By Ameen Izzadeen
By meeting the August 31 troop withdrawal deadline ahead of schedule, United States President Barack Obama may have added some polish to his Nobel peace medal rusting in controversy. But he cannot undo the crimes his predecessor committed in Iraq. In fact, Obama is fine-tuning George W. Bush’s criminality.
About 120,000 of the 170,000 US troops stationed in Iraq have left in the past few months with the last batch having left on August 19, under cover of a media blackout. The embedded media obeyed US commands that no news about the withdrawal should go out until the troops reached the Kuwait border along a track that was once referred to as the highway to death. The road was so named after thousands of Iraqi troops were mowed down by US and allied aircraft when they were retreating from Kuwait in 1991.
After the 2003 Iraq invasion, the six-lane highway gained notoriety again when Iraqis opposed to the US occupation of their country attacked vehicles carrying US troops and trucks that brought supplies.
When the US troops were leaving Iraq along the highway this month, nothing untoward happened. There was the peace of the graveyard which the Americans have brought upon Iraq at the cost of more than one million Iraqi deaths and more than 4,400 US casualties.
The withdrawal two Thursdays ago did not signal the end of the US presence in Iraq. Obama is keeping back a massive force of 50,000 US troops in a base complex in Iraq’s highly fortified green zone. Military experts say the complex is the United States’ biggest overseas base. The US troops are kept back ostensibly to train the Iraqi troops and meet any exigency. The 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the United States and Iraq describes their role as to “advise and assist”.
Another agreement the Bush administration arm-twisted Baghdad into signing at the same time as SOFA has forced the Iraqis to have a “long term relationship in economic, diplomatic, cultural and security fields” with the US. Known as the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), it specifies that the US could use “diplomatic, economic or military measures” against “internal or external threats” to the government of Iraq. This could mean many things, including US troops getting involved in military operations to deal with those who are opposed to their presence and provoking Iran for a fight.
SOFA says even the 50,000 troops now stationed in Iraq should leave by the end of 2011. However, the agreement also has provisions for the presence of US special forces to carry out “counter-terrorism” operations and US aircraft to provide the primary air support to the Iraqi military.
Two factors can help the US to justify its continuous military presence in Iraq even after 2011 – the continuing insurgent activities and the weakness of the Iraqi Air Force.
Iraq, which once had the Gulf region’s best Air Force, does not have anything resembling an Air Force today. At present, it possesses a few training and transport aircraft. The first F-16 fighter jet Iraq has ordered may take another three years to come. Analysts say Washington is deliberately keeping the Iraqi Air Force weak so that the US forces could stay on and provide the air power in terms of SOFA and SFA.
In the light of these moves and arrangements, the August 19 troop withdrawal did not signal the beginning of the end of the US military presence in Iraq. In reality, the US military presence has become a permanent feature. The US needs a base in Iraq to arm twist the Iraqi government, exploit Iraq’s oil resources, to use it as a launching pad in the event of a war with Iran and to spy on Iran’s military activities. The puppet regime in Baghdad is helpless.
There are three reasons why Baghdad is incapable of telling the US to roll up SOFA and get out of Iraq.
1 At present, Iraq is in a political crisis with the government functioning only on an interim basis because the newly elected MPs are fighting among themselves to form a coalition government five months after the elections.
2 Interference from external forces: It is not only the United States that is meddling in Iraq’s affairs, but a host of other countries as well. Iran, Turkey, Syria and Saudi Arabia have significant geopolitical stakes in Iraq and all these countries are accused of contributing to the instability of Iraq.
3 The Iraqi government is uncertain about the loyalty of its military. The post-invasion Iraqi military is a US made one. Recruitment, screening and training were carried out by the US military or under its supervision. The Generals are at the beck and call of their US masters. If a democratically elected government takes measures which Washington sees as hostile, the military can topple the regime and set up a pro-US regime – like the Nuri al-Said governments of the past.
On August 18, a day before Obama’s troop withdrawal feat, Lieutenant General Babaker Zerbari, the commander of the Iraqi armed forces, publicly called for American troops to remain until at least 2020 and issued a veiled threat to politicians.
“I would say to the politicians: the US army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020,” he told AFP, adding that a “void” would exist if the 2011 schedule was kept and ongoing US combat operations did actually end.
But the Iraqi people are both happy and anxious. Happy because the foreign troops won’t be on the streets to body check and humiliate them. Anxious because they fear that sectarian violence may get worse and the remaining US presence can still manipulate events. In recent days, scores of blasts have claimed hundreds of Iraqi civilian lives. As to who is behind these bombs is a big mystery, speculation about which will only earn one the label conspiracy theorist, though there is ample proof to show that western intelligence groups and Israel’s Mossad are active in Iraq. Readers may recall the 2005 arrest of the two British undercover agents with booby trapped devices. They were dressed like Arabs. Britain sent a huge force to rescue the two in a battle with the Iraqi police.
The withdrawal of the troops ahead of the August 31 deadline also does not mean that the US would erase its sins. The troops are leaving behind a trail of blood and shame. Their presence in Iraq was marred by Abu Ghraib, civilian massacres and allegations of torture, corruption and the plunder of Iraq’s oil wealth.
The illegal war on Iraq was launched by Bush jr. not to bring democracy to Iraq or to rid the Saddam Hussein regime of its non-existent weapons of mass destruction. It was to carry forward the vision of the neocons who dream of a world militarily dominated by the US, who seek to take control of the resources of West Asia and who link the security of the United States with that of Israel.
Millions of people around the world told Bush not to go to war. The then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said it. France, Russia and China – all members of the UN Security Council – urged him not to. But the warmonger did not listen. He used disproportionate firepower which he named “shock and awe” to kill hundreds of Iraqi civilians and destroy Iraq’s infrastructure. No compensation was paid to the next of kin or the wounded. But there was a scramble to give contracts to neocon-backed US firms to rebuild Iraq’s demolished infrastructure. Billions of dollars have been given to the firms but very little work has been completed. For instance, Iraq still does not have a 24-hour uninterrupted power supply. The efficiency, however, is seen in Iraq’s oil sector which has fallen into the hands of multinationals. Such is the legacy of this illegal war. Obama, who says he is committed to withdraw the troops from Iraq, would not dare to set up a commission to check the legality of the war.
Such a process is on in Britain, whose deputy prime minister and Liberal Democratic Party leader Nick Clegg, told the House of Commons recently that the Iraq war was illegal. Clegg’s statement which he later said was his personal viewpoint was indeed an opening for war crimes charges against the then prime minister Tony Blair, who is now accused of filling his pockets with oil commissions.