The announcement that "This is how America's military efforts in Iraq will end" was greeted with considerable skepticism, but "the war isn't over" tended to mean different things to different commentators on the left and on the right.  --  Writing on the Danger Room blog on the website of Wired, Spencer Ackerman said that it's "a big deal that all U.S. troops are coming home," but "the fact is America’s military efforts in Iraq aren’t coming to an end.  They are instead entering a new phase," one featuring military contractors managed by the State Dept. in a front-line role.[1]  --  "You can also expect that there will be a shadow presence by the CIA, and possibly the Joint Special Operations Command, to hunt persons affiliated with al-Qaida."  --  John Glaser, a libertarian critic of the war who writes for, took a slightly different tack, acknowledging that while Iraq has been forced into a relationship "of the kind that generalizes throughout the Middle East region, namely one characterized by large packages of economic and military aid to abusive governments and armies in exchange for conformity to U.S. interests," the resistance of its leadership to a SOFA constituted a "firm Iraqi rejection of U.S. imperialism."[2]  --  But that rejection could well turn out to be largely symbolic, since "given the current and foreseeable U.S. relationship with Iraq, the future of the embattled country appears likely to fall into the U.S. domain of hegemonic influence and into a reliable client state."  --  The Clarion-Ledger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning paper in Jackson, Mississippi, reported, "Local military experts and veterans of the Iraq War say regardless of President Barack Obama's decision to withdraw all remaining troops by Jan. 1, the war is not over."[3]  --  But to the right-wing supporters of the war interviewed by Jessica Bakeman, this meant something different.  --  One said the Iraq war had been an aspect of the war on terrorism, "Muslim extremists" (ignoring the fact that Saddam Hussein had nothing to with al-Qaeda), which would go on.  --  Another "accus[ed] Obama of leaving the job "half done" and predicted that the U.S. withdrawal "just invites problems down the road for having to go back."  --  A marine who served in Iraq called the announcement "just protocol" and said he "doesn't need to have any feelings about it"; it was unclear precisely what he meant.  --  Still another commentator accused Americans' attention span of "running out," implying that the U.S. was abandoning Iraq to a low-intensity civil war.  --  This was also the view of Shaun Mullen, a "moderate" critic of the war, who welcomed the decision but added:  "Iraq will inevitably slide into chaos if not another civil war."[4] ...



by Spencer Ackerman


October 21, 2011

President Obama announced on Friday that all 41,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq will return home by December 31.  “That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end,” he said. Don’t believe him.

Now:  it’s a big deal that all U.S. troops are coming home.  For much of the year, the military, fearful of Iranian influence, has sought a residual presence in Iraq of several thousand troops.  But arduous negotiations with the Iraqi government about keeping a residual force stalled over the Iraqis’ reluctance to provide them with legal immunity.

But the fact is America’s military efforts in Iraq aren’t coming to an end.  They are instead entering a new phase.  On January 1, 2012, the State Department will command a hired army of about 5,500 security contractors, all to protect the largest U.S. diplomatic presence anywhere overseas.

The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security does not have a promising record when it comes to managing its mercenaries.  The 2007 Nisour Square shootings by State’s security contractors, in which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed, marked one of the low points of the war.  Now, State will be commanding a much larger security presence, the equivalent of a heavy combat brigade.  In July, Danger Room exclusively reported that the Department blocked the Congressionally-appointed watchdog for Iraq from acquiring basic information about contractor security operations, such as the contractors’ rules of engagement.

That means no one outside the State Department knows how its contractors will behave as they ferry over 10,000 U.S. State Department employees throughout Iraq -- which, in case anyone has forgotten, is still a war zone.  Since Iraq wouldn’t grant legal immunity to U.S. troops, it is unlikely to grant it to U.S. contractors, particularly in the heat and anger of an accident resulting in the loss of Iraqi life.

