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Dr Musa A Keilani: No wish for withdrawal
June 14, 2011
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Iraq is too unstable for the US military to withdraw from that country and the situation would remain the same even six months from now, the deadline set by President Barack Obama for the last American soldier to leave it.

This is the argument put forth by senior Obama administration officials to persuade the Iraqi government to formally request an extension of the US military presence in Iraq as the newly designated defence secretary hopes for.  Clearly, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, for reasons of their own, want the US forces to stay on. 

Talabani, a Kurd who is closely aligned with the US since the end of the 1991 war that ended Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait, knows that there would be a violent flare-up between Kurdish forces and Arabs in Kurdistan when the US forces depart from Iraq.

In any event, he would not and could not say no to the US when it says it would be for everyone’s good if its military hangs around in the country for some decades more.

As far as Maliki is concerned, he knows that the stability of his government depends on continued American military backing (and diplomatic support as well).

Ideally, he would like the US military to stay on until his term runs out; he has already announced that he would not be seeking another term as prime minister.

Insisting for months that he wanted the US military to leave as scheduled, Maliki has switched track now, saying he would make any decision only after consulting his coalition partners.

It is known that at least one component of the Maliki coalition, the party led by Moqtada Sadr who is closely aligned with the Iranian regime, would fight tooth and nail against the US military presence continuing beyond Dec.31, 2011.

It goes without saying that Sadr, who has even threatened to mobilise his Mahdi Army to fight the American force if the latter stays on, could quit the coalition and bring down the Maliki government.

So much for Maliki’s ambition to complete his term as prime minister. Of course, there could be unexpected developments that could change the scenario altogether.

We have to wait to see the ramifications as they unfold gradually starting from the dismissal of Ahmed Chalabi days ago as a goodwill gesture to the White House.

In the meantime, Peter Van Buren, who spent a year in Iraq as a State Department team leader dealing with reconstruction, says that Washington wants to follow the precedent of post-war Germany and Japan by leaving behind  “a decent-sized contingent of soldiers occupying some of the massive bases the Pentagon built hoping for permanent occupancy.”

We don’t know how the US intends to accomplish it, but we could bet Washington would do it, one way or another.  

Van Buren has also brought out some interesting features of the State Department’s plans for the US embassy being built in Baghdad.

Writing on his blog under the title A frat house with Guns in Baghdad, Van Buren says that Washington needs the Iraqi bases to signal its political might in the region.

As per the original schedule, as of Oct.1, 2011, the State Department will take over full responsibility for the US presence in Iraq from the military. The operations will be run from the embassy, which will cost about $736 million (once completed it will be the largest US diplomatic mission abroad — “built on a tract of land about the size of the Vatican and visible from space.”

The embassy will have some 17,000 personnel at some 15 sites, with 5,500 of them being hired guns to maintain security. 

Of the remaining 11,500, there will be only 200 or so personnel in traditional diplomatic jobs and the rest will be support staff.

Original plans call for a typical American environment, with pizza and hamburger joints, and convenience shops and shopping malls.

There will be schools for the children of the staff of the embassy and indeed US-style hospitals since, as Van Buren puts is, “Iraqi medical care is considered too substandard and Iraqi hospitals too dangerous for use by Americans.

The embassy compound would have its own arrangements for purifying water, generate power, and process its own sewage, ensuring that it could outlast any siege.

The cost of protecting the embassy itself will be about $973 million over five years. A company called SOC has already been given a contract.

“SOC will undoubtedly follow the current security company’s lead and employ almost exclusively Ugandans and Peruvians transported to Iraq for that purpose,” says Van Buren.

“For the same reasons Mexicans cut American lawns and Hondurans clean American hotel rooms, embassy guards come from poverty-stricken countries and get paid accordingly — about $600 a month. Their US supervisors, on the other hand, will get about $20,000 every month.

Another company called Triple Canopy will provide protection outside the embassy compound, reputedly for $1.5 billion over a five-year span. According to a State Department “Report on Department of State Planning for the Transition to a Civilian-Led Mission in Iraq Performance Evaluation” US diplomats will have their own little Air America in Iraq, a fleet of 46 aircraft.

Van Buren lists them:

* 20 medium lift S-61 helicopters (essentially Black Hawks, possibly armed)
* 18 light lift UH-1N helicopters (new models of ‘Nam era Hueys, possibly armed)
* Three light observation MD-530 helicopters (Little Birds, armed, for quick response strike teams..., observation duties)
* Five Dash 8 fixed-wing aircraft (50-passenger capacity to move personnel into the “theatre” from a neighbouring Arab country).

The State Department, says Van Buren, will need to construct landing zones, maintenance hangars, operation buildings, and air traffic control towers, along with an independent aviation logistics system for maintenance and fuelling.

Van Buren raised a few key questions:

* “Does Iraq threaten US security?
* Does it control a resource we demand? (Yes, it’s got lots of oil underground, but it produces remarkably little of the stuff.)
* Is Iraq enmeshed in some international coalition we need to butter up?
* Any evil dictators or WMDs around?
* Does Iraq hold trillions in US debt?”
* And finally, “What accomplishment are we protecting?”

Many Arabs, Iraqis and Jordanians who have been watching what has been going on in Iraq for some decades now, share the opinion that the United States in its Iraqi experience has accomplished “Preciously little.”

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