An Iraqi soldier guards Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad. (Photo: AP)
"If the Iraqi forces require further training and further support, we shall examine this then at that time, based on the needs of Iraq," Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently informed President Barak Obama in Washington. While Iraqi and US government officials continue to insist the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq is currently on schedule, only a few thousand US troops have left Iraq since Obama took office, and few, if any, are expected to be withdrawn through the beginning of 2010. From his recent statement, Maliki appears to be willing to accept a long-term stay.
The timeline in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) says that US "combat troops" were to withdraw from Iraqi cities and villages no later than June 30, 2009, and all troops are to be out by December 31, 2011.
Yet on November 17, 2008, in the wake of Iraq's cabinet approving the SOFA, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the highest-ranking member of the US military, immediately began inferring loopholes and possible grey areas, saying the deadline for withdrawal by 2011 should depend on conditions on the ground.
"I do think it is important that this be conditions-based," Mullen told reporters at the time, "And so three years is a long time. Conditions could change in that period of time."
Mullen added that the US would continue to talk with Baghdad "as conditions continue to evolve," and when asked if the agreement could be changed, Mullen said, "that's theoretically possible."
Roughly a month later, in December 2008, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, when asked by Charlie Rose in a PBS Interview about how large the American "residual" force would be in Iraq after 2011, said that while the mission would change, "my guess is that you're looking at perhaps several tens of thousands of American troops."
"Several tens of thousands of American troops" in Iraq after 2011, according to the Secretary of Defense of the United States of America.
When one looks at overall US Foreign Policy, the media machinations of both Mullen and Gates are right on track.
The National Security Strategy of the US, updated in March 2006, lines out several goals for the US abroad.
Included are the following missions:
"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."
The future strategy of US foreign policy involves, according to the document: "Opening markets and integrating developing countries," and "Reforming the international financial system to ensure stability and growth."
The document adds: "In our interconnected world, stable and open financial markets are an essential feature of a prosperous global economy. We will work to improve the stability and openness of markets by: Promoting growth-oriented economic policies worldwide," and "strengthening international financial institutions." Regarding the Middle East, it reads, "We seek a Middle East of independent states, at peace with each other, and fully participating in an open global market of goods, services, and ideas. (emphasis added)."
This policy dovetails perfectly with that lined out by the Quadrennial Defense Review Report from the Department of Defense. The most recent iteration of this report, published on February 6, 2006, 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 (emphasis added)."
This brings us to the 2008 National Defense Strategy, which 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. (emphasis added)"
To accomplish these objectives, among many others, the National Security Strategy goes on to add:
"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. (emphasis added) "
Hence the massive military bases in Iraq, as many as four of which are believed to be "enduring" bases, and an "embassy" the size of Vatican City.
Thus is the context of the aforementioned comments by Maliki, Mullen and Gates, and why, according to several of my sources in Iraq, as well as the Saudi-owned newspaper Al-Hayat, which on July 20 reported: "Inhabitants of the Iraqi capital Baghdad said that a number of US military vehicles continue to patrol the streets of Baghdad and some other Iraqi cities after the pullout of the American forces from their bases to others that are outside them in compliance with the security agreement concluded by Baghdad and Washington. This agreement prohibits US soldiers from traveling around in the cities' streets without Iraqi approval and without being accompanied by Iraqi forces. Mohammad Abdullah, a citizen from Al-Dawrah south of Baghdad, spoke to Al-Hayat, saying that the "American troops continue to patrol the streets and do what they usually did before the US pullout." He added that "these troops are patrolling the streets very late at night and stopping at intersections and r oads and this annoyed the people of the region while the government is saying there are no more American troops in the streets after now."
In response, US Maj. Gen. John Johnson, a commander of the multinational forces' corps in Iraq, stressed to Al-Hayat that "the American troops are patrolling the streets of cities at present upon the request of the Iraqi Government to give military advice to the Iraqi forces."
On July 13, Iraqi police in the northern city of Mosul also accused US forces of violating the SOFA.
Nevertheless, Johnson is attempting to show adherence to the portion of the SOFA that states that while Iraq is requesting military assistance from the US, "all such military operations that are carried out pursuant to this agreement shall be conducted with the agreement of the government of Iraq." The agreements adds that all such operations "shall be fully coordinated with Iraqi authorities."
Yet Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, a US military commander in Baghdad who is clearly taken aback by the new restrictions on US forces outlined in the SOFA, wrote in an email obtained by The Washington Post that the Iraqi order to sharply restrict the movement and activities of US forces runs "contrary to the spirit and practice of our last several months of operations." He then added, "Maybe something was 'lost in translation.' We are not going to hide our support role in the city. I'm sorry the Iraqi politicians lied/dissembled/spun, but we are not invisible nor should we be." Bolger said US troops intend to engage in combat operations in urban areas to avert or respond to threats, with or without help from the Iraqis, and wrote, "This is a broad right and it demands that we patrol, raid and secure routes as necessary to keep our forces safe. We'll do that, preferably partnered."
According to the latest polls, published in the Brookings Institutionâ€™s Iraq Index, 73% of Iraqis oppose the presence of coalition forces, and this is likely a conservative estimate. This is not surprising, as who would want to live in a country occupied by a foreign military power?
Despite this, and the fact that recent polls show at least 63 percent of US citizens also oppose a continuance of the occupation of Iraq, an estimated 437 Iraqis were killed in June, the highest death toll in 11 months, and the near-daily attacks have continued in July.
And the occupation grinds on.
Last week, the Pentagon announced that active duty troop rotations for Iraq would be maintained at the current level of 131,000 troops through at least early 2010.
On July 24, Stars and Stripes, a newspaper for the US military, reported that deployments of military reservists would not be ebbing any time soon, despite the announcement that the Army would increase its size by 22,000 soldiers.
"I want to be more realistic with them. I don't predict a drop in our op-tempo," Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz said. According to Stultz, the goal was for the average reservist to spend four years home for each year deployed overseas, but reaching that goal "could take five years."
Just like the myth of Iraq's "sovereignty," the myth of US withdrawal is just that. Until the latter occurs, the former does not stand a chance. This is particularly so, as long as Iraq, like Afghanistan, are arenas where the US military is being used to "ensure that all major and emerging powers are integrated as constructive actors and stakeholders into the international system."