While the Obama administration struggles to keep its pledge to end the Iraq war, a behind-the-scenes plan is developing in which the Baghdad regime "invites" the American military to stay.
While media attention focused this week on the last combat brigade rolling out of Iraq, US diplomat Ryan Crocker was saying that if the Iraqis "come to us later on this year requesting that we jointly relook at the post-2011 period, it is going to be in our strategic interest to be responsive." [NYT, Aug. 19]
That means troops and bases, keeping a US strategic outpost in the Middle East. Otherwise, according to some Pentagon sources, the Iraq war will have been in vain.
To prevent backsliding on the agreement to withdraw all troops and bases by the end of 2011, peace advocates and Congress will have to revisit and reinforce those agreements using hearings and budgetary powers.
To review the history: in late 2008, a secret negotiation resulted in what the Iraqis called "the withdrawal agreement" and the Americans the "status of forces agreement." The bilateral pact was never debated or approved by the US Congress. By its adoption, the Iraqis could claim a victory for sovereignty while the US could declare a diplomatic end to an unpopular war.
In reality, the Iraq war never ended. US casualties plummeted because fewer Iraqis wanted to shoot Americans who were leaving. Iraqi casualties declined from the feverish high of 2006-7, but continue to be several hundred per month. Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia, which did not exist when the war began, has survived. The forces of Moktada al-Sadr, who waged two uprisings against the US, are a powerful factor in Iraqi politics and on the ground. The Kurdish crisis is unsolved. Overall, Iran has prevailed strategically and politically. And the Baghdad regime originally installed by the Americans seems hopeless deadlocked, inefficient, and on the edge of imploding.
The State Department is expanding a militarized "civilian" intervention to fill the gap as Pentagon troops depart. Thousands of military contractors will conduct Iraqi police training, protect Iraq's airspace, and possibly conduct continued counterterrorism operations. State Department operatives will be protected in mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles [MRAPS], armored vehicles, helicopters and its own planes.
The immediate future is uncertain. US soldiers currently being sent to Iraq are told their mission is "to shut it down." But the real story is being hidden by the Obama administration's insistence that its promise to end the war is being kept. The notion of a continued military presence, according to the Times, "has been all but banished from public discussion." According to one official, "the administration does not want to touch this question right now."
A war that started with dreams of bringing democracy to the Middle East is ending by keeping plans for more troops hidden from American voters.