People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 37

September 12, 2010


Iraq:  Sham US Withdrawal


Yohannan Chemerapally


THE speech by president Barak Obama in the last week of August announcing the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq has been met with scepticism at home and with trepidation among influential sections of the governing Iraqi elite. Seventeen months ago, president Obama had pledged to withdraw all US combat troops from Iraq by September 1, 2010. Obama in an earlier speech to disabled US army veterans in the city of Atlanta categorically stated that America’s “combat mission in Iraq” will come to an end on September 1. He also promised to adhere to the next deadline of removing all troops by the end of 2011. But the fact of the matter is that a significant number of American troops along with military “contractors” (mercenaries) remain stationed in military bases all over Iraq. In the first week of September itself, American soldiers were involved in combat after one of the Iraqi bases came under attack from the Iraqi Resistance.


In the speech he had made on February 27, 2009, soon after coming to office, Obama had said that he had chosen a timeline that would remove all combat troops by the end of August, 2010. But in his Atlanta speech, there was no specific mention of removing all combat troops from Iraq, only vague talk of ending the combat mission there. After August, there still will be 50,000 American troops left in Iraq. This is quite a substantial number, double than that of the American troops in South Korea. Then there is the additional presence of more than 100,000 US financed “contractors”. Many of them are recently retired military personnel from the US army. People with a military background from countries like Uganda, Peru, Colombia and other countries friendly to the US are serving as “contractors”, read mercenaries, in Iraq.




Though the Obama administration has said that the primary US role in Iraq henceforth will be “to advise and assist Iraqi forces”, indications are that combat operations, involving US forces, will continue side by side with the training programs.  The Obama administration states that it will “advise and assist” the Iraqi army in “anti-terrorism missions” and training. This is likely to continue beyond 2011 when all American troops are supposed to vacate Iraqi territory. And even if the American troops are actually withdrawn, they will anyway be stationed a stones throw away in Kuwait and neighbouring Gulf countries. Under the status of forces agreement signed between the US and Iraq, the US has full control over the airspace over Iraq.


US officials have said that American troops will engage in offensive combat activities if requested by the Iraqi army. The US secretary of defence, Robert Gates, had clarified in early 2009 itself that American “transition forces” remaining in Iraq after September 2010, would no longer be called “combat brigades”. Instead they would be re-christened as “advisory and assistance brigades”. The idea was the brainchild of general David Petraeus who was loath to see the American combat mission in Iraq come to a precipitate end. The Pentagon now seems to have prevailed over the Obama administration to keep the US military beyond 2011, the year in which all US troops have to withdraw, as per the agreement with the Iraqi government in 2008.


General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, told the Washington Post soon after that agreement that he would like a US force of around 35,000 to be in Iraq till at least 2015. The former US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C Crocker, a Bush appointee, told the NYT that American troops will have to be in Iraq for “a long period of time----even  if it is solely in support of the US weapons systems”.  Crocker who was in Iraq till 2009 and was present when the withdrawal agreement was signed with the Iraqi government, has said that even when negotiations were going on with the Iraqi government, it was understood that a smaller presence of American troops in the country much beyond the withdrawal date, was always considered likely.




The American vice-president, Joseph Biden, has suggested on several occasions that it is not in his country’s national interests to withdraw completely from Iraq. The Obama administration has already sold Iraq expensive weapons systems and may be on verge of arming the Iraqi air force with F-16 fighters. American officials say that sale of high tech weaponry itself necessitates the prolonged stay of American soldiers and “contractors” in Iraq. The Iraqi troops, they claim, will take a long time to gain expertise in the handling of sophisticated weaponry. The US hopes that training and arming Iraq, would help in the creation of a quisling army.


The newly appointed American ambassador to Iraq, James F Jeffrey, has said that America’s “diplomatic presence” all over Iraq should continue for another three to five years after the withdrawal of all the US combat troops in 2011, despite the pledge made by president Obama. In June this year, the US state department requested for the creation of a special combat ready protection force to ensure the safety of its personnel deployed in Iraq after the planned withdrawal of US forces in 2012. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state has said that she wants the number of military contractors protecting diplomatic personnel in the five “enduring presence posts” in Iraq to increase from 2,700 to 7000. The US army spokesman in Iraq, speaking after the Obama speech, said that “in practical terms, nothing will change” in Iraq. Nuri al Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister recently acknowledged that US forces will have to stay much beyond 2011 to train the 660,000 strong Iraqi army, the police force and pro-government militias.  




The US embassy in Iraq will be one of the largest diplomatic establishments Washington has worldwide. The embassy which is being built at a cost of $740 million will house 800 personnel. The embassy located within the “Green Zone” in Baghdad is the size of the Vatican. The US also has 94 big and small military bases in the country. It is unlikely that Washington will abandon them in a hurry for a variety of reasons, the most important being the stranglehold the West has re-established over Iraqi oil. 60 per cent of Iraq’s oil is now once again under foreign control and that too under contracts that are valid for the next 20 years. Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia. Western oil companies who were expelled by Saddam Hussein now play a big role in production and exporting of Iraqi crude.  


To bolster American claims that there will be chaos if the US military leaves, Iraq’s most senior military official, Lt Gen Babaker Zebari, said in the second week of August that his forces are not in a position to secure the country till 2020 and asked the US military to delay its withdrawal plans and hang on to at least some of its military bases. Zebari is a Kurd. The Kurds running the northern Iraq as a quasi independent state fear that American withdrawal will strengthen the hands of the Arab nationalists who are loath to give up important cities like Kirkuk and Mosul. The American forces have strengthened their presence in Kirkuk, an important oil refining centre, to help the Kurdish forces stave off attacks from resistance forces. Resistance fighters led by Izzat Ibrahim, who was Saddam’s senior most deputy, have announced the beginning of a new offensive against the Americans and their local Kurdish and Shia allies.


However, another close aide of Saddam Hussein, his long serving foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, took a divergent position. He warned form his prison cell, that an American military withdrawal at this juncture would be catastrophic for the Iraqi nation. Aziz told a British newspaper that the US had “destroyed” the Iraqi nation and that America should only leave after rebuilding the institutions of government and the civilian infrastructure its brutal invasion and occupation has destroyed. Aziz, like many secular Iraqis, is fearful that if the Americans actually leave the country, the resultant vacuum will be filled by sectarian forces, inimical to the secular goals espoused by the Baath Party.


Meanwhile, the four million displaced Iraqis, see no light at the end of the tunnel. After seven years of occupation, the infrastructure of the country remains devastated. Electricity supply and access to clean drinking water for the overwhelming majority of Iraqis is sporadic at best. The security situation remains critical. Baghdad is a city that is divided by countless blast walls and check points. The month of July saw a dramatic rise in suicide bombings and civilian casualties. The death toll was the highest recorded in a month in the last two years. Even the American military has conceded that on an average there are 15 militant attacks every day.


There are also credible reports about the Al Qaeda in Iraq making a comeback. In the last week of July, according to reports in the Arab media, Al Qaeda militants struck in the heart of Baghdad, killing 16 members of the Iraqi security forces and briefly planting the organisation’s flag in the heart of the Iraqi capital. Al Qaeda had also claimed responsibility for the bombing of the offices of Al Arabiya television channel in July. That attack killed six people. The brunt of the militant attacks is being faced by the “Sahwas”. They are Sunni fighters who had defected from Al Qaeda and joined up with the American forces. They had helped the American score some fleeting military victories over the resistance after the “military surge” ordered by the Bush administration. Now things seem to be back at square one in Iraq.