It’s a situation with the potential for diplomatic disaster.  And it’s being managed by an organization with no experience running the tight command structure that makes armies cohesive and effective.

You can also expect that there will be a shadow presence by the CIA, and possibly the Joint Special Operations Command, to hunt persons affiliated with al-Qaida. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has conspicuously stated that al-Qaida still has 1,000 Iraqi adherents, which would make it the largest al-Qaida affiliate in the world.

So far, there are three big security firms with lucrative contracts to protect U.S. diplomats.  Triple Canopy, a longtime State guard company, has a contract worth up to $1.53 billion to keep diplos safe as they travel throughout Iraq.  Global Strategies Group will guard the consulate at Basra for up to $401 million.  SOC Incorporated will protect the mega-embassy in Baghdad for up to $974 million.  State has yet to award contracts to guard consulates in multiethnic flashpoint cities Mosul and Kirkuk, as well as the outpost in placid Irbil.

“We can have the kind of protection our diplomats need,” Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough told reporters after Obama’s announcement.  Whether the Iraqi people will have protection from the contractors that the State Department commands is a different question.  And whatever you call their operations, the Obama administration hopes that you won’t be so rude as to call it “war.”



By John Glaser

** Full withdrawal may not be exactly as it sounds and represents a failure of Obama's hard fought attempt to extend the US occupation **
October 21, 2011 [see original for many links]

President Barack Obama announced Friday that all United States forces will withdraw from Iraq by the end of this year and, as he put it, “America’s war in Iraq will be over.”  But the complete withdrawal may not actually be what it seems and the way this announcement is being framed fails to stand up to scrutiny.

The Obama administration spent years trying to pressure the Iraqi leadership into an agreement extending the American military presence there beyond the previously scheduled December deadline to pull out.  Many in the administration pushed for tens of thousands of troops to remain indefinitely, where others yielded to having only 3,000-5,000 soldiers left for training and security purposes.

An agreement to keep a few thousands troops as a contingent force past the withdrawal deadline came close to being ratified, although Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki needed to circumvent Parliament in order to do it.  But after the Obama administration and the Pentagon insisted the contingent force be granted immunity from Iraqi law, the deal went sour and Iraq’s leadership began to resist US pressure to stay.

But Obama’s announcement of a full withdrawal, with the exception of perhaps a few hundred soldiers to guard the U.S. Embassy, may not be exactly as it sounds.  In reality, the reduced level of troops is possible in tandem with an expanded diplomatic mission and a large presence of military contractors.

The State Department is expected to have up to 17,000 employees and at least 5,000 military contractors -- consisting of private soldiers and retired army commanders -- for this ongoing diplomatic presence, which has been described as necessary to provide “situational awareness around the country, manage political crises in potential hotspots such as Kirkuk, and provide a platform for delivering economic, development, and security assistance.”

Obama explained in his speech that the U.S. would have “a normal relationship” with Iraq going forward, which will include “training and equipping its forces.”  Indeed, the Department of Defense is currently closing in on a deal to send $82 million worth of military arms and equipment to the government of Iraq.  The deal includes, for example, tens of thousands of “M107 155mm High Explosive Projectiles” along with thousands more artillery charges, transportation and communication equipment, personnel training, and “U.S. Government and contractor engineering, logistics, and technical support services.”

The “normal relationship” Obama referred to is of the kind that generalizes throughout the Middle East region, namely one characterized by large packages of economic and military aid to abusive governments and armies in exchange for conformity to U.S. interests, as understood by Washington national security planners.

In short, many Iraqis may not perceive drastic change in the relationship with the U.S.  According to the most recent Quarterly Report of the Special Inspector General for Iraq, the Department of State “will assume primary responsibility for a planned $6.8 billion operation” carried out “from 11 locations around Iraq, including three consulates and the world’s largest embassy.”  Responsibilities also include carrying out “two of the largest Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programs in the world and to spend the $2.55 billion in Iraq Security Forces Fund (ISFF).”

