “permanent.” I do not believe the Pentagon is prepared to hand them all over to Iraq, despite the language in the agreement mandating exactly that. Instead, I think the formal arrangement following expiration of the current SOFA may be through some sort of officially “bilateral” agreement between Washington and Baghdad, allowing for the US to “rent” or “lease” or “borrow” the bases from an allegedly “sovereign” government in Iraq on a long-term basis. The likelihood of this increases with the growing number of statements from US military and political officials hinting broadly at the possibility of a long-term presence of US troops in Iraq after December 31, 2011, “if the sovereign government of Iraq should request such an idea …
Faculty Director of the Undergraduate College of Global Studies at Stony Brook University in New York, Professor Michael Schwartz, has written extensively on insurgency and the US Empire.
He pointed out to Truthout that President Obama’s “… actions have made it very clear that he is unwilling to sacrifice the 50,000-strong strike force, even while he has also said he would abide by the SOFA and remove all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. In the meantime, Gates and various generals have released hedging statements or trial balloons saying that the 2011 deadline might be impractical and that various types of forces might stay longer, either to provide air power, to continue training the Iraq military, or to protect Iraq from invasion. Any or all of these could translate into the maintenance of the 50k strike force as well as the five ‘enduring bases.'”
That the Obama administration intends to maintain a significant military presence in Iraq after 2011 is obvious from its continued insistence that in Iraq “democracy” must be guaranteed.
In Washington speak this means that the government of Iraq must be an ally of the United States, a condition that has been iterated and reiterated by all factions (GOP and Democrat) in Washington, since the original invasion. Given the increasing unwillingness of the Maliki administration to follow US dictates (for example, on oil contracts, on relations with Iran, and on relations with Anbar and other Sunni provinces), the removal of troops would allow Maliki even more leeway to pursue policies unacceptable to Washington. Thus, even if Maliki succeeds himself in the Premiership, the US may need troops to keep the pressure on him. If he does not succeed himself, then the likely alternate choices are far more explicit in their antagonism to integration of Iraq into the US sphere of interest … the Obama administration would then be left with the unacceptable prospect that withdrawal would result in Iraq adopting a posture not unlike Iran’s with regard to US presence and influence in the Middle East.
His grim conclusion:
All in all, there are myriad signs that withdrawal of US troops might result in Iraq breaking free from US influence and/or deprive the United States of the strong military presence in that part of the Middle East that both Bush and Obama advocated and have struggled to establish. Until I see some sign that the five bases are going to be dismantled, I will continue to believe that the US will find some reason – with or without the consent of the Iraqi government – to maintain a very large (on the order of 50k) military force there.
Expanding the Base
The US embassy in Iraq, already the largest diplomatic compound on the planet and the size of the Vatican City, is now likely to be doubled in size. Robert Ford, the deputy chief of mission in Baghdad, told reporters in January, “If Congress gives us the money we are asking for, this embassy is going to be twice the size it is now. It’s not going down, it’s getting bigger.”
In 2005, The Washington Post reported:
An even more expensive airfield renovation is underway in Iraq at the Balad air base, a hub for US military logistics, where for $124 million the Air Force is building additional ramp space for cargo planes and helicopters. And farther south, in Qatar, a state-of-the-art, 104,000-square-foot air operations center for monitoring US aircraft in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa is taking shape in the form of a giant concrete bunker … the US military has more than $1.2 billion in projects either underway or planned in the Central Command region – an expansion plan that US commanders say is necessary both to sustain operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and to provide for a long-term presence in the area.
Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan III, who oversees Central Command’s air operations pointed out, “As the ground force shrinks, we’ll need the air to be able to put a presence in parts of the country where we don’t have soldiers, to keep eyes out where we don’t have soldiers on the ground.”
In 2007 in a piece titled “US Builds Air base in Iraq for the Long Haul” NPR reported, “The US military base in Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, is rapidly becoming one of the largest American military installations on foreign soil … The base is one giant construction project, with new roads, sidewalks, and structures going up across this 16-square-mile fortress in the center of Iraq, all with an eye toward the next few decades.”
It is so big that, “There is a regular bus service within its perimeter to ferry around the tens of thousands of troops and contractors who live here. And the services are commensurate with the size of the population. The Subway sandwich chain is one of several US chains with a foothold here. There are two base exchanges that are about as large as a Target or K-Mart. Consumer items from laptop computers to flat-screen TV’s to Harley Davidson motorcycles are available for purchase.”
The report added, “Several senior military officials have privately described Balad Air Base, and a few other large installations in Iraq, as future bases of operation for the US military.” The term used is “lily pad,” a description of the military jumping from base to base without ever touching the ground in between.
In September 2009 The New York Times reported about Balad:
It takes the masseuse, Mila from Kyrgyzstan, an hour to commute to work by bus on this sprawling American base. Her massage parlor is one of three on the base’s 6,300 acres and sits next to a Subway sandwich shop in a trailer, surrounded by blast walls, sand and rock. At the Subway, workers from India and Bangladesh make sandwiches for American soldiers looking for a taste of home. When the sandwich makers’ shifts end, the journey home takes them past a power plant, an ice-making plant, a sewage treatment center, a hospital and dozens of other facilities one would expect to find in a small city. And in more than six years, that is what Americans have created here: cities in the sand…. Some bases have populations of more than 20,000, with thousands of contractors and third-country citizens to keep them running.
Camp Anaconda, as the Balad base is named, also has an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The bottling company there provides seven million bottles of water a month for those on base. This base also contains two fire stations and the single busiest landing strip in the entire Defense Department.
A 2006 Associated Press story, “Elaborate US Bases raise long-term questions,” gave the following account:
[At Balad] the concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that’s now the home of up to 120 US helicopters, a “heli-park” as good as any back in the States. At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq’s western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads. The latest budget also allots $39 million for new airfield lighting, air traffic control systems and upgrades allowing al-Asad to plug into the Iraqi electricity grid – a typical sign of a long-term base. At Tallil, besides the new $14 million dining facility, Ali Air Base is to get, for $22 million, a double perimeter security fence with high-tech gate controls, guard towers and a moat – in military parlance, a “vehicle entrapment ditch with berm.”
Truthout contacted renowned journalist and filmmaker John Pilger for his views:
Like Afghanistan, the occupation of Iraq is more a war of perception than military reality. I don’t believe the US has the slightest intention of leaving Iraq. Yes, there will be the “drawdown” of regular troops with the kind of fanfare and ritual designed to convince the American public that a genuine withdrawal is happening. But the sum of off-the-record remarks by senior generals, who are ever conscious of the war of perception, is that at least 70,000 troops will remain in various guises. Add to this up to 200,000 mercenaries. This is an old ruse. The British used to “withdraw” from colonies and leave behind fortress-bases and their Special Forces, the SAS.
Bush invaded Iraq as part of a long-term US design to restore one of the pillars of US policy and empire in the region: in effect, to make all of Iraq a base. The invasion went badly wrong and the “country as base” concept was modified to that of Iraq indirectly controlled or intimidated by a series of fortress-bases. These are permanent. This is also the US plan for Afghanistan. One has to keep in mind that US foreign policy is now controlled by the Pentagon, whose man is Robert Gates. It is as if Bush never left office. Under Bush there was an effective military coup in much of Washington; the State Department was stripped of its power; and Obama did as no president has ever done: he brought across from a previous, discredited administration the entire war making bureaucracy and gave it virtually unlimited power. The only way the US will leave is for the resistance to rise again, and for Shiites and Sunni to unite; I think that will happen.
Captain, My Captain
On March 4, 2010, as a guest on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show,” Thomas Ricks, who was the military correspondent for the Washington Post, referring to President Obama’s promises to withdraw from Iraq, said, “I would say you shouldn’t believe [it] because I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think we’re going to have several thousand, several tens of thousands of US troops in Iraq on the day President Obama leaves office.”
Gen. George Casey, the chief of staff of the US Army, stated last May that his planning for the Army envisions combat troops in Iraq for a decade as part of a sustained US commitment to fighting extremism and terrorism in the Middle East. “Global trends are pushing in the wrong direction,” he said, “They fundamentally will change how the Army works.”
Senior CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who served under seven presidents – from John Kennedy to George H. W. Bush – explained to Truthout, “Since 2003 I’ve been suggesting that the Iraq war was motivated by the acronym OIL: oil, Israel, and Logistics (military bases to further the interests of the first two).”
In January 2008, McGovern wrote of statements signed by George W. Bush when he was in the White House:
Contrary to how President George W. Bush has tried to justify the Iraq war in the past, he has now clumsily – if inadvertently – admitted that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was aimed primarily at seizing predominant influence over its oil by establishing permanent (the administration favors “enduring”) military bases. He made this transparently clear by adding a signing statement to the defense appropriation bill, indicating that he would not be bound by the law’s prohibition against expending funds:
“(1) To establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq,” or
“(2) To exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq.”
At the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on November 20, 2006, in a speech titled “A Way Forward in Iraq,” Sen. Barack Obama, who had not yet become the commander in chief of the US military, declared:
Drawing down our troops in Iraq will allow us to redeploy additional troops to Northern Iraq and elsewhere in the region as an over-the-horizon force. This force could help prevent the conflict in Iraq from becoming a wider war, consolidate gains in Northern Iraq, reassure allies in the Gulf, allow our troops to strike directly at al Qaeda wherever it may exist, and demonstrate to international terrorist organizations that they have not driven us from the region.
On March 16, 2010, Gen. David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, told lawmakers that the US military may set up an additional headquarters in northern Iraq even after the September 2010 deadline. Petraeus said that putting a headquarters in northern Iraq was “something we are looking at.”
What reason is there to doubt our commander in chief ‘s assertion that there is need to maintain an (approximately 50,000 strong) US “strike force” in or near Iraq to guarantee US interests in the Middle East, to allow Washington to move quickly against jihadists in the region and to make clear to “our enemies” that the US will not be “driven from the region”?
Bhaswati Sengupta contributed to this report.
