|Total Withdrawal? Who are you kidding?
By Barry Lando
03/12/07 "ICH" From the very start, the debate over Iraq has
been obscured by a miasma of bogus statistics and facts: issues
no one really wanted to deal publicly with—not the White House;
certainly not the Republican-led Congress.
The current debate over maintaining troop levels in Iraq is no
different as the administration continues to quietly add
thousands more troops to the original 21,500 “surge.” But that’s
only part of the problem.
Congress is now supposedly discussing the eventual withdrawal of
all American troops from Iraq. Even the Bush administration,
though it refuses to set any deadline, seems to be promising a
But who are they kidding? First of all, even those Iraqi units s
already up and running rely on the U.S. for much of their
logistics and certainly almost all of their air support.
Self-sufficiency is years away.
Secondly—and very much related: If U.S. troops are really to
withdraw completely from Iraq what’s the point of America’s
having built four huge “super bases” in that country—each one
housing tens of thousands of US soldiers?
The most mammoth is the sprawling air base and logistics centre
at Balad, north of Baghdad. As of last year, the U.S. had
already poured close to a quarter of a billion dollars into that
facility, and was planning tens of millions more, including a
major road system and a 13-foot-high security fence that would
stretch for 12.4 miles. In fact, thousands of troops stationed
at Balad already spend their entire tour of duty within the
base’s huge confines.
Balad was billed as Americas’ strategic air center for the
entire region. Indeed, one original but unstated objective of
the 2003 invasion was to make Iraq the U.S.’s new military
platform in that part of the world. The huge U.S. troop presence
in Saudi Arabia was becoming much too politically sensitive.
Another facility is the massive marine base of Al-Asad in Anbar
province, where a visiting reporter was recently assured by U.S.
soldiers that American troops would be rotating though for at
least the next decade.
In other words, while American troop levels may be reduced at
some point, tens of thousands American troops will almost
certainly be remaining behind for years, hunkered down in their
rambling new bases.
Ironically, after World War I, when the British established Iraq
they also needed military bases, not just to dominate the
immediate region but to help maintain their sway over Persia and
India. The British were also determined to control Iraq’s
potentially vast petroleum resources.
Eight five years later, in 2007, Iraqis can be forgiven if they
think their country has come full circle. In fact, both Sunnis
and Shiites are deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions.
It will become an ever more explosive issue. There is no way
that the bases and the tens of thousands of troops that man them
will not be targeted by anti-American forces of all stripes.
It is an issue that will also —quite understandably—be of key
concern to Iran. Americans have always had trouble viewing the
world through the eyes of others, but imagine if an unfriendly
foreign power established four huge super bases in Mexico or
Canada–a power that also had never ruled out using such bases
for eventual military action against the U.S.
Surprisingly–or perhaps not surprisingly–the question of what
the U.S. is really after in Iraq has never been frankly debated
by the U.S. Congress.
Though U.S. legislators voted against appropriating funds for
permanent bases in Iraq, the White House and Pentagon have
ignored that prohibition by portraying the huge construction
projects to be for temporary facilities tied to the on-going
It’s a fiction that has allowed Congress to get off the hook
without really standing up to the administration. It’s similar
to the way congress all along has allowed the White House to
have its way in Iraq.
Barry Lando is a former producer with 60 Minutes, who has
just published a book "Web of Deceit: The History of Western
Complicity in Iraq from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush."
He also blogs at
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