As detailed in a declassified, partially redacted State Department document, a “fleet of 46 aircraft” will be “based and maintained in Baghdad, Basra, and Erbil” and will include 20 medium lift S-61 helicopters, 18 light lift UH-1N helicopters, three light observation MD-530 helicopters, and five Dash 8 fixed wing aircraft.  Flight and landing zones, maintenance hangars, operation buildings, and air traffic control towers, along with maintenance and refueling will all be a part of the contracted construction operations.

Agreements will be negotiated with Iraq, Kuwait, and Jordan to secure authorization for continuous Embassy flight plans between the three countries, which all contain a massive presence of U.S. military, diplomatic, and contractor personnel.

The State Department’s $3.7 billion request for Iraq in FY 2012 includes funding for integrated programs of economic management.  The United States Agency for International Development, alongside the United States Department of Agriculture, will continue to oversee sectors of Iraq’s economy, especially its natural resources, as agreed upon in the secretive Strategic Framework Agreement.

Ongoing U.S. support for Maliki is also likely to anger Iraqis.  He has circumvented Parliament, consolidated illegitimate power in a long trend of quasi-dictatorial behavior, harshly cracked down on peaceful activism, harassed and even attacked journalists that were critical of his regime, and has been accused of torturing prisoners in secret Iraqi jails.  In a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, U.S. envoy Ryan Crocker noted in 2009 that Maliki’s turn towards more centralized rule is “in U.S. interest.”

Obama’s decision to withdraw is being billed in the media as a triumph of his campaign promises to end the Iraq War and his leadership in bringing the troops home.  It is an example of “promises made, promises kept,” as one pundit on MSNBC put it.  But the truth is that this decision was forced on the Obama administration by the nature and resilience of Iraqi politics.

The Iraqi people overwhelming want to see an end to the occupation of their country, which has wrought so much devastation and suffering since 2003.  Some in the Iraqi leadership have been steadfast in opposing an indefinite U.S. presence, like Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who in August said a continued American military presence in Iraq would be “a problem, not a solution.”  The influential Shiite cleric-turned Iraqi politician Moqtadr al-Sadr has warned again and again that a U.S. presence beyond the deadline would mean increased violence and has tried to find alternatives to remaining U.S. troops.

In fact, the current scheduled withdrawal date that Obama has now pledged to adhere to was also the result of firm Iraqi rejection of U.S. imperialism.  Back in 2007 Bush administration had drafted the first Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which detailed a prolonged and continued U.S. troop presence in Iraq with no specified limits and called for “facilitating and encouraging the flow of foreign investments to Iraq, especially American investments” and for US forces to work indefinitely to “deter foreign aggression against Iraq.”  This was overly egregious for Iraqis and couldn’t pass muster in Iraqi politics, thus the 2008 SOFA demanding full pullout in December 2011.

Troublingly, this announcement and transition into a so-called new relationship with Iraq has failed to introduce any sort of accountability for the vast amount of crimes the U.S. and the Bush administration committed in its execution of the Iraq war.  Clear signs of tampering with evidence and being disingenuous about Iraq’s Saddam Hussein should be prosecutable offenses, along with the highest crime in international law, namely a war of aggression (one without the justification of self-defense).  Others including battlefield crimes and Abu Ghraib will continue to be swept into the dustbin of history by the President soon to be credited with ending the Iraq War.

The Obama administration has failed in their attempt to continue the U.S. occupation of Iraq, conceding to pulling out over 40,000 remaining U.S. combat forces by December.  But given the current and foreseeable U.S. relationship with Iraq, the future of the embattled country appears likely to fall into the U.S. domain of hegemonic influence and into a reliable client state.



By Jessica Bakeman

Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, MS)
October 21, 2011

Local military experts and veterans of the Iraq War say regardless of President Barack Obama's decision to withdraw all remaining troops by Jan. 1, the war is not over.