Colonizing Iraq: The Obama Doctrine? July 9, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: al-Maliki, colonialism, general odierno, halliburton, imperialism, Iraq, iraq bases, iraq colonialism, iraq combat troops, iraq contractors, iraq economy, iraq embassy, iraq green zone, Iraq mercenaries, iraq military, iraq military bases, Iraq Obama, Iraq occupation, Iraq oil, iraq oil revenues, iraq reconstruction, Iraq sovereignty, Iraq war, Iraq withdrawal, iraqi government, krb, malika, michael schwartz, obama doctrine, roger hollander, saddam hussein, SOFA, U.S. imperialism, U.S. troops in Iraq
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“Much of the complicated work of dismantling and removing millions of dollars of equipment from the combat outposts in the city has been done during the dark of night. Gen. Ray Odierno, the overall American commander in Iraq, has ordered that an increasing number of basic operations — transport and re-supply convoys, for example — take place at night, when fewer Iraqis are likely to see that the American withdrawal is not total.”
Acting in the dark of night, in fact, seems to catch the nature of American plans for Iraq in a particularly striking way. Last week, despite the death of Michael Jackson, Iraq made it back into the TV news as Iraqis celebrated a highly publicized American military withdrawal from their cities. Fireworks went off; some Iraqis gathered to dance and cheer; the first military parade since Saddam Hussein’s day took place (in the fortified Green Zone, the country’s ordinary streets still being too dangerous for such things); the U.S. handed back many small bases and outposts; and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proclaimed a national holiday — “sovereignty day,” he called it.
All of this fit with a script promisingly laid out by President Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign. More recently, in his much praised speech to the students of Egypt’s Cairo University, he promised that the U.S. would keep no bases in Iraq, and would indeed withdraw its military forces from the country by the end of 2011.
Unfortunately, not just for the Iraqis, but for the American public, it’s what’s happening in “the dark” — beyond the glare of lights and TV cameras — that counts. While many critics of the Iraq War have been willing to cut the Obama administration some slack as its foreign policy team and the U.S. military gear up for that definitive withdrawal, something else — something more unsettling — appears to be going on.
And it wasn’t just the president’s hedging over withdrawing American “combat” troops from Iraq – which, in any case, make up as few as one-third of the 130,000 U.S. forces still in the country — now extended from 16 to 19 months. Nor was it the re-labeling of some of them as “advisors” so they could, in fact, stay in the vacated cities, or the redrawing of the boundary lines of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, to exclude a couple of key bases the Americans weren’t about to give up.
After all, there can be no question that the Obama administration’s policy is indeed to reduce what the Pentagon might call the U.S. military “footprint” in Iraq. To put it another way, Obama’s key officials seem to be opting not for blunt-edged, Bush-style militarism, but for what might be thought of as an administrative push in Iraq, what Vice President Joe Biden has called “a much more aggressive program vis-à-vis the Iraqi government to push it to political reconciliation.”
An anonymous senior State Department official described this new “dark of night” policy recently to Christian Science Monitor reporter Jane Arraf this way: “One of the challenges of that new relationship is how the U.S. can continue to wield influence on key decisions without being seen to do so.”
Without being seen to do so. On this General Odierno and the unnamed official are in agreement. And so, it seems, is Washington. As a result, the crucial thing you can say about the Obama administration’s military and civilian planning so far is this: ignore the headlines, the fireworks, and the briefly cheering crowds of Iraqis on your TV screen. Put all that talk of withdrawal aside for a moment and — if you take a closer look, letting your eyes adjust to the darkness — what is vaguely visible is the silhouette of a new American posture in Iraq. Think of it as the Obama Doctrine. And what it doesn’t look like is the posture of an occupying power preparing to close up shop and head for home.
As your eyes grow accustomed to the darkness, you begin to identify a deepening effort to ensure that Iraq remains a U.S. client state, or, as General Odierno described it to the press on June 30th, “a long-term partner with the United States in the Middle East.” Whether Obama’s national security team can succeed in this is certainly an open question, but, on a first hard look, what seems to be coming into focus shouldn’t be too unfamiliar to students of history. Once upon a time, it used to have a name: colonialism.
Colonialism in Iraq
Traditional colonialism was characterized by three features: ultimate decision-making rested with the occupying power instead of the indigenous client government; the personnel of the colonial administration were governed by different laws and institutions than the colonial population; and the local political economy was shaped to serve the interests of the occupying power. All the features of classic colonialism took shape in the Bush years in Iraq and are now, as far as we can tell, being continued, in some cases even strengthened, in the early months of the Obama era.
The U.S. embassy in Iraq, built by the Bush administration to the tune of $740 million, is by far the largest in the world. It is now populated by more than 1,000 administrators, technicians, and professionals — diplomatic, military, intelligence, and otherwise — though all are regularly, if euphemistically, referred to as “diplomats” in official statements and in the media. This level of staffing — 1,000 administrators for a country of perhaps 30 million — is well above the classic norm for imperial control. Back in the early twentieth century, for instance, Great Britain utilized fewer officials to rule a population of 300 million in its Indian Raj.
Such a concentration of foreign officialdom in such a gigantic regional command center — and no downsizing or withdrawals are yet apparent there — certainly signals Washington’s larger imperial design: to have sufficient administrative labor power on hand to ensure that American advisors remain significantly embedded in Iraqi political decision-making, in its military, and in the key ministries of its (oil-dominated) economy.
From the first moments of the occupation of Iraq, U.S. officials have been sitting in the offices of Iraqi politicians and bureaucrats, providing guidelines, training decision-makers, and brokering domestic disputes. As a consequence, Americans have been involved, directly or indirectly, in virtually all significant government decision-making.
In a recent article, for example, the New York Times reported that U.S. officials are “quietly lobbying” to cancel a mandated nationwide referendum on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated between the United States and Iraq — a referendum that, if defeated, would at least theoretically force the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the country. In another article, the Times reported that embassy officials have “sometimes stepped in to broker peace between warring blocs” in the Iraqi Parliament. In yet another, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes mentioned in passing that an embassy official “advises Iraqis running the $100 million airport” just completed in Najaf. And so it goes.
Most colonial regimes erect systems in which foreigners involved in occupation duties are served (and disciplined) by an institutional structure separate from the one that governs the indigenous population. In Iraq, the U.S. has been building such a structure since 2003, and the Obama administration shows every sign of extending it.
As in all embassies around the world, U.S. embassy officials are not subject to the laws of the host country. The difference is that, in Iraq, they are not simply stamping visas and the like, but engaged in crucial projects involving them in myriad aspects of daily life and governance, although as an essentially separate caste within Iraqi society. Military personnel are part of this segregated structure: the recently signed SOFA insures that American soldiers will remain virtually untouchable by Iraqi law, even if they kill innocent civilians.
Versions of this immunity extend to everyone associated with the occupation. Private security, construction, and commercial contractors employed by occupation forces are not protected by the SOFA agreement, but are nonetheless shielded from the laws and regulations that apply to normal Iraqi residents. As an Iraq-based FBI official told the New York Times, the obligations of contractors are defined by “new arrangements between Iraq and the United States governing contractors’ legal status.” In a recent case in which five employees of one U.S. contractor were charged with killing another contractor, the case was jointly investigated by Iraqi police and “local representatives of the FBI,” with ultimate jurisdiction negotiated by Iraqi and U.S. embassy officials. The FBI has established a substantial presence in Iraq to carry out these “new arrangements.”
This special handling extends to enterprises servicing the billions of dollars spent every month in Iraq on U.S. contracts. A contractor’s prime responsibility is to follow “guidelines the U.S. military handed down in 2006.” In all this, Iraqi law has a distinctly secondary role. In one apparently typical case, a Kuwaiti contractor hired to feed U.S. soldiers was accused of imprisoning its foreign workers and then, when they protested, sending them home without pay. This case was handled by U.S. officials, not the Iraqi government.
Beyond this legal segregation, the U.S. has also been erecting a segregated infrastructure within Iraq. Most embassies and military bases around the world rely on the host country for food, electricity, water, communications, and daily supplies. Not the U.S. embassy or the five major bases that are at the heart of the American military presence in that country. They all have their own electrical generating and water purification systems, their own dedicated communications, and imported food from outside the country. None, naturally, offer indigenous Iraqi cuisine; the embassy imports ingredients suitable for reasonably upscale American restaurants, and the military bases feature American fast food and chain restaurant fare.
The United States has even created the rudiments of its own transportation system. Iraqis often are delayed when traveling within or between cities, thanks to an occupation-created (and now often Iraqi-manned) maze of checkpoints, cement barriers, and bombed-out streets and roads; on the other hand, U.S. soldiers and officials in certain areas can move around more quickly, thanks to special privileges and segregated facilities.
In the early years of the occupation, large military convoys transporting supplies or soldiers simply took temporary possession of Iraqi highways and streets. Iraqis who didn’t quickly get out of the way were threatened with lethal firepower. To negotiate sometimes hours-long lines at checkpoints, Americans were given special ID cards that “guaranteed swift passage… in a separate lane past waiting Iraqis.” Though the guaranteed “swift passage” was supposed to end with the signing of the SOFA, the system is still operating at many checkpoints, and convoys continue to roar through Iraqi communities with “Iraqi drivers still pulling over en masse.”
Recently, the occupation has also been appropriating various streets and roads for its exclusive use (an idea that may have been borrowed from Israel’s 40-year-old occupation of the West Bank). This innovation has made unconvoyed transportation safer for embassy officials, contractors, and military personnel, while degrading further the Iraqi road system, already in a state of disrepair, by closing useable thoroughfares. Paradoxically, it has also allowed insurgents to plant roadside bombs with the assurance of targeting only foreigners. Such an incident outside Falluja illustrates what have now become Obama-era policies in Iraq:
“The Americans were driving along a road used exclusively by the American military and reconstruction teams when a bomb, which local Iraqi security officials described as an improvised explosive device, went off. No Iraqi vehicles, even those of the army and the police, are allowed to use the road where the attack occurred, according to residents. There is a checkpoint only 200 yards from the site of the attack to prevent unauthorized vehicles, the residents said.”
It is unclear whether this road will be handed back to the Iraqis, if and when the base it services is shuttered. Either way, the larger policy appears to be well established — the designation of segregated roads to accommodate the 1,000 diplomats and tens of thousands of soldiers and contractors who implement their policies. And this is only one aspect of a dedicated infrastructure designed to facilitate ongoing U.S. involvement in developing, implementing, and administering political-economic policies in Iraq.
Whose Military Is It?
One way to “free up” the American military for withdrawal would, of course, be if the Iraqi military could manage the pacification mission alone. But don’t expect that any time soon. According to media reports, if all goes well, this isn’t likely to occur for at least a decade. One telltale sign of this is the pervasive presence of American military advisors still embedded in Iraqi combat units. First Lt. Matthew Liebal, for example, “sits every day beside Lt. Col Mohammed Hadi,” the commander of the Iraqi 43rd Army Brigade that patrols eastern Baghdad.
