Are We Leaving Iraq?

by Claude Garrod and Judy Reynolds

Do we really intend ever to leave Iraq? There is much talk about “exit strategies” and “redeployments,” but these are just words. In American politics the effects of words, once said, disappears quite rapidly. So it’s best not to listen to words but to look at deeds. Are we intending to leave anytime soon? The facts on the ground are not encouraging.

The 2007 Emergency Appropriations bill that was recently vetoed by President Bush ominously set the stage for a permanent US presence in Iraq. While including a timetable for withdrawal of troops, the bill permitted deployment of US forces in Iraq for (1) protecting American diplomatic facilities and American citizens, including members of the US armed forces; (2) serving in roles “consistent with customary diplomatic positions;” (3) conducting targeted activities including killing or capturing members of al-Qaeda and “other terrorist organizations with global reach;” and (4) training members of the Iraqi Security Forces. Most Democrats supported this bill.

The US embassy in Iraq looks like more than a mere “embassy.” It’s located within a 104 acre walled compound within the four square mile Green Zone which is itself surrounded by a heavily-guarded 15 foot wall. It’s larger than Vatican City and six times the size of the U.N. The Embassy will have its own power source, well water, and waste-treatment plant. It will require nothing from the outside. It will have facilities for many thousands of workers, with large apartment blocks, swimming pools, and shopping and recreational facilities. It dwarfs the building that houses the Central Government of Iraq. It has everything needed for the administrative center of a medium-sized colony, and in that sense resembles the “embassy’s” that the British built in India when they were a colonial power..

There is then what the Pentagon calls “enduring bases.” There are about 14 of them being built at maximum speed and huge expense that are spread throughout Iraq from north to south and east to west. One typical base is the Balad Air Base, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, whose size is 50 square miles. At the end of the airfield’s long runways (over 11,000 feet long) are hardened aircraft shelters. The installation is the home base for air transport, F-16 fighters, Army helicopters, and military intelligence unmanned aerial systems. As of February, 2006, Balad Airbase was home to about 25,000 US troops. There is a Subway sandwich shop, a Pizza Hut, a Popeye’s, a 24-hour Burger King, two post exchanges which sell an impressive array of goods, four mess halls, a miniature gold course and a hospital. In 2005, while discussing Balad and other bases in Iraq, Lieutenant General W.E. Buchanan, the chief of air operations for the Central Command, stated that they “will remain available for US use for at least another decade or two.” (Washington Post, 9/17/2005.)

On May 31 of this year, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and a senior US commander said that they favor a protracted US troop presence in Iraq along the lines of the military stabilization force in South Korea. Gates told reporters in Hawaii that he is thinking of a “mutual agreement” with Iraq in which “some force of Americans . . . is present for a protracted period of time.” On April 20, 2003, the New York Times reported that the US “is planning a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to military bases and project American influence into the heart of the unsettled region.”

Recently, in Congress, a subtle change with made in the 2008 appropriations bill for the State Department and Foreign Operations (HR 2764). The original bill stated that “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used by the Government of the United States to enter into a basing rights agreement between the United States and Iraq.” The amendment, passed by voice vote, inserted the word “permanent” before the phrase “basing rights,” changing a real prohibition of basing rights agreements to an implied permission to negotiate long-term basing agreements with the Iraqi government that is similar to those the US has with South Korea.

If the Iraqi government complies with the direction in which our present government is heading, our troops will not be coming home anytime soon. In light of the fact that poll after poll of the Iraqi people shows large majorities in opposition to long-term US troop presence in Iraq, this direction will ensure that the war will continue with mounting death tolls for both Americans and Iraqi’s. It is up to the American people to insist that their elected representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, reject all plans for long term basing of US troops and personnel and work instead toward a complete withdrawal. Peace demands no less.