WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – President Barack Obama has technically made good on his promise to officially end U.S. combat operations in Iraq, moving the last combat brigade into Kuwait several days ahead of the Aug. 31 stated deadline. But the reality of the new “mission accomplished” was accomplished by a clever use of what amounts to smoke and mirrors, rather than an end to the U.S. occupation, according to several observers.
“First, we’re leaving 50,000 troops there, which are in the words of The Washington Post ‘conventional combat brigades.’ They’re just slightly tinkered with to give them a new name,” Phyllis Bennis, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies told The Final Call. “That’s the only difference. They will be renamed, they will be what the Pentagon called ‘re-missioned,’ meaning, these are combat troops that will be given names like ‘trainers,’ like ‘assistants,’ but they will remain combat troops.”
In addition, there will be tens of thousands of private mercenaries, and another contingent of “special forces.”
“So any country that has 50,000 foreign soldiers on its soil, and tens of thousands of private contractors who are under no one’s obligation, that country is not a free country. So Iraq today remains an occupied country,” Brian Becker of the International ANSWER Coalition told The Final Call.
“Beyond those 50,000, there will be 4,500 special forces,” Ms. Bennis continued. “Those are particularly dangerous because they will be not only carrying out the U.S. branch of Special Forces operations. Which means they have a list of people to be killed or captured. They take that list, run around the country and kill or capture anyone whose name is on that list, regardless of the validity of the intelligence which put their names on that list.
“Second, they are training their Iraqi counterparts, and this is particularly dangerous because what we’re seeing in Iraq is the rise of what used to be called ‘the Salvador option.’ This was the tactic that was used in El Salvador when the U.S. was sending trainers, not ground troops, to train Salvadoran soldiers to create what became death squads throughout El Salvador, and led to a scenario where huge numbers of civilians were being killed by these death squads, trained, armed, and supported by the United States,” Ms. Bennis said.
“My reaction is that this is just another media stunt, because what is not being reported as strongly as the final troop leaving Iraq is that we’re still leaving 50,000 troops in the country, not to mention that the 4,000 who are leaving are being replaced by 7,000 security contractors, called ‘dirty gangs’ by Iraqis,” Staff Sergeant Camilo MejÃa, the first U.S. combat veteran to publicly resist the war told Pacifica Radio‘s “Democracy Now!”
“I think that basically what we have is just a recycling of forces in what effectively could be called a transferring of military duties from the U.S. military into the hands of corporate paramilitary forces in Iraq,” he said.
The switch will be accomplished by not only re-naming the remaining soldiers as trainers or assistants, thousands more will be placed under the authority of the State Department, rather than the Pentagon, Ms. Bennis pointed out. “The real transition that we’re seeing coming in Iraq is not so much a transition from U.S. to Iraqi control, but rather from the Pentagon to the State Department.
“The State Department is in the process of importing into Iraq, 7,000 armed mercenaries. They will have their own air force–a small set of planes. They will have drones under their control. They will have armored personnel carriers. They will be, essentially, transformed from a diplomatic mission, into a military force.
“So there will continue to be a permanent military presence of a very large scale in Iraq, even after the so-called final pullout at the end of 2011, because even if we accept the idea that the U.S. intends to abide by the terms of the bilateral agreement, signed by President Bush and (Iraqi President Nouri) al-Maliki at the end of 2008, which set the terms for an end to all U.S. troop presence in Iraq by the end of 2011, it says nothing about mercenaries who are there under the auspices of USAID, of the State Department, of the new embassy. All of that is allowed.
“So there could be an unlimited number of armed and unarmed mercenaries, in Iraq, being armed, paid, and controlled by the U.S., but because it will be the State Department, rather than the Pentagon in charge, that will not constitute an official violation,” said Ms. Bennis.
There are already about 75,000 private military contractors operating there, the vast majority of whom are Iraqis. They will be doing low-level non-military, support jobs to support the U.S. military forces, jobs which in former conflicts would have been performed by low-ranking U.S. military personnel–fueling vehicles, preparing meals, cleaning military facilities. And there will be even less accountability for the actions of these contractors.
But for the Iraqi people, little has been accomplished by the seven-year-old U.S. invasion and occupation. Now, observers point out, there is no sufficient clean water for Iraqi civilians, no reliable source of electricity, and complete insecurity on the ground. There has been nothing like a “Mission Accomplished,” when then President George W. Bush declared just months into the conflict that all U.S. combat operations had been concluded.
The U.S. forces which remain “are combat troops. Combat ready. Combat armed. So the notion that somehow we are not occupying Iraq simply does not fly,” said Ms. Bennis. Meanwhile, the anti-war movement is planning a mobilization against the war this fall.
“We are going to be demonstrating here in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2,” said Mr. Becker, “when the labor movement, the NAACP, and civil rights organizations from all over the country are marching for jobs and freedom, but you have to also be marching for peace and against war. Because this country spends more than a trillion dollars a year–that’s the real number–a trillion dollars a year, each and every year, more than all the other countries combined on weapons, weapons of mass destruction at the same time that we’re losing jobs, schools are closing, tens of millions of people don’t have health care, so the ANSWER Coalition and many other anti-war organizations are building a big, broad anti-war contingent, a peace contingent, as part of that march for jobs and freedom on Oct. 2.”
The anti-war movement’s mobilization is vital, otherwise complacency may set in among the American public, according to Ms. Bennis. “So there’s a very dangerous scenario underway for what things are going to look like as the largest number U.S. troops are withdrawn.” It means people in this country are prepared to accept the consequences of having a Special Forces arrangement without any accountability attacks on individuals without trial. There’s no accountability remaining.
“This is certainly not an end to the war, but it’s not even an end to the U.S. occupation and engagement in that war,” she said.