When it comes to the Iraqi military, this sort of supervision won’t be temporary. After all, the military the U.S. helped create in Iraq still lacks, among other things, significant logistical capability, heavy artillery, and an air force. Consequently, U.S. forces transport and re-supply Iraqi troops, position and fire high-caliber ordnance, and supply air support when needed. Since the U.S. military is unwilling to allow Iraqi officers to command American soldiers, they obviously can’t make decisions about firing artillery, launching and directing U.S. Air Force planes, or sending U.S. logistical personnel into war zones. All major Iraqi missions are, then, fated to be accompanied by U.S. advisors and support personnel for an unknown period to come.
The Iraqi military is not expected to get a wing of modern jet fighters (or have the trained pilots to fly them) until at least 2015. This means that, wherever U.S. air power might be stationed, including the massive air base at Balad north of Baghdad, it will, in effect, be the Iraqi air force for the foreseeable future.
Even the simplest policing functions of the military might prove problematic without the American presence. Typically, when an Iraqi battalion commander was asked by New York Times reporter Steven Lee Myers “whether he needed American backup for a criminal arrest, he replied simply, ‘Of course.'” John Snell, an Australian advisor to the U.S. military, was just as blunt, telling an Agence France Presse reporter that, if the United States withdrew its troops, the Iraqi military “would rapidly disintegrate.”
In a World Policy Journal article last winter, John A. Nagl, a military expert and former advisor to General David Petraeus, expressed a commonly held opinion that an independent Iraqi military is likely to be at least a decade away.
Whose Economy Is It?
Terry Barnich, a victim of the previously discussed Falluja roadside bombing, personified the economic embeddedness of the occupation. As the U.S. State Department’s Deputy Director of the Iraq Transition Assistance Office and the top adviser to Iraq’s Electricity Minister, when he died he was “returning from an inspection of a wastewater treatment plant being built in Falluja.”
His dual role as a high official in the policy-making process and the “top advisor” to one of Iraq’s major infrastructural ministries catches the continuing U.S. posture toward Iraq in the early months of the Obama era. Iraq remains, however reluctantly, a client government; significant aspects of ultimate decision-making power still reside with the occupation forces. Note, by the way, that Barnich was evidently not even traveling with Iraqi officials.
The intrusive presence of the Baghdad embassy extends to the all-important oil industry, which today provides 95% of the government’s funds. When it comes to energy, the occupation has long sought to shape policy and transfer operational responsibility from Iraqi state-owned enterprises of the Saddam Hussein years to major international oil companies. In one of its most successful efforts, in 2004, the U.S. delivered an exclusive $1.2 billion contract to reconstruct Iraq’s decrepit southern oil transport facilities (which handle 80% of its oil flow) to KBR, the notorious former subsidiary of Halliburton. Supervision of that famously mismanaged contract, still uncompleted five years later, was allocated to the U.S. Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.
The Iraqi government, in fact, still exerts remarkably little control over “Iraqi” oil revenues. The Development Fund for Iraq (whose revenues are deposited in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) was established under U.N. auspices just after the invasion and receives 95% of the proceeds from Iraq’s oil sales. All government withdrawals are then overseen by the U.N.-sanctioned International Advisory and Monitoring Board, a U.S.-appointed panel of experts drawn mainly from the global oil and financial industries. The transfer of this oversight function to an Iraqi-appointed body, which was supposed to take place in this January, has been delayed by the Obama administration, which claims that the Iraqi government is not yet ready to take on such a responsibility.
In the meantime, the campaign to transfer administration of core oil operations to the major oil companies continues. Despite the resistance of Iraqi oil workers, the administrators of the two national oil companies, a majority bloc in parliament, and public opinion, the U.S. has continued to pressure the al-Maliki administration to enact an oil law that would mandate licensing devices called production-sharing agreements (PSAs).
If enacted, these PSAs would, without transferring permanent ownership, grant oil companies effective control over Iraq’s oil fields, giving them full discretion to exploit the country’s oil reserves from exploration to sales. U.S. pressure has ranged from ongoing “advice” delivered by American officials stationed in relevant Iraqi ministries to threats to confiscate some or all of the oil monies deposited in the Development Fund.
At the moment, the Iraqi government is attempting to take a more limited step: auctioning management contracts to international oil companies in an effort to increase production at eight existing oil and natural gas fields. While the winning companies would not gain the full discretion to explore, produce, and sell in some of the world’s potentially richest fields, they would at least gain some administrative control over upgrading equipment and extracting oil, possibly for as long as 20 years.
If the auction proves ultimately successful (not at all a certainty, since the first round produced only one as-yet-unsigned agreement), the Iraqi oil industry would become more deeply embedded in the occupation apparatus, no matter what officially happens to American forces in that country. Among other things, the American embassy would almost certainly be responsible for inspecting and guiding the work of the contract-winners, while the U.S. military and private contractors would become guarantors of their on-the-ground security. Fayed al-Nema, the CEO of the South Oil Company, spoke for most of the opponents of such deals when he told Reuters reporter Ahmed Rasheed that the contracts, if approved, would “put the Iraqi economy in chains and shackle its independence for the next 20 years.”
Who Owns Iraq?
In 2007, Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve, told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that “taking Saddam out was essential” — a point he made in his book The Age of Turbulence — because the United States could not afford to be “beholden to potentially unfriendly sources of oil and gas” in Iraq. It’s exactly that sort of thinking that’s still operating in U.S. policy circles: the 2008 National Defense Strategy, for example, calls for the use of American military power to maintain “access to and flow of energy resources vital to the world economy.”
After only five months in office, the Obama administration has already provided significant evidence that, like its predecessor, it remains committed to maintaining that “access to and flow of energy resources” in Iraq, even as it places its major military bet on winning the expanding war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There can be no question that Washington is now engaged in an effort to significantly reduce its military footprint in Iraq, but without, if all goes well for Washington, reducing its influence.
What this looks like is an attempted twenty-first-century version of colonial domination, possibly on the cheap, as resources are transferred to the Eastern wing of the Greater Middle East. There is, of course, no more a guarantee that this new strategy — perhaps best thought of as colonialism lite or the Obama Doctrine — will succeed than there was for the many failed military-first offensives undertaken by the Bush administration. After all, in the unsettled, still violent atmosphere of Iraq, even the major oil companies have hesitated to rush in and the auctioning of oil contracts has begun to look uncertain, even as other “civilian” initiatives remain, at best, incomplete.
As the Obama administration comes face-to-face with the reality of trying fulfill General Odierno’s ambition of making Iraq into “a long-term partner with the United States in the Middle East” while fighting a major counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, it may also encounter a familiar dilemma faced by nineteenth-century colonial powers: that without the application of overwhelming military force, the intended colony may drift away toward sovereign independence. If so, then the dreary prediction of Pulitzer Prize-winning military correspondent Thomas Ricks — that the United States is only “halfway through this war” — may prove all too accurate.
Copyright 2009 Michael Schwartz
A professor of sociology at Stony Brook State University, Michael Schwartz is the author of War Without End: The Iraq War in Context (Haymarket Books), which explains how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to dismantle the Iraqi state and economy while fueling a sectarian civil war. Schwartz’s work on Iraq has appeared in numerous academic and popular outlets. He is a regular at TomDispatch.com. (An audio interview with him on the situation in Iraq is available by clicking here.) His email address is email@example.com.
283 Bases, 170,000 Pieces of Equipment, 140,000 Troops, and an Army of Mercenaries: The Logistical Nightmare in Iraq March 30, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Ann Wright, Blackwater, department of defense, dod, eric leaver, Iraq, iraq combat forces, iraq contractors, iraq drinking water, iraq legal system, iraq logistics, Iraq mercenaries, Iraq occupation, iraq prisoners, iraq private contractors, Iraq torture, iraq us bases, iraq us troops, Iraq war, Iraq withdrawal, iraqis, jeremy scahill, military budget, military spending, obama administration, obama military, Pentagon, roger hollander, SOFA, status of forces, us embassy baghdad, war resisters league
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Why you’ll be paying for the occupation for years to come, withdrawal or not.
With last week’s announced escalation of the war in Afghanistan, including an Iraq-like “surge” replete with 4,000 more U.S. troops and a sizable increase in private contractors, President Barack Obama blew the lid off of any lingering perceptions that he somehow represents a significant change in how the U.S. conducts its foreign policy.
In the meantime, more reports have emerged that bolster suspicions that Obama’s Iraq policy is but a downsized version of Bush’s and that a total withdrawal of U.S. forces is not on the horizon.
In the latest episode of Occupation Rebranded, it was revealed that the administration intends to reclassify some combat forces as “advisory and assistance brigades.” While Obama’s administration is officially shunning the use of the term “global war on terror,” the labels du jour, unfortunately, seem to be the biggest changes we will see for some time.
Underscoring this point is a report just released by the War Resisters League, which for decades has closely monitored the military budget, revealing how many tax dollars are actually going to the war machine. The WRL puts out its famous pie chart annually just before tax time as a reminder of what we are doing exactly when we file our returns. Noting that 51 percent of the federal budget goes to military spending, the WRL said it does “not expect the military percentage to change much” under Obama.
While Obama — and public attention — shifted foreign policy focus last week to Afghanistan, lost in the media blitz was another important report that examines how taxpayers will continue to pay for the Iraq occupation for years to come, withdrawal or not. This report, released in March by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, provides a sobering look at Obama’s “massive and expensive” Iraq plan, identifying several crucial questions that have yet to be addressed.
Whether or not the Obama administration actually intends to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in numbers large enough to claim to be “ending the war” as many believe, this kind of official review of the U.S. reality in Iraq — and the congressional oversight to which Obama will (or will not) be subjected in the coming months — bears intense scrutiny.
First, there’s the money. “Although reducing troops would appear to lower costs, GAO has seen from previous operations … that costs could rise in the near term,” according to the 56-page report, which is titled “Iraq: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight.”
In addition to the massive funds required to move tens of thousands of troops, the GAO points out that the Army estimates “it would cost $12 billion to $13 billion a year for at least two years after the operation ends to repair, replace and rebuild the equipment used in Iraq.”
The cost of closing U.S. bases will also “likely be significant;” even after military units leave Iraq, the Pentagon will need to invest in training and equipment to return these units to levels capable of performing “full spectrum operations.” (The GAO report does not even mention the costs of providing much-needed medical and mental health services to veterans.)
