Recently, a very good friend of mine asked me via e-mail how our country can extricate itself from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that got me thinking, and I soon realized that I didn't have a clue.
That was a harsh realization. I have made the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan my life's work, and I consider this interest a worthy endeavor. This dedication is based upon a 50-year interest in history, a military background, and a working knowledge of Mideast problems since the late '60's. Also, I am a writer and an author, which enables me to share not only my point of view, but the views of others in a somewhat coherent manner. Also, too, I read everything I can get my hands on regarding the two wars. I consider myself a bit of an expert on the subject of the two wars. Consequently, when the most crucial question came up - how do we end them - I had to admit to myself, ruefully, I simply don't know.
Worse, there are more questions then there are answers. As an example, why won't the mass news media tell us the truth regarding the recent up-tick in violence in Iraq? I do not mean to single him out, merely using him as an example, but Brian Williams on NBC is nearly mum on the entire subject of Iraq. This is curious because the United States plans to withdraw its troops from Iraq's cities in less than two months, and the war is far from over.
A sudden surge of suicide bombings and sectarian violence is rattling Iraq's tenuous political settlement, raising fears of a return to the bloodbath that swept the country in 2006 and 2007. More than 355 people died in 40 bomb attacks in April, making it the bloodiest month in Iraq for over a year. For the most part, the media is reporting these attacks, attributing them to Sunni insurgents and/or al-Qa'ida of Iraq (AQI), but the media is not connecting the dots. Where has the Sunni insurgency been over the past 2 1/2 years? The answer is, they have been on our side. They were called the al-Sahwa, or the Sons of Iraq.
It is here where the media is not informing the public. The Sahwa force is Sunni militia hired by the U.S. in August, 2006, and is comprised of former resistance fighters. The Sahwa grew in number to 100,000, and they were commissioned by General David H. Petraeus to hunt down members of AQI. The al-Sahwa are now concerned that the Shiite-led government has begun singling out the councils' leaders for arrest while their chief patron, the American military, abandons them. Many have not been paid since October. A Sahwa commander in Baghdad feared it was only a matter of time before they would leave their posts to likely resume resistance operations. That has now started, and the news media is clueless.
Eighteen American soldiers were killed in Iraq during April. The is the highest total in seven months.
Then there is al-Qa'ida. Al-Qa'ida is known to have the capability to evolve, to correct the errors of their ways to achieve a goal. The secular Iraqi Sunnis were not enthralled with the strict, fundamentalist al-Qa'ida, and that is why the Sunni insurgents turned against them. It should be noted the Sunni insurgents are extremely nationalistic. Al-Qa'ida can easily go back to Sunni tribal leaders, assuring adaptation to Iraqi Sunni ways, offering money and guns, while appealing to Sunni nationalistic tendencies. It is becoming readily apparent that as the Iraqi government attacks on the Sahwa continue, AQI is now operating largely at will, and attacks on US forces are now happening all over Iraq ... again.
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Thomas Friedman writes, "... al-Qaida is primarily focused on defeating America in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world - particularly in Iraq. Al-Qaida knows that if it can destroy the U.S. effort (still a long shot) to build a decent, modernizing society in Iraq, it will undermine every U.S. ally in the region." I will go Friedman one better. Ironically, the very last thing al-Qa'ida wants is for the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq. The American invasion of Iraq has been recruiting poster material for al-Qa'ida for over six years. It would not bother Osama bin Laden one bit if American soldiers in the heart of Arab land remain targets. He does not want American forces to retreat. He wants to defeat American forces, defeat American will to ever again invade and occupy Arab land, perhaps, even, defeat America itself in the long run.
On April 30th, Britain withdrew its remaining combat forces in southern Iraq, primarily centered around the port of Basra. Who fills that void? The United States, of course. With the U.K. withdrawing, Bush's so-called grand coalition no longer exists. The Multinational Force, MNF for short, now consists of Australia with 145 troops and Romania with 350 troops, along with the U.S., of course. That is it, all others have withdrawn. In essence, the Great Satan, as Islamic extremists refer to the U.S., is alone smack dab in the middle of a hornets' nest. Put a different way, American troops are right where al-Qa'ida wants them.
Al- Qa'ida plans notwithstanding, what does the U.S. plan to do? According to the Status of Forces Agreement, SOFA, agreed upon between the U.S. and Iraq in Dec. 2008 during the waning days of the Bush administration, American troops will withdraw from Iraqi urban areas by June 30 of this year unless otherwise directed by the Iraqi government. If the rising violence continues or gets worse, which is my prediction, there are serious doubts that American troops will be withdrawing from Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and other cities in the near future. The SOFA also states that all American combat troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by Jan. 1, 2012, unless otherwise authorized by the Iraqi government, of course. That is over 2 1/2 years from now. That is a lifetime in Iraq. Who is to say what will happen in Iraq during that span of time? I certainly cannot.
The SOFA is a first, the first time American troops have ever been placed under the command of a foreign government.
