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Is the U.S. really withdrawing from Iraq?

Published Oct 27, 2011 8:29 PM

President Barack Obama has said that all U.S. forces will be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, but this does not mean that the war is over, or that aggression against the Iraqi people has ended.

While it is true that the administration suffered a diplomatic rebuff on Oct. 21 when the Iraqi government refused to grant immunity from Iraqi law to U.S. military forces, the U.S. is working feverishly to continue the war through the use of military contractors, i.e., mercenary soldiers.

Obama’s announcement was greeted with joy on the streets of Baghdad, where people want nothing more than to be out from under the repressive U.S. occupation. But many have expressed a deep skepticism about U.S. intentions. “I believe that the full withdrawal will be only in the media but there must be secret deals with the Americans to keep some American forces or members of the American intelligence,” said Raja Jaidr, a resident of eastern Baghdad. “They won’t leave.” (Associated Press, Oct. 22)

These suspicions are well-founded. Despite assertions by the U.S. government that its military mission is complete, the fact is that their “mission” has been an almost complete disaster.

Since the invasion in 2003, 1 million members of the U.S. military have been deployed to Iraq, of whom 4,482 have been killed and 32,200 wounded. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been expended while former President George Bush’s promise to the ruling elites that Iraqi oil would more than pay for the war has gone unrealized.

For the Iraqi people the war has meant the almost total destruction of what was once one of the most progressive and prosperous countries of the Middle East. The war — and the economic sanctions which preceded it — killed millions, devastated the infrastructure and pushed back gains which had previously been made in the areas of women’s rights and religious tolerance.

A mercenary war

The U.S. is attempting to salvage some measure of success from its adventure by militarizing the State Department through the use of private contractors.

Under the new plan, about 16,000 personnel will be assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, about 1,700 of them diplomats, experts in fields such as business and agriculture and law enforcement officers, while around 5,000 will be security contractors to guard personnel and facilities including consulates, according to State Department figures.

The newly established Office of Security Cooperation in the Embassy will have a core staff of 160 civilians and uniformed military alongside 750 civilian contractors overseeing Pentagon assistance programs, including military training. They will be guarded, fed and housed by 3,500 additional contract personnel.

The Security Cooperation office will also operate out of 10 offices around the country, half of them shared with other Embassy personnel. The Embassy will have consulates in Basra, Irbil and Kirkuk. The State Department will provide Iraqi police training with its own personnel.

“What’s unusual is the scale and the militarization of the foreign service” as it oversees the thousands of security personnel, said David Newton, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 1984 to 1988. The agency will even run its own airline to shuttle staff around the country. “This is not the kind of thing that diplomats do,” he said. (Bloomberg Business Week, Oct. 22)

Spencer Ackerman of Wired Magazine has studied the State Department and concluded: “The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security does not have a promising record when it comes to managing its mercenaries. The 2007 Nisour Square shootings by State’s security contractors, in which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed, marked one of the low points of the war. Now, State will be commanding a much larger security presence, the equivalent of a heavy combat brigade. In July, Danger Room exclusively reported that the State Department blocked the congressionally appointed watchdog for Iraq from acquiring basic information about contractor security operations, such as the contractors’ rules of engagement.” (Talking Points Memo, Oct. 21)

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the U.S. intends to use the State Department and its contractors as a means of continuing its aggression in Iraq. It may also be a means of making sure that U.S. personnel get immunity from Iraqi law for any crimes they may commit in the future.