The Obama administration is likely to portray the costs of “withdrawing” from Iraq as a painful necessity made inevitable by the Bush administration. But there are already calls for Obama to not allocate any new funds for such an operation. Retired Army Col. Ann Wright, a veteran diplomat who reopened the U.S. embassy in Kabul after Sept. 11 (and, while in the military, worked on plans for an Iraq invasion), says, “Everyone in the Department of Defense — military and civilian — knows well the expense of going to war and the expense of bringing troops back to the United States.
“DOD has plenty of money to withdraw equipment and personnel and no doubt has had monies specifically for that purpose built into its budgets for years. The Congress should not provide additional funding for withdrawal, but instead require DOD to use existing allocations.”
In fact, the GAO characterizes the Pentagon’s monthly reports on financial obligations under the global war on terrorism as being of “questionable reliability,” adding that it “found numerous problems with DOD’s processes for recording and reporting its war-related costs.”
“Without transparent and accurate cost information,” the GAO warns, “Congress and DOD will not have reliable information on how much the war is costing, sufficient details on how appropriated funds are spent, or the reliable historical data needed to develop and provide oversight of future funding needs.”
Dollars aside, the new GAO report report raises serious questions about how Obama will handle key challenges that will ultimately determine Iraq’s future and the extent of the U.S. presence in the country. Among the questions the Obama administration has yet to answer: How to dismantle or hand over the 283 U.S. installations in Iraq (including more than 50 large military bases); What to do with the 160,000-plus private U.S. contractors in Iraq; Who will provide security for the massive — and likely expanding — army of diplomats deployed in the country at the monstrous U.S. embassy in Baghdad?
Iraqis Could Vote the U.S. Out: Would Obama Listen?
Obama, of course, has always said that his Iraq policy is not set in stone and that he will adjust it according to “conditions on the ground” — a sweeping disclaimer that could mean a 180-degree shift on a dime.
The GAO report acknowledges that under the Status of Forces Agreement, Iraq and the U.S. can “extend the draw-down time frame” if necessary, adding, “Either government can unilaterally terminate the security agreement by providing 12 months advance notice.” In the absence of clearly identified conditions for the stability of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, one scenario that could result in Obama extending the U.S. occupation is if the Washington-backed Baghdad regime is threatened by an uprising.
Statistics presented by the GAO are worth considering: “[T]he number of Iraqi army and police forces nearly doubled from about 320,000 in January 2007 to just over 600,000 in October 2008. However, according to the Department of Defense, over the same period, the number of Iraqi army units capable of conducting operations independently remained at about 10 percent of total units.”
Iraq is scheduled to have a national referendum on the SOFA this summer, and the GAO report notes that “the Iraqi government has said it would abide by the results.” This means that if Iraqis reject it, “U.S. forces would have to leave Iraq by as early as July 2010.” At this point, it seems impossible to imagine Obama having all U.S. forces out of Iraq a year from now — and certainly not his residual force of up to 50,000 troops. The GAO report suggests that Congress ask the Obama administration, “What are the U.S. contingency plans in the event that Iraqis vote against the security agreement in July 2009?”
More broadly, the GAO asks, “To what extent will the United States attempt to renegotiate provisions of the security agreement if security conditions deteriorate or other conditions are deemed insufficient to draw down responsibly?”
These questions will prove crucial in determining the sincerity of Obama’s campaign pledge to end the war.
Will the U.S. Walk Away From its 283 Bases in Iraq?
In a dramatic understatement, the GAO notes that the U.S. “has an extensive basing footprint in Iraq. … Closing or handing over U.S. installations in Iraq will be time consuming and costly.” With no fewer than 283 such installations throughout Iraq — 51 large bases and 232 smaller bases — the Obama administration has not said how it will approach this formidable task.
This is no minor detail. “According to U.S. Army officials, experience has shown that it takes one to two months to close the smallest platoon — or company — size installations, which contain between 16 and 200 combat soldiers or Marines.”
However, the U.S. “has never closed large, complex installations — such as Balad Air Force Base, which contains about 24,000 inhabitants and has matured over five years. U.S. Army officials estimate it could take longer than 18 months to close a base of that size.” Obama should explain clearly how he intends to dismantle these bases or to what forces he is going to give control over them.
It is very hard to imagine that the U.S. will simply walk away from large bases it spent years building. So, will they be turned over to Iraq? If so, to whom? What guarantee is there that they would not be used as operating bases for death squads? Will some be destroyed? What about the environmental impact?
In addition to the bases, the GAO reveals that, as of of March 2008, “the United States had in place about 170,000 pieces of equipment worth about $16.5 billion that would need to be removed from Iraq.” Erik Leaver, a senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies, says,”An example of a tough question: What to do with MRAPs [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles]?”
“The MRAPs are so heavy, transport back to the U.S., plus the rehab charges may make it cost-effective to actually destroy them,” says Leaver. “Plus, if you need to move 120,000 soldiers in a rapid time frame, do you even have the space to bring them back if you take the MRAPs?”
Then there are the facilities in Iraq currently being run by U.S. contractors. According to the GAO, Defense Contract Management Agency officials estimate “there is at least $3.5 billion worth of contractor-managed government-owned property in Iraq.”
Troops Withdrawal, Contractor Surge?
Despite his much-celebrated troop withdrawal announcement, Obama has said nothing publicly about what he intends to do with the 163,000 “security contractors” deployed in Iraq, whose ranks outnumber U.S. troops. This is most likely because, as the GAO reports, there is no plan.
“From late 2007 through July 2008, planning for the redeployment of U.S. forces did not include a theaterwide plan for redeploying contractors,” the GAO report reveals.
In fact, the GAO raises the prospect that Obama will actually increase reliance on private contractors — including armed contractors like those who work for Blackwater — particularly given the Obama administration’s stated intention to increase diplomatic and reconstruction work in Iraq, which will create a greater need for “diplomatic security.”
According to the GAO, the State Department spent about $1.1 billion from 2006 to 2008 on 1,400 private security contractors in Iraq. As of January 2009, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (the main employer of Blackwater and other armed contractors responsible for guarding U.S. diplomats and occupation officials), has already experienced a drastic increase in workload.
“State’s reliance on contractors may increase as the department currently depends on DOD to provide some services,” says the GAO, citing the examples of Bosnia and Kosovo, where “contractors assumed responsibility for certain support functions that had been previously performed by military personnel.”
Of course, executives at private security companies have long suggested that a U.S. military draw down could mean a greater role for private forces in Iraq.
“To what extent does State have contingency plans in place if Embassy Baghdad is unable to decrease its reliance on U.S. civilian government personnel over the next 5 years?” asks the GAO report.
The report also addresses question of accountability for contractors, noting that they are no longer officially immune from prosecution under Iraq’s legal system. Indeed, after the suspension of the Paul Bremer-era Order 17 and the signing of the SOFA, contractors are now ostensibly bound by Iraqi law — but not one has been prosecuted in Iraq for any crime, and it seems doubtful that any U.S. president would allow this to happen.
According to the GAO, “a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee is working to establish procedures and guidelines for exercising Iraqi jurisdiction for private contractors operating in Iraq, including those covered by the security agreement.” In other words, believe it when it happens.
No More Bailouts Until Iraq Has Clean Drinking Water
The GAO report is a pretty dry read, but seasoned observers of the Iraq occupation might find humor in one of the report’s graphs. It maps the drastic decline in the number of nations participating in the Iraq occupation, the so-called coalition of the willing, from 2004 to the present.
“As of March 2009, only three coalition partners remain in Iraq — Australia, Romania and the United Kingdom,” the GAO reports, illustrating the point with a sharp, steep slope. “These coalition partners have an agreement with Iraq to remove their troops by July 2009. At that time, the United States will be the sole remaining nation with troops stationed in Iraq.”
Another important figure included in the report that is anything but humorous — and rarely talked about — is the huge number of people imprisoned or detained by the U.S. in Iraq: 15,000. Many of these prisoners are being held without charge or access to due process. Under existing agreements between Iraq and the U.S., they are slated to either be turned over to Iraq’s legal system or released.
Interestingly, the GAO report does raise concerns about the dismal shape of Iraq’s legal system, citing a December 2008 Human Rights Watch report that “concluded Iraq’s central criminal court ‘seriously’ failed to meet international standards of due process and fair trials.” The GAO cites “concerns that detainees in Iraqi custody may be tortured or mistreated because Iraqi officials often rely on coerced confessions instead of physical evidence, particularly in criminal cases.”
It is telling that the GAO raised this concern in a section about the prospect of U.S. contractors being stripped of immunity and subjected to the Iraqi justice system, not Iraqis handed over to the Baghdad regime by the U.S. Regarding the fate of the Iraqi prisoners, the GAO report dryly notes, “many implementing details for this process must be resolved.”
Perhaps the saddest portion of the GAO report relates to what should be done to address the massive suffering in Iraq and what the U.S. responsibility should be for paying for the tremendous devastation of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure over the past 20 years.
Just take the issue of water. As of now, according to the report, “many Iraqis are without water or have access to water that puts them at risk of diseases such as cholera and dysentery, as evidenced by outbreaks in 2007 and 2008. According to the United Nations, only 40 percent of children have reliable access to safe drinking water; with water-treatment plants operating at only 17 percent capacity, large volumes of untreated waste are discharged into Iraq’s waterways. The health risks associated with a lack of access to potable water and proper sewage treatment are compounded by the shortage of medical professionals in Iraq’s health care system.”
According to the World Bank, it would cost $14.4 billion to rebuild the Iraqi public works and water system. In other words, about five weeks of the overall cost of the U.S. occupation.
Instead of discussing U.S. reparations or restitution, as groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War have demanded, the report asks the Obama administration what more the Iraqi government can do to fund reconstruction projects. “We’ve just spent $700 billion to bail out Wall Street,” says IPS’ Erik Leaver. “While the report notes that the U.S. spent $9.5 billion and Iraq budgeted for $17.2 billion for reconstruction of a war torn society. The scale of what we’ve done on the civilian end is absurd.”
Before one more cent is spent on bailing out corrupt corporations that destroyed the U.S. economy, Iraqis should have clean drinking water. After all, it was the illegal U.S. wars that took it from them in the first place. And that is not logic based on lies.
Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalistwho reports frequently for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now, has spent extensive time reporting from Iraq and Yugoslavia. He is currently a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. Scahill is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, democratic party, harry reid, Iraq, iraq bases, Iraq mercenaries, Iraq occupation, Iraq oil, Iraq war, iraqi government, obama withdrawal speech, pakistan, peace, peace movement, pelosi, Pentagon, phillis bennis, president obama, roger hollander, SOFA, status of forces, stiglitz, war on terror, war profiteering
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(Roger’s note: I beleive this article says in a much more polite and restrained manner essentially what I posted on the Blog on March 1 — http://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/barack-obama-iraq-and-the-big-lie/?. The author is too cultured, where I am just plain angry and cynical, to call Barack Obama a liar. Yes, I agree it is for the peace movement to put the pressure on; but I do not exonerate Obama for his failure to stand up to the military-industrial complex once and for all and to speak the Plain Truth to the country. Of course, the proof is in the pudding. I would love to believe that President Obama is using a pragmatic gradualist approach that in the long run will result in the complete withdrawal from Iraq. But, as I pointed out in my article, the U.S. has an enormous investment in Iraq; and it is hard to believe that anything less than standing up to the military and corporate interests will change what appears to be a predetermined course that will keep U.S. military presence in Iraq for generations. From what I have seen and heard of Obama, it is hard to believe that he is up to it).
Talking Points Published March 6, 2009
Institute for Policy Studies, www.ips-dc.org
President Obama’s speech to Congress was a good first step, but we still have a lot of work to do to end the war in Iraq.
The meaning of President Obama’s Iraq withdrawal speech, and its influence on real U.S. policy in Iraq, will not be determined solely by his actual words. The import of the speech — and whether its promises become real — will be determined by a fluid combination of what Obama says, his own definitions of what he says, AND the disparate ways his speech is heard, perceived, described and contested by others — the mainstream media, Congress, the military, other centers of elite power, and crucially, the peace movement.
The words of the speech were quite amazing: “And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home.”
After eight years of reckless slaughter proudly justified in the name of a “global war on terror,” it was stunning to hear the president of the United States announce what he called “a new strategy to end the war in Iraq.” That moment was something we should celebrate. It was ours. The statement was a recognition of the powerful antiwar consensus in this country, a consensus that helped define the powerful constituency so key to Obama’s election. Obama may not acknowledge, even to himself, that it was the organized antiwar movement that helped create and build and strengthen that consensus — but still his speech reflected the new political reality that requires him to speak to the demands of that antiwar community.
Ending the War: A Definition
From the vantage point of the peace movement, the speech was and remains insufficient, and shot through with wiggle room and loopholes. We know that President Obama’s definition of “ending the war” is not ours. Our definition has not changed:
- Withdraw all the troops and bring them home (don’t redeploy them to another illegal and unwinnable war in Afghanistan).
- Pull out all the U.S.-paid foreign mercenaries and contractors and cancel the remaining contracts.
- Close all U.S. military bases and turn them over to Iraq.
- Give up all efforts to control Iraq’s oil.
While he laid out partial versions of some of these issues (withdrawal and oil), others (mercenaries and bases) were left out entirely. And at the end of the day, President Obama did not make a single real commitment to meeting our definition of ending the war. As The New York Times columnist Bob Herbert described Obama’s plan for Iraq and Afghanistan, “we’re committed to these two conflicts for a good while yet, and there is nothing like an etched-in-stone plan for concluding them.”
Understanding all the problems, limitations, and dangers of President Obama’s speech is crucial. (For a fuller analysis of the dangers in Obama’s speech, see my February 26th talking points — http://www.ips-dc.org/articles/1117.)
But understanding those limitations does not tell us how to respond to this new moment, a moment when the president of the United States is telling Americans that he is ending the war, that he intends to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, telling Iraqis that the U.S. “pursues no claim on your territory or your resources,” and telling the world that the U.S. plans to engage with everybody in the region including Iran and Syria.
We may — we must — understand all the reasons that those words don’t constitute a firm commitment. But the reality is that the vast majority of people hearing those words, who already believe in what those words should mean, will assume President Obama means the same thing they do. That perception provides a huge opportunity for the peace movement. And it is for that reason that the assertions in his speech remain contested terrain.
Who Opposes, Who Supports?
Leading Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid, criticized Obama’s plan for leaving 50,000 or more U.S. troops in Iraq after the withdrawal of “combat brigades.” Their critique was powerful, public, and their first substantive break with the president — breaking to his left. Although they will likely back down, indeed they have already gone silent on this issue, their initial response opens the possibility for their greater engagement with more progressive members of Congress whom they had consistently dissed throughout the Bush years, and perhaps ultimately with the peace movement directly. The “speak with one voice” posture of the Democratic Party may be eroding with a Democrat in the White House.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, it was key Republicans — including Senator John McCain — who voiced immediate support for Obama’s withdrawal plan. Clearly they understand the huge loopholes inherent in the “withdrawal” strategy. They recognize the limited character of Obama’s pledges. But what they have officially endorsed, on the record, is a strategy that includes the language of “remove all U.S. troops from Iraq,” “our combat mission will end,” etc. They will never be our allies — but they are stuck with those words. Certainly they can — and surely will — reverse themselves if partial withdrawal moves threaten to turn into a real end of U.S. occupation. But they will pay a high political price when they do — and risk being dubbed flip-floppers on the Iraq War.
Military leaders, including top U.S. generals in Iraq and the region, heads of the joint chiefs of staff, and the Republican secretary of defense, have also expressed support. Of course they are the most familiar with all the wiggle room in the plan. They know the likelihood of renegotiating with a compliant Iraqi government virtually any or all of the terms in the U.S.-Iraq agreement — on which Obama based his intention to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq. But whatever their understanding, the fact that the military brass is standing publicly behind what is being touted as a complete withdrawal plan strips an important weapon away from those who oppose any withdrawal at all.
On its February 28th front page, The New York Times referred to the speech as “the beginning of the end of one of the longest and most divisive wars in American history.” The Times went on to describe how Obama “announced that he would withdraw combat forces from Iraq by August 2010 and all remaining troops by December 2011.” Not that he “intended,” but that he “would” withdraw all troops. The San Francisco Chronicle headline was “Obama Makes it Plain: Troops Out by End of 2011.” The Washington Post headlined “Obama Sets Timetable for Iraq.”
We have to recognize that even reports accurately depicting the too limited withdrawals, the too long timelines, the continuing occupation by U.S. troops, etc., will still be widely understood as consistent with what President Obama called “a new strategy to end the war.” And while it’s vital that as a movement we harbor no illusions, and recognize all the loopholes and wiggle room and pitfalls, our most important job is not to convince the people of this country that there is no way President Obama will end the occupation of Iraq. Our job will be to convince people that the only way President Obama will be able to overcome the powerful pro-war opposition inside and outside his administration and among his congressional allies, the only way he will be willing to even try to accomplish what he has promised, is if we all mobilize to demand it, to hold him accountable to his pledges, his promises, his speeches, and even his intentions.
Our Job: Make Him Do It
It’s the story of FDR who, at the height of popular mobilization by trade unionists, communists, community activists and a host of others, finally told his demanding supporters, “okay, I get it. I know what we have to do. Now get out there in the streets and make me do it!” Our job is to constantly hold President Obama and his administration accountable to what appear to be promises: withdraw all the troops, respect Iraqi sovereignty, give up Iraqi oil…even as we ratchet up our push for a faster, fuller troop withdrawal, closure of bases, and more.
At the same time our movement must take on other challenges as well.
We need to oppose Obama’s call for expanding the military. If he were really worried about the stress on military, the best solution is to bring them home — not ship them from Iraq to another illegal and unwinnable war two borders away. And at this moment of economic devastation across the U.S. and around the world, the issue of the financial costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan must be addressed directly; those hundreds of billions represent perhaps the largest single pot of money to pay for the health care/environment/energy priorities of the new administration. If things continue as they are, Stiglitz’s Three Trillion Dollar War in Iraq will turn into a $4 trillion dollar set of wars, as Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to swallow more troops, more bombs, more lives. We need to demand replacement of the war budget with a people’s budget that cuts the military budget by eliminating the Pentagon’s network of foreign bases that cost billions and destroy lives and environments around the world, getting rid of all our nuclear weapons, and eliminating all the giant weapons systems that have been obsolete for years.
Afghanistan: Not a “Good” War
And, perhaps most urgently, we must mobilize powerfully to oppose and reverse Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan. That war was never a “good war,” and it turns out that most Americans no longer think it is. Military leaders from NATO to the Pentagon have already acknowledged that there is no military solution; escalating the war with 17,000 new U.S. troops, with plans for a strategy discussion after their deployment, is completely backwards. We must reclaim Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s lonely, brave, and prophetic opposition to authorizing force in response to the terror attacks of 9/11. The problem in Afghanistan, then and now, was never insufficient troops. It was the creation of the so-called “global war on terror,” that shaped a militarized framework for responding to every problem in the world (as well as here at home — remember the “war on poverty,” the “war on drugs,” the “war on crime,” etc?).
Obama gave us hope that a new foreign policy, based on negotiations and diplomacy, not military force, was possible. He said he would talk to everyone. Our job now is to mobilize stronger than ever — no post-inauguration vacations! — to demand that this new administration make good on the promises people heard. If the perception of tens of millions of people in this country is that President Obama promised to withdraw all troops, it doesn’t matter that we know his “intention” is not a commitment. That perception is a starting point. If everyone assumes complete U.S. troop withdrawal is already official U.S. policy, it will make renegotiating terms of the U.S.-Iraqi agreement much harder for the Pentagon — because people will believe they’re trying to reverse a promise. It makes our job easier.
After the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, our movement began immediately to mobilize against the war we knew was coming. Organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights moved quickly to challenge the “global war on terror” framework as illegal, and to demand that the attacks be dealt with as international crimes, rather than war. The first national demonstration was held October 7, led by the people who would soon form 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, those who had lost loved ones three weeks before, and by those who would soon create United for Peace and Justice. The war began the same day, with the bombing of Kabul launched just as the antiwar rally began in the streets of New York. We have been working ever since. But most of our movement left Afghanistan more or less in the background as we tried to stop the U.S. invasion and then mobilized to end the war and occupation in Iraq.
It’s time to come back. We hear accusations that the war in Iraq was a “distraction” from the “real war,” the “just war,” the “good war” in Afghanistan. Not everyone believes it was a “good war” anymore. But we have a lot of work to do to stop them both.
Rick on Withdrawal: Yes We’re Staying March 3, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Uncategorized, War.
Tags: arabic source, camp lejeune speech, Iraq, iraq combat, Iraq war, Iraq withdrawal, Obama, roger hollander, SOFA, special operations, status of forces agreement, tom rick
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Last week I was mildly critical of Tom Rick’s book “The Gamble” because it made no use of Arabic or Iraqi sources and instead was based on interviews with US Army officials. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Not talking to any Arabic sources means that the book will tend to focus on the Surge as the Americans see it. At the same time, however, Ricks has a level of access that no other Western journalist has, so if he’s saying the following, then we can probably assume it reflects a major train of thought inside the US Army, regardless of how the issue is officially being framed:
The more I consider it, the more I think President Obama’s Camp Lejeune speech last Friday was about how to stay in Iraq for a while, not about how to get out. I think he is doing the right thing, or at least the least wrong thing in a misbegotten war.
But I don’t think he has been clear about what he is doing. Let me say this almost as plainly as I can. You can label it a non-combat force. You can call it the Jayash al-Barack or the Mahdi Mouseketeers if you like. But there are going to be two combat brigades at the core of that post-2010 American force in Iraq, plus a substantial Special Operations force executing combat counterterror missions. And those bombs that hit American convoys sure feel like combat, especially when the flash of the explosion is followed by RPG and machine gun fire, even if the soldiers inside the Humvees are told they are on a non-combat mission.
What’s more, the planned troop reductions won’t really happen in a big way until sometime in 2010, so Iraq can get through its national elections. (And a memo to everyone who is counting on the SOFA to bail us out of Iraq: Guys, that was about getting Iraq through 2009, not about what happens in 2011.)
Let me say this even more plainly: Our participation in this war ends not when one president hangs a “Mission Accomplished” banner or when another president declares that combat has ended, but when American troops stop being killed there. I asked a military official at the White House on Friday if American troops will stop dying in Iraq in August 2010, and he said no, that will go on. One reason this war has been such a bitter experience at home is that people feel that the White House has misled them, especially because its previous occupant was so consistently overoptimistic
Barack Obama, Iraq and the Big Lie March 1, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About War, Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Barack Obama, Bechtel, big lie, Blackwater, cheney, corporate america, counter terrorism, democracy, dynacorp, erc alterman, first gulf war, George Bush, gulf war, gulf war 1991, haliburton, Iraq, iraq combat troops, iraq military occupation, iraq redeployment, iraq transition, Iraq war, Iraqi people, jeremy scahill, joel hirschhorn, judge judy, kuwait, McCain, Middle East, military industrial complex, Nancy Pelosi, oil, phyllis bennis, republican right, roger hollander, saddam hussein, SOFA, south korea, status of forces agreement, tyranny, us embassy baghdad, xe
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By Roger Hollander, March 1, 2009, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com
“Don’t piss on me and try to tell me it’s raining”
Does it matter whether it is a moral and intellectual imbecile like George W. Bush or a brilliant and charismatic intellectual like Barack Obama who employ the Big Lie as a tactic to explain and justify the unjustifiable?
In a posting that appeared in towardfreedom.com on February 18, Joel S. Hirschhorn writes, “Compared to rioting Europeans, Americans seem like docile, drugged out sheep … mesmerized by melodic rhetoric of political messiah Barack Obama.”
(http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1529/1/) (italics added)
In an ironic and tragic twist of fate, it now appears that Barack Obama’s mesmerizing and melodic rhetoric has turned out to be a two-edged sword. The same magic timbre that inspired and motivated millions of America to work day and night for his election in order to end America’s disastrous military adventures in the Middle East is now being put to use to give credibility to the Bush/Cheney worldview of the Iraq War and to thwart the desires, interests and welfare of those very same millions. The delivery hasn’t changed, but God help us, look at the content (which is what this article is all about).
In an article entitled “War Is Over (IF You Want It)” that appears in the current edition of The Nation magazine (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090316/alterman), Eric Alterman calls attention to the radical Republican right strategy of defining the fiasco in Iraq as a “victory.” He cites, for example, an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal that quotes Bush speech writer Marc Thiessen, “As Mr. Bush leaves office, Iraq is a unified and free country, and our enemies there have suffered a devastating defeat. If his successor does not squander that victory, a free Iraq will one day be to the Middle East what a free South Korea has been to Asia.” (this parallels the same kind of Big Lie that the radical right has propagated about the Vietnam War, that it could have been won if only the politicians had given the military a free hand – to nuke Hanoi presumably).
Alterman goes on to cite other neocons in a similar vein and suggests that this is a conscious and concentrated strategy the purpose of which is to set up President Obama up for failure. If that is indeed the case, then Obama seems to be willingly and blithely walking into the trap.
In his speech given on Friday, February 27 at marine Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, Obama both affirms the neocon revisionist history of the Iraq invasion and occupation and lies blatantly to the American public about the proposed withdrawal.
First the latter. Obama: “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end …. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.”
A bald faced lie.
Writing in the journal Foreign Policy in Focus on Friday, February 27, (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5910), Phyllis Bennis exposes Obama’s dissimulation about the up to 50,000 allegedly non-combatant troops “left behind.” Leaving aside the question of why that huge number would be required to “train,equip and advise” (one is reminded of the “advisors” in Vietnam), which even Nancy Pelosi has questioned, Bennis refers to a December New York Times article “describing how military planners believe Obama’s goal of pulling out combat troops ‘could be accomplished at least in part by re-labeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be ‘re-missioned,’ their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis.’” She adds, “That would mean a retreat to the lies and deception that characterized this war during Bush years — something President Obama promised to leave behind. It would also mean military resistance in Iraq would continue, leading to more Iraqi and U.S. casualties.”
Along with AlterNet’s Jeremy Scahill (“All Troops Out By 2011? Not So Fast; Why Obama’s Iraq Speech Deserves a Second Look,” (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/129362/all_troops_out_by_2011_not_so_fast%3B_why_obama%27s_iraq_speech_deserves_a_second_look/), Bettis shows how the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which was adopted by the Iraqi government but never ratified by the United States, and which calls for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, is full of loopholes that the Pentagon and presumably the President are ready, willing and able, to employ when the time comes for the helicopters to be evacuating the remaining troops a la Vietnam (in other words, it ain’t gonna happen).
Obama himself (inadvertently, I presume) lets it slip into the speech where he states that he will “retain a transitional force … conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions.” Such missions can hardly be characterized as anything other than combat missions. He also telegraphs to both the American people via his warning to the Iraq resistance what his ace-in-the-loophole will be: “But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.” It’s that flexibility that we knee-jerk peace-mongers worry about.
Sins of omission can be as deceptive, disingenuous and morally corrupt as sins of commission. As Bettis points out, Obama neglected to mention the future use of air and naval force in Iraq, the disposition of the more than fifty military bases in Iraq, or the future status of the enormous numbers of mercenaries and contractors (e.g. Dyncorp, Bechtel, and Blackwater, now Xe). Nor did refer to the city within a city that is the United States Embassy in Baghdad, the largest embassy in the history of humankind of which you can bet that it wasn’t built to become redundant in a period of a couple of years. Come December 31, 2111, all logic and experience tell us that United States military presence in Iraq will continue to be substantial. Obama does himself and the nation a disservice by suggesting otherwise.
As for the Bush, Cheney, neocon, and now apparently Obama fairytale version of the United States involvement in Iraq, it is probably true that it is the only one that would have been palatable for obvious reasons to the marines at Camp Lejeune, not to mention the neo-Fascist right that has ruled the country for the past eight years. But to speak before the country and the entire world and characterize the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, untold misery for millions and the virtual destruction of the Iraq infrastructure, as some kind of a noble venture is to contort reality into nothing less than a Big Lie which can only serve to justify past atrocity and foreshadow future ongoing bloodshed and destruction.
Obama: “We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours.” Bush could not have said it any better (which is probably why McCain is salivating as we speak).
The Biggest Lie of all comes toward the end of Obama’s speech: “And so I want to be very clear: We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime …We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government …And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life …”
Alleging that “we sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime” contains the truth within a lie. In making the statement, Obama incredibly admits that the United States government violated the most fundamental precept of the United Nations Charter and international law, to wit, an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation. But does the President expect the American people and the world to forget about the intentionally false information about nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction that was fed to the American people and world community as the justification for the invasion in the first place? In this instance Obama’s Big lie serves to reinforce the Original Big Lie of the Bush administration. The growing demand for prosecutorial accountability with respect to Bush and Company include, we should remember, not only torture, rendition, illegal wiretapping, etc. but also the crime of lying to the American public and Congress about the grounds for the invasion.
(To put matters into an even broader historical context, I refer readers to Nora Eisenberg’s excellent piece in AlterNet.com where she documents the Big Lie technique that was used to justify the first Gulf War in 1991 where according to a United Nations report the United States Air Force bombed Iraq “back into the Dark Ages.” “Obama to Announce Iraq Troop Withdrawal,”
As for establishing a sovereign government and leaving the Iraqi people the opportunity to have a better life, while the jury may still be out on those counts, the evidence we have to date flies in the face of such empty rhetorical wishful thinking.
Some time ago Bush and the neocons began, ominously, comparing Iraq with South Korea, where the U.S. has had a “successful” military presence for over 50 years. They neglect, of course, to note the difference, to wit, that South Korea was a military ally of the United States against the North Korean invasion, whereas the U.S. has been bombing the life out of Iraq since 1991 and through its unlawful invasion provoked a near civil war within the country that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis? Will this South Korea paradigm fiction be the next straw that Obama will need to grasp in order to justify occupation in perpetuity?
There are two other critical concepts, which are central to the forces that were behind the original invasion and which impulse the continued military occupation, that Obama neglected to mention. One of them is “war profiteering.” Wipe out the infrastructure, and then as a pretext for reconstructing it, give billions in untendered contracts to the likes of Dick Cheney’s Haliburton. And that is not to mention the corporate ghouls who manufacture our weapons of mass destruction.
The other concept, however, is one that virtually every American, not to mention the rest of the world, knows in her or his heart to have been, is, and will continue to be the single most – if not the only – motivating force behind the U.S. military adventure in Iraq. It can be found in the original but quickly discarded acronym for the mission: Operation Iraqi Liberation.
Further Deconstruction of President Obama’s February 27 “Withdrawal from Iraq” Speech
Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against tyranny …”
Deconstruction: Those soldiers who have fought tyranny are living in Canada.
Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against … disorder.”
Deconstruction: Disorder created not only by the current invasion and occupation but also by 19 years of U.S. bombing and economic blockade. Eisenberg: “We never learned that the government’s goals had changed from expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait to destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. Or what a country with a destroyed infrastructure looks like — with most of its electricity, telecommunications, sewage system, dams, railroads and bridges blown away.”
Obama: “Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007.”
Deconstruction: Sectarian killing and violence that the U.S. invasion and occupation provoked and by which Saddam Hussein’s atrocities pale in comparison. U.S. inspired violence and killing 2003-2006 conveniently ignored.
Obama: “Al Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq’s Security Forces …”
Deconstruction: And has been handed a recruiting opportunity that will dramatically inflate the ranks of revenge-motivated terrorists who will plague us for decades or more.
Obama: “… a transition to full Iraqi responsibility … an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant … The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources.”
Deconstruction: An Iraq that is occupied by the U.S. military in perpetuity, in order to ensure the protection of U.S. interests in the region’s natural resources and to ensure the “election” of government’s that maintain Iraq as a client state of the U.S.
Obama: “There are those … who will insist that Iraq’s differences cannot be reconciled without more killing.”
Deconstruction: We don’t insist on more killing we just do it. Bennis: “And what if the reduction in ground troops is answered with an escalation of U.S. air power? The U.S. appears to be planning to control the skies over Iraq for years to come. That means even more Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military. We need the withdraw all air and naval forces too — something the SOFA agreement mentions, but we have yet to hear anything from the Obama administration. The U.S. has been conducting continuous overflights and regular bombing of Iraq since January 1991 – isn’t 18 years of air war enough?”
Obama: “And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary …”
Deconstruction: Necessary to what and to whose ends?
Obama: “What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals.”
Deconstruction: Forget such wishy-washy idealist notions such as actual peace and justice.
Obama: (with respect to) “millions of displaced Iraqis … America has … a moral responsibility – to act.”
Deconstruction: This is another Obama slip up: America has no “moral responsibility” to help those refugees. It was Saddam who made us create all those refugees. Right? We do it out of the goodness of our gas-guzzling hearts.
Obama: “… the United States of America – a nation that exists only because free men and women have bled for it from the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Anbar; from the mountains of Korea to the streets of Kandahar.”
Deconstruction: Obama gives us jingoistic triumphalistic patriotism, when the American people hunger for a truthful acknowledgement of the past crimes.
One has to ask the question why the entire sub-text, not to mention the practical implications, of Obama’s speech was addressed directly to the radical Republican right, corporate America, and the military-industrial complex.
Obama’s war January 5, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Barack Obama, Iraq, iyad alawi, kurds, maliki, Petraeus, roger hollander, shiites, SOFA, sunis, tom rick, war
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News flash for the president-elect: All our troops are combat troops. It isn’t like some American soldiers stroll around Iraq unarmed. Nor do the insurgents inquire about the troops’ MOS (military occupational specialties) before detonating an IED. Indeed, I feel safer in Iraq accompanying an infantry unit on foot patrol than I do while riding in a convoy of transport soldiers, who are much more likely to get popped by a roadside bomb. So his promise to get “combat troops” out of Iraq in the next 16 months is a phrase that means much less than it appears to. At any rate, I bet Obama is wrong: I think we are going to have tens of thousands of troops in Iraq — mentoring, advising and engaged in combat — for many years to come.
The recent Status of Forces Agreement also means less than it seems. For example, U.S. forces are supposed to get out of major bases in the cities later this year. But there really aren’t major big bases in the cities now-the last time I was in Iraq I was told there is really only one — and U.S. military advisors will remain in urban outposts along with Iraqi forces. I suspect the SOFA really is most meaningful for the political help it will give Prime Minister Maliki in getting re-elected at the end of 2009 by taking the American presence off the table as a wedge issue for Iraqis.
Here are two grim early predictions for the new administration in Iraq:
- Obama’s first year in Iraq is going to be tougher than Bush’s last year. Three reasons for that: First, three rounds of elections are scheduled in 2009, and those tend to be violent in Iraq. Second, the easy U.S. troop withdrawals have been made, and the pullouts at the end of this year will be riskier. Finally, none of the basic existential problems facing Iraq have been answered-the power relationships between groups, leadership of the Shiites, the sharing of oil revenue, the status of the disputed city of Kirkuk, to name just the most pressing ones. Compounding the problem will be the incorrect perception of many Americans that the Iraq was all but over when Obama took office.
- Despite the conventional wisdom that the war is nearly over, Obama’s war in Iraq may last longer than Bush’s, which clocks in at a robust 5 years and 10 months. “So now you back in the trap–just that, trapped,” to quote Big Boi and Dre. My best guess is that we will have at least 35,000 troops there in 2015, as Obama’s likely second term is winding down. (Self-promotional moment: more on all this in my book “The Gamble: General Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-08,” out Feb. 9 from Penguin Press.)
Meantime, marinate a minute on Petraeus’s letter to his troops last month: “The year ahead will contain significant challenges, among them: provincial district and national elections; resilient enemies still carrying out deadly attacks; lingering ethno-sectarian mistrust and competition; malign external influences; and a national referendum on the US-Iraq Strategic Agreement.”
To those who think this thing is almost over: What part of “lingering ethno-sectarian mistrust” don’t you understand? And if you think Petraeus was simply being cautious, listen to former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi, who was installed by the United States but whose pessimistic assessment over the weekend was, “I did not imagine the political process would eat itself from inside or that it would abandon the rule of law and establish political sectarianism.”
Photo of Obama with General Petraeus in Iraq by Lorie Jewell/U.S. Army via Getty Images
Tags: Abu Ghraib, aclu, ai, Amnesty International, amnesty law, baghdad, Barack Obama, beatings, bill rau, detainees, execution, geneva convention, Guantanamo, human rights, International law, Iraq, iraqi court, iraqi custody, iraqi judges, iraqi lawyers, iraqi parliament, iraqi prisoners, iraqi prisons, justice, muslim, nick mottern, persecution, pows, roger hollander, shia, shock treatment, SOFA, sunni gulag, torture, unami, United Nations, war
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Nick Mottern and Bill Rau
www.truthout.org December 3, 2008
When Barack Obama becomes president, he will inherit a human rights debacle in Iraq, now entering a phase in which the US appears ready to bulldoze thousands of its Iraqi prisoners over a legal cliff into Iraqi government prisons where they face the possibility of torture and execution.
The darkening future for the detainees comes with the approval on November 27, 2008, of the US-drafted Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) by the Iraqi Parliament. The agreement requires that on January 1, 2009, the US:
“Shall provide the Government of Iraq available information on all detainees who are being held by them. Competent Iraqi authorities shall issue arrest warrants for persons who are wanted by them. The United States Forces shall act in full and effective coordination with the Government of Iraq to turn over custody of such wanted detainees to Iraqi authorities pursuant to a valid Iraqi arrest warrant and shall release all the remaining detainees in a safe and orderly manner.”
On the face of it, the agreement sounds just. An examination of the situation on the ground suggests the opposite.
The US began capturing Iraqis on a wholesale basis in 2003 with the invasion. World attention was focused on the fate of Iraqi detainees by the revelations in 2004 of detainee torture by US forces at Abu Ghraib prison. Because of Abu Ghraib, the US improved the physical conditions of detention, but detentions increased in 2007 as a fundamental tactic of the US military “surge.” Iraqis were, and continue to be, arrested on a daily basis, with those deemed not threatening set free.
Since the beginning of the occupation, as many as 90,000 Iraqis have been imprisoned by US forces, according to a spokesperson for Task Force 134 (TF-134), the US command running the US prison system in Iraq. The total number of Iraqis in detention at any one time reached a peak of nearly 26,000 in October 2007, according to figures provided by TF-134. By November 2008, with the reduction in numbers of detentions in 2008 and the release of detainees, the number of Iraqis in US prisons had declined to about 15,900, according to TF-134.
In August 2008, a TF-134 spokesperson reported that approximately 80 percent of the detainees were Sunni. The larger proportion of Sunni captives may result from greater resistance to the occupation in the Sunni community, but it is likely also the result of government forces being under the control of the Shia-dominated government. “Most detainees were captured as the result of an Iraqi-generated warrant for some act that would classify them as a threat,” according to a TF-134 spokesperson, commenting on the process leading to capture.
During the debate preceding the passage of SOFA, Sunni legislators, according to Reuters, demanded that detainees without charges against them be freed. As will be discussed, this would free all of the US-detained Iraqis.
No Legal Rights, No Evidence
Iraqi detainees in the US prisons are being held without charges, without access to lawyers and without appearance before any judicial body – all violations of international law. This has been a continuing concern of the United Nations (UN) and international human rights groups, but totally ignored by the US and the Iraqi occupation government.
For example, a human rights report of the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) released December 2, 2008, said that the agency continues to be concerned about the imprisonment of detainees by US forces “without judicial review of their cases” as well as about “administrative review procedures that do not fulfill the requirement to grant detainees due process in accordance with internationally recognized norms.” A UNAMI report in 2007 made the identical point.
A 2006 Amnesty International (AI) report, reflecting the concerns of numerous human rights groups, said: “Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 tens of thousands of people have been detained by foreign forces, mainly the US forces, without being tried and without the right to challenge their detention before a judicial body.” AI made a similar observation in a November 28, 2008, statement of concern about transfer of Iraqi detainees from US to Iraqi custody.
In October 2008, a spokesperson for TF-134 said in an e-mail: “There is no place for legal representation in the THREAT BASED system that we operate.”
Now it appears, based on a November 23, 2008, report from the Associated Press (AP), that the vast majority of detainees are also being held without any hard evidence. The AP said that the US intends to release most of its detainees under SOFA, but that it is “rushing to build criminal cases against some 5,000 detainees it deems dangerous.” The report contained the remarkable admission attributed to Brig. Gen. David Quantock, commander of TF-134, that the US has evidence against “only a few hundred” of those detainees considered most dangerous.
“At the end of the day,” the AP quotes General Quantock, “if there’s not enough facts to justify a court case (in the Iraqi Court system), then we’ll have to release … We have a lot of work to do.”
Iraqi Court System Tilted
The basic premise of the terms of the SOFA detainee section, and the reported rush by the US to build cases against detainees, is that the Iraqi judicial system is fair, open and impartial.
