Obama, You Have Two Choices

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Iraq — Pullout, or Dig In?

by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis

A lot of Americans who voted for candidate Barack Obama because of his promises to end George Bush’s war in Iraq are feeling dismayed, or even betrayed.

During the election campaign, Obama vowed to swiftly bring US troops home from Iraq. He denounced the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a "violation of international law."

Obama did say he would keep some US troops in Iraq for "training" government forces, but few voters knew what he meant at the time, and even fewer paid attention to this fine print. We believed the Iraq nightmare would finally be over.

So will US troops leave Iraq? Will those responsible for this trumped-up war face justice? Probably not.

Last week, President Obama announced US combat troops will leave Iraq by August, 2010, and that all US troops would be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

"By August 31, 2010, our combat mission will end," said Obama.

In fact, it appears the US military occupation may not end, at least not soon. What we are seeing is a public relations shell game.

The US has 142,000 combat troops in Iraq. Some 90,000 are due to be withdrawn. But around 50,000 troops and an unknown number of armed US-paid mercenaries will remain in Iraq. Many of the troops to be withdrawn are slated to go to expanding US military operations in Afghanistan.

The president and his advisors are re-branding the stay-behind garrison as "training troops," as "protection forces for American interests," and as "counter-terrorism units." These designations arouse suspicion.

American "interests" in Iraq and the wider Mideast will remain after 2011. So will what Washington brands "terrorism." Once all US troops are withdrawn, there is a high probability that Iraq’s US-supported government could be quickly swept away and replaced by an Iranian-dominated regime, or even by a resurgent Ba’ath Party. There are many reasons for the Pentagon to demand that the 2011 deadline be extended, perhaps indefinitely.

All US troops in Iraq are combat troops in the wider sense of the term. There are no front lines or secure areas outside the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. Iraq has been at war almost nonstop since 1980. The last thing Iraqi soldiers need is "training," What they need is a legitimate, honest government that commands their loyalty. The same applies to Afghanistan and was also the case in Vietnam.

At a time when the US is bankrupt and faces $1.75 trillion deficit, the Pentagon’s gargantuan US $663.7 billion budget (50% of total global military spending) is set to grow 1.4% in fiscal 2010 to support America’s foreign wars. Iraq and Afghanistan are costing some $200 billion for the fiscal year. Throw in another $40—50 billion for CIA and other intelligence agencies.

Obama insists the US will withdraw from Iraq. He just stated the US has no claims on Iraq’s land or oil. But his words are belied by the Pentagon, which continues to expand major bases in Iraq, including Balad and Al-Asad, with 4,400-meter runways for heavy bombers and transports. They are key links in the US Air Force’s new air bridge that extends from Germany, to Bulgaria and Romania, Iraq and the Gulf, then onward to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia.

Besides the Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone and US Embassy in Baghdad (the world’s largest), the Pentagon reportedly wants to retain 58 permanent bases in Iraq (by comparison, there are 36 in South Korea), total control of its air space, and immunity from Iraqi law for all US troops.

Pressure from the Pentagon forced President Obama to delay even the withdrawal of the bulk of US combat troops by three months. More delays are possible.

The US will also retain major bases in neighboring Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Diego Garcia, and Pakistan. US oil companies are moving in to exploit Iraq’s vast energy reserves, the Mideast’s second largest after Saudi Arabia.

US troop levels will remain high during Iraq’s December elections to ensure "security," according to the Pentagon. In other words, ensuring the US-selected regime "wins" the vote. Iraqi parties, notably Ba’ath, opposing the US occupation, are banned from running in Iraq’s so-called "democratic" elections. The same holds true for Afghanistan.

In short, in spite of Obama’s vows to pull out of Iraq, the powers that be in Washington may be intent on keeping Iraq a US military, political and economic protectorate. Obama’s withdrawal deadline could easily be voided by claims of terrorism and growing instability in Iraq.

The plan for Iraq follows exactly the same control model the British Empire used to rule Iraq and to exploit its oil:

The British installed a figurehead monarch and kept him in power by building a "native" army of mercenaries (read today’s Iraqi army and police). RAF units based in Iraq (read US air bases) bombed any rebellious groups. Winston Churchill authorized RAF to use poison gas against rebellious Kurds.

Smaller British ground units based in non-urban areas were on call to put down attempted coups against the king or army mutinies. Iraqi forces were denied modern aircraft or heavy artillery. The US plan for Iraq is identical. The US will retain "intervention" troops at key desert bases in Iraq and Kuwait, backed by powerful US Air Force units. These are the "training" troops cited by Obama. As for US troops tasked with "protecting US interests" (a charmingly imperial term), they could well be used for "stability" operations in other Mideast nations, or against Iran.

Obama made clear officials responsible for the Iraq War, torture, kidnapping or assassination will not be prosecuted. The theft of over $50 billion in US "reconstruction" funds sent to Iraq is being hushed up.

By contrast, many Britons are angrily demanding release of cabinet documents leading to war that are likely to expose Tony Blair’s lies and illegalities. So far, the Labor government has managed to suppress the incriminating documents.

There is no corresponding call for justice in the United States. There is little appetite to prosecute the former officials who led the US into war. Obama now tells the public: let bygones be bygones. Unless, of course, it’s Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar in Afghanistan.

Between 600,000 and one million Iraqis died as a result of President George Bush’s aggression, which cost nearly $1 trillion and over 4,200 Americans dead and over 25,000 wounded.

Four million Iraqis remain refugees. The US holds over 20,000 Iraqi political prisoners, perhaps more. Polls show a majority of Iraqis believe the US will never leave Iraq.

By fudging over Iraq, Obama is giving the appearance of being led by the military-industrial complex, of which a far more experienced American leader, President Dwight Eisenhower, so rightly warned us. The "antiwar" president could end up with a smoldering half-war in Iraq and a widening war in Afghanistan and Pakistan at a time when the US economy is in the gravest peril.

Eric Margolis [send him mail], contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada. He is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.

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