President Obama plans on keeping up to 50,000 American troops in Iraq after Jan 1, 2012 to guard American interests and continue the endless training of Iraqi army and police. American interests? We might begin with the $1.3B American embassy, the largest and most expensive embassy in the world. Located in the Green Zone, it consists of six apartment buildings, water and waste treatment facilities, a power station, two major diplomatic office buildings, and recreation facilities, including a gym, movie theater, and a swimming pool. The embassy, dubbed Fortress America, is heavily fortified even by Green Zone standards. Ordinarily, the Marines have embassy duty. This facility will require a huge detachment of Marines, and God only knows how many civilian contractors. If anybody thinks we are leaving this place anytime soon, they are dreaming.
Were that all - in the end it is just an embassy and the U.S. has them in nearly every country on Earth - there would be little concern. However, Tom Englehardt writes, "There are at least four 'super-bases' in Iraq, none of which have anything to do with 'withdrawal' from that country. Quite the contrary, these bases are being constructed as little American islands of eternal order in an anarchic sea. Whatever top administration officials and military commanders say -- and they always deny that we seek 'permanent' bases in Iraq -- facts on the ground speak with another voice entirely. These bases practically scream 'permanency.'"
The bases vary, but most have a Subway, a Pizza Hut, a Popeye's, a Starbucks, a 24-hour Burger King, a couple of post exchanges where TVs, iPods, and the like can be purchased, multiple mess halls, a hospital, even miniature golf courses. They often times experience the most American of episodes, the traffic jam or grid lock as we like to call it. Camp Anaconda, a singularly appropriate name, incorporates Balad Airbase. Balad is second only to London's Heathrow Airport as the busiest in the world. Al Asad Airbase is nearly as large, housing over 17,000 American troops. It even has a car dealership. Is there anyone who thinks we are going to turn these bases over to the Iraqis? If so, one perhaps also believes in the tooth fairy. There are many who believe that these permanent bases are not aimed at Iraq. Those bases are aimed at Iran.
Senator John McCain once stated that we could be in Iraq for another hundred years. He may well be right.
In his article entitled "Analyzing Obama's War Budget Numbers," Jeff Leys reported that President Obama's 2009 supplemental spending request to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is currently before Congress. The House Appropriations Committee will finalize its version of the war funding bill at a committee hearing on May 7. The full House will likely vote on the bill the following week. The objective is to have the bill finalized and to Obama for signature by Memorial Day. After an exhaustive investigation of the spending request, Leys concluded, "The Operation and Maintenance numbers in Obama's war budget do not provide significant evidence of a significant shift in the overall strategy for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." He later added, "All of which is to say that our work to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is really only just beginning anew. We should not allow ourselves to be deceived into believing that a shift in war strategy and policy is underway ..."
The al-Maliki government in Baghdad is an American puppet government, and every Iraqi voter knows it. His recent streak of independence will not change that, and he certainly does not instill confidence among the Shiites, Sunnis, or Kurds. With the support of American firepower it is very difficult to believe that Nouri al-Maliki is the man who will finally bring freedom and democracy to this war-torn land.
History is not on Iraq's side either. Formerly known as Mesopotamia, the people who live in modern-day Iraq have not been in control of their own destiny since the last Babylonian Empire, circa 7th to 6th Centuries BCE. Since then they have been conquered by the Romans, Persians, Alexander the Great, Mongols, and the Ottoman and British Empires. After the creation of an independent kingdom in 1932, the land dropped its ancient name. It became known by its ancient endonym "Iraq." In 1958, it became the Republic of Iraq. Independence did not change matters for Iraq. Iraq continued to be a land of turmoil with military coups, revolutions, and assassinations. Since before the birth of Christ to the present, Iraq has known only one brief period in which it controlled its own destiny with an independent government of its own that was relatively stable. You guessed it ... the Saddam Hussein regime.
Back to my dear friend, who started this whole mess. He had a great idea, but not, perhaps, very realistic. His endearing thought was that we lied our way into this war, we ought to be able to lie our way out of it. While not very likely, let's hypothesize [dream] for just a moment. Within a year, say, the U.S. proclaims victory, and we withdraw all of our troops from Iraq. There are, of course, a few factors to consider, despite the appeal of such a decision. We will be leaving behind a weak, nascent government in Baghdad. Iraq and Iran have under their sandy soil the 2nd and 3rd largest known oil reserves in the world. Who is the most likely suspect to fill the void of power left by the U.S. in Iraq? The disturbing answer is Iran. Shiite Iran could "assist" the weak Shiite Iraqi government. There is a natural empathy between the two. There are serious doubts Washington will accept Iran's unnerving influence on Iraqi affairs. Israel certainly will not. Sadly, my friend's idea could cause a Mideast holocaust, or worse.
When and how will we ever leave Iraq? Upon further reflection, I do not feel bad not knowing the answer to that crucial question. There are others who do not know, either, and they are slightly more prominent. President Obama does not know the answer, nor does Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, nor anyone in the Pentagon, nor any other self-defined experts on the issue.
The Af/Pak theater of operations? I don't even want to go there.