Karen Parker, a noted international human rights lawyer, says that the Iraqi judicial system does not meet international standards. The 2007 UNAMI report elaborates on her point:
“Serious pretrial irregularities (in Iraqi courts), which prejudice the chances of subsequently receiving a fair hearing, include the failure to bring defendants before an investigative judge within a reasonable amount of time, and failure to promptly apprise detainees of the reason for their arrest and of the details of the charges and evidence against them … The vast majority of defendants are represented by counsel appointed by the court, whom they have never met and who have little or no knowledge of the substance of the charges or evidence against their clients … Proceedings at trial are typically brief in nature, with sessions lasting an average of some fifteen to thirty minutes, during which the entire trial is concluded. Deliberations also typically do not last more than several minutes for each trial, including complex cases resulting in life imprisonment or the death penalty … Denial of prompt and adequate access to counsel, and lack of continuity in legal representation, mean that in many cases those convicted lose the opportunity to appeal their sentences as they become aware of their rights only after the deadline for submissions has passed.”
The UNAMI report noted that trials in the flawed Iraqi court system “are increasingly leading to the imposition of the death penalty.”
The Iraqi courts are not able to operate freely, Ms. Parker said, in part because judges and lawyers are often under intense political pressure and even fear for their lives, with the division between Sunni and Shia a major factor.
In January 2008, for example, gunmen assassinated Iraqi appellate court Judge Amir Jawad al-Naeeb, a Sunni, who, The New York Times reported, was considered by Baghdad lawyers and judges to be “one of the country’s most competent and even-handed judges.”
The Iraqi Lawyers Association reported in 2007 that at least 210 lawyers and judges have been killed since the invasion; that, according to IRIN News.org, hundreds of legal workers had left the country because of threats and persecution, and that:
“With tensions so high in Iraq between the Sunni and Shia Muslim communities, legal workers are being put under intense pressure to make judgments according to religious sect. Lawyers often find themselves in a lose-lose situation.”
Jonathan Hafetz, of the American Civil Liberties Union, who is representing two detainees in US custody, agreed with Ms. Parker that the Iraq judicial system does not meet minimum standards for impartiality and due process, and he said that the system is tilted against Sunni defendants. With respect to the detainees, he said the length of time that they have been held without charge is alone a significant enough factor to prevent them from having a fair trial or hearing.
“Danger in the Custody of Others”
Ms. Parker says that international law allows prisoners to be turned over to a justice system only if that system it meets international standards for independence and fairness. In addition, under international law as well as US military standards as set forth in US Army/Marine Corps Counter-Insurgency Manual:
“There are certain conditions under which US forces may not transfer the custody of detainees to the host nation (in this case Iraq-Ed.) or any other foreign government. US forces retain custody if they have substantial grounds to believe that the detainees would be in danger in the custody of others. Such danger could include being subjected to torture or inhumane treatment.”
The Iraqi detention system is widely believed to treat prisoners harshly and only slowly, if at all, processes its detainees through the justice system.
“We find a lot of mistakes and mistreatment in the Iraqi-run prisons as a remarkable number of their facilities are not fit for those detainees and those who are in charge do not have enough knowledge of human rights, so ill treatment can occur, ” said Basil al-Azawi, who is head of the Commission for Civil Society Enterprises, an umbrella group of over 1,000 Iraqi NGOs, as reported November 17, 2008, by IRIN.
“A suitable life inside the prisons must be guaranteed according to the Iraqi constitution and law. More visits to Iraqi prisons must be allowed by international and local human rights activists, and the treatment [of prisoners] must not be based on their sectarian background,” al-Azawi is quoted as saying in a November 2, 2008, IRIN report.
An Iraqi parliamentarian, Mohammed Al-Dainy, held a press conference in Geneva on October 31, 2008, charging that Iraq has 420 secret detention centers where “conditions are much worse than in the official prisons.” He said that 40,000 are being held in Iraqi government prisons and that this is one-quarter of the total number of people being held by the government.
The UNAMI 2007 report indicates that mistreatment of prisoners in Iraqi custody is a long-standing problem. The UNAMI, the report said, “remains concerned about the continuing failure of the Iraqi government as a whole to seriously address issues relating to detainee abuse and conditions of detention … The authorities have yet to demonstrate the political will to hold accountable law enforcement personnel suspected of involvement in torture and other abuse of authority … The continuing failure to take decisive action in this regard can only serve to encourage the climate of impunity that prevails today …”
Visiting a National Police detention center in the northwest Baghdad suburb of Kadhimiyah in July 2007, Molly Hennessy-Fiske reported in The Los Angeles Times that the facility had been built to hold 300 detainees but that it then held nearly 900. She observed:
“The stench of human confinement intensified as the guard led the way to the back of the room and down a dark, flooded hallway to the bathroom, where half-naked detainees stood barefoot amid muddy puddles, broken floor tiles and stopped-up urinals. A shower and sink were filled with human waste.
“The guard dropped his cigarette butt in a puddle as detainees relieved themselves in two holes and rinsed off under a broken water pipe.”
Hennessy-Fiske said that “Col. Daniel Britt, who heads the US military’s National Police Transition Team, which advises the detention center staff, said the conditions were ‘appalling’ but met international standards. US soldiers visit almost daily …”
In May 2007, Joshua Partlow reported in The Washington Post that Deputy Justice Minister Pusho Ibrahim Ali Daza Yei acknowledged overcrowding in Iraqi prisons, and the article went on to say that it had been reported that “beatings and torture are common.” An anonymous UN official was quoted commenting on one Iraqi jail:
“Routine beatings, suspension by limbs for long periods, electric shock treatment to sensitive parts of the body, threats of ill treatment of close relatives. In one case, one of the detainees said that he was forced to sit on a sharp object which caused an injury.”
The 2008 UNAMI report affirms that gross mistreatment of detainees continues in Iraqi prisons:
“Ongoing widespread ill-treatment and torture of detainees by Iraqi law enforcement authorities, amidst pervasive impunity of current and past human rights abuses, constitute severe breaches of international human rights obligations and represent examples of challenges faced by the Iraqi government.”
Los Angeles Times staff writer Tina Susman, reported in September 2008 that she interviewed prisoners in Iraqi government jails who had been held for 18 months and longer without access to any judicial hearing or explanation of their detentions.
In the Kurdistan region of Iraq, security forces known as Asayish operate control of the regional government’s Ministry of Interior, according to a 2007 report by Human Rights Watch and based on research conducted in 2006. HRW interviewed many former detainees and reported that the system regularly violated Iraqi and international law. The report lists violations, including “… failure to inform detainees of the grounds for arrest, failure to bring detainees before an investigative judge in a timely fashion, failure to provide a mechanism by which suspects can appeal their detention, failure to provide a trial without undue delay, failure to provide access to legal representation, holding suspects for prolonged periods of pretrial detention, and extracting confessions through coercion.”
An amnesty law passed by the Iraqi parliament in February 2008 was supposed to facilitate the release of Iraqi prisoners, but the process has been very slow, with only several thousand having been released, according to Susman’s informants.
Currently, the US funds lawyers and trains Iraqi judges in order to improve Iraq’s justice system. (The US has spent $50 million on Iraqi court facilities and $10 million in training lawyers.) However, that funding could stop with changes arising from the new security agreement. One Iraqi lawyer told Susman, “If the Americans stop providing the money, I don’t think the Iraqi government will sponsor us.”
Third Party Solution
Ms. Parker said that under international law, when the US arrests an Iraqi, it has the responsibility to make specific charges and state whether the detainee is being held on criminal charges or as a prisoner of war: “Basically, people ‘detained’ for reasons related to an armed conflict have a right to challenge their status – either as POWs (prisoners of war), civilian detainees or those with criminal charges.”
All, she said, must have legal representation, be provided with legal counsel if they are indigent and have a forum for their defense that meets international judicial standards.
Ms. Parker cited a UN draft guidelines and principles document on human rights and terrorism, prepared by Kalliopi K. Koufa, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Human Rights and Terrorism of the former UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights, laying out rights of a person arrested as a terrorist, which include:
“Persons detained under suspicion of engaging in or planning terrorist acts at all times have the right to know the charges against them. A charge of being a terrorist is insufficient and must be accompanied with charges of specific acts.”
International standards also require that a prisoner facing criminal charges must not only be represented by legal counsel, but must have his or her case presented in a judicial proceeding within four days, Ms. Parker noted, although there have been attempts to extend that period somewhat in terrorism cases.
If a person is held as a prisoner of war or a civilian detainee, Ms. Parker said, he may not be held in prisons, but in camps “that meet minimum Geneva Conventions standards.” The Conventions spell out a highly detailed list of POW rights, including legal rights, the right to wear their own clothing, not prison garb, and protection against abusive interrogation.
Since the Iraqis in US prisons have been offered none of their rights under international law to challenge their confinement, Ms. Parker said, all the detainees should be released.
If this is not done, she continued, the next best alternative might be to have the detainees moved to a third-party country where hearings can be held before an internationally recognized judicial body. If detainees are held after their hearing, the US would have to place them in a facility in a country in which their rights would be protected.
Stakes Higher in Iraq
President-elect Obama is reported to be seeking a way to try prisoners from the US Guantanamo Detention Camp in US courts to at least give the impression of trying to achieve justice, however belated, for about 250 detainees. In Iraq, the stakes are higher for the US military and the Iraqi occupation government, who aim to keep off the streets thousands of people they view as threatening.
In addition, Ms. Parker said, the US wants its Iraqi detainees put into Iraqi prisons “to have one more step between them (the US) and a lawsuit,” pointing out that the failure of the US to provide the Iraqis with due process makes it vulnerable to legal action by international human rights lawyers on behalf of the detainees. The transfer of the detainees, she said, “gets us (the US) off the hook.” It is part of a “mad scramble,” she said, in which the Bush administration is “hot and heavy covering its tracks.”
Ideally, the UN and perhaps the European Union will intervene, demanding that all US detainees in Iraq be given amnesty, based if nothing else on the fact that they have been denied their legal rights. At a minimum, these bodies could call for open hearings in an internationally supervised court in which detainees would have legal representation.
The international community has proved ineffectual to the Iraqi detainees so far, however. Their hope most probably lies solely with their families, friends and supporters who will oppose their illegal disappearance into Iraqi prisons.
Nick Mottern is director of ConsumersforPeace.org. Bill Rau is a researcher on development issues based in Washington, DC, and the author of “Feast to Famine: Official Cures and Grassroots Remedies to Africa’s Food Crisis.”