7 August 2005 at 8:05:38 AM
What is the United States real agenda with Iraq? It is not, at this time, to entirely leave Iraq, even if foolhardy Bush can be overruled on his stubborn course, but to establish military bases in Iraq.
Hardly a day has gone by in the past few weeks without a new press report detailing the US military's plans to reduce its footprint in Iraq next year. First it was a leaked British memo saying that Britain would hand over southern Iraq to the Iraqis and the US would cut its troops in half. Then it was General George W Casey, the senior commander in Iraq, promising a "fairly substantial" US withdrawal by the summer of 2006. Finally, there was the announcement of a joint Iraqi-US committee to determine the "conditions" for a US exit.
The Bush administration, it would seem, is finally responding to pervasive anti-occupation sentiment in the US and Iraq. But the raft of announcements does little to address what many believe is a deeper problem - the Iraqi insurgency is likely being driven by fears that even once the large majority of US forces leave, enough will remain behind in permanent bases to allow the US to control Iraq's destiny.
There is now a growing chorus in the US arguing that it should be made clear to Iraqis that all US forces will eventually depart. As the Iraqi insurgency rages unabated, with scores of US soldiers killed in the first days of August alone, the notion that such a promise might alter the current dynamic is taking hold in the mainstream. Two members of Congress have separately sponsored resolutions calling for a declaration that the US will not maintain a long-term military presence in Iraq.
It is an open question whether or not the Bush administration will be willing to give Iraqis the type of guarantee being called for. Any serious withdrawal is a long way off since, by most accounts, Iraqi troops are far from ready to take over from the US. Incoming head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, informed Congress on June 29 that a recent classified Pentagon report had concluded that only "a small number" of Iraqi troops could fight the insurgency unassisted. And many analysts feel that the administration wants to keep a presence in Iraq irrespective of Iraqi military preparedness in order to safeguard America's larger strategic interests in the region (chiefly oil).
Joost Hiltermann, of the International Crisis Group (ICG), told Asia Times Online it would be strange if America didn't intend to stay in Iraq. "One of the reasons they invaded, as far as I can tell, is because they needed to shift their military operation from Saudi Arabia," he said, "and Iraq was probably the easiest one in terms of a big country to support their presence in the Gulf." The idea that the US wanted to swap Iraq for Saudi Arabia was acknowledged by then-deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2003.
Persistent reports that the US is constructing permanent bases in Iraq lend credence to the view that the Bush administration plans to stay. The Chicago Tribune reported in March 2004 that the US was building 14 "enduring" bases in Iraq, and the Washington Post reported in May that US forces would eventually be consolidated into four large, permanent air bases.
Erik Leaver, of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and a long-time proponent of a promise to close US military bases, told Asia Times Online that the kind of construction taking place belies statements from President George W Bush that the US only intends to stay "as long as necessary and not one day more", as Bush said on April 13, 2004. Not only are ammunition dumps and concrete runways and roads being built, he said, but so is long-term housing for US troops.
"We can tell by looking at the supplementals and the defense bills that they are building concrete masonry barracks," says Leaver, "And some of the justification is that tents and containers only have a life span of three to five years. The implication is that they need something longer than that." Leaver said the military did have a plausible rationale for using concrete. "If mortars are being lobbed into military bases then you want to put soldiers into concrete masonry barracks for their safety," he said, "but that's the same stuff that my house and office building are constructed from, and those things are pretty permanent."
US Senator Gary Hart captured the inconsistencies such construction reveal in the Bush administration's rationale for its Iraq project. "If the goal ... was to overthrow Saddam Hussein, install a friendly government in Baghdad, set up a permanent political and military presence in Iraq, and dominate the behavior of the region (including securing oil supplies) then you build permanent bases for some kind of permanent American military presence," Hart wrote in May. "If the goal was to spread democracy and freedom, then you don't."
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