The nearly nine-year-long occupation in Iraq that took 4,400 American lives, 53 of them Mississippians, is only one piece of the war against terrorism that began on 9/11, they say.

"All previous wars were being fought against nation states," said Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond of Hattiesburg, who commanded 28,000 troops in Baghdad for 15 months during 2008 and 2009.  "This is a fight against an ideology -- the al-Qaida, Muslim extremists.  This thing could go on and on."

He continued, "But it's not going to end at the end of a rifle; this war can't be won by killing people.  It can only be won by developing the next generation of children to stand strong in their American values."

Hammond said his mission in Iraq was to protect the Iraqi people and help them to build a strong military and police force so they could protect themselves.  He is confident that job is finished.

"This decision is long overdue," he said. "It's kind of like a little kid riding a bike. At some point, you gotta take your hands off the bike and let them ride it. It's the only way you're going to let them learn."

Col. Ken McRae, director for the Center for America's Veterans at Mississippi State University and retired colonel of the Alabama Army National Guard, disagrees, accusing Obama of leaving the job "half done."

McRae said the democratic government in Iraq is unstable, and therefore vulnerable to Iran or other countries looking to re-establish a dictatorship in the country.

"It just invites problems down the road for having to go back," he said.  "If anything, it will embolden those countries that support terrorism.

"This is not a cause for celebration," he said.

Andy Wiest, co-director of the University of Southern Mississippi's Center for the Study of War and Society, said Americans haven't celebrated the end of a war since World War II.  They just don't care enough.

"Sadly, most Americans have forgotten about it," he said.  "We get to enjoy our lives relatively free of fear and forget that we are in a war."

As a military historian, Wiest focuses mostly on the Vietnam War in his work.  He said this reminds him of the end of that war:  "We declared victory and left."

A war like that in Iraq requires the restructuring of a nation -- a task that could take generations, he said.

"Unfortunately, these are wars that Americans' attention spans tend to run out on," he said.

Hammond, who lost 94 of his soldiers while in Iraq, maintained that he watched the Iraqi people transform before his eyes, growing to trust their own military instead of going to the U.S. troops for help.  Before he left in mid-2009, the Iraqi troops were asking when the Americans would leave, saying, 'We can handle this,' he said.

"They've earned the right to be a sovereign nation," Hammond said.  "Here in Mississippi, we wouldn't want the Iraq army on every street corner; they don't want that either."

Second District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat and ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said Obama has fulfilled his promise to remove American troops out of Iraq by the end of the year.

"This is the final step of a responsible, structured timeline that began in early 2009," Thompson said in a statement.  "After nine long years, the American people can finally see the end of this harrowing conflict which took too much away from us.  As the Iraqi people can govern and secure their own nation, I am confident that the United States and Iraq will continue to work together and Iraq will continue to be an ally in the fight against terrorism."

Fourth District U.S. Rep. Steve Palazzo, a Republican, issued a statement saying he hoped Iraq would always look upon the U.S. as "a partner for freedom in the world."

But Palazzo, a member of the House Armed Service Committee, said he's concerned about a full withdrawal of U.S. forces.

He said experts have testified before his committee that Iraq "lacks important capacities to maintain their internal stability."  Iran's growing influence in the region also is a threat, he said.

Lamarris Williams, 28, of Natchez, served in the Marine Corps for six months in Afghanistan and six months in Kuwait and Iraq.

To him, the decision is just protocol.  He doesn't need to have any feelings about it.

But he said for the civilians in Iraq and those in the U.S., he hopes this will ease their frustration.

"I saw the pain and the apathy of those who have been in chaotic situations for their entire lives (in Iraq)," Williams said.  "They're tired just like we are."

While Wiest does not agree with Obama's decision, he said there are positive consequences of the action.

For one, the controversy of the war will die down, letting the resentment foreigners have felt toward Americans regarding this war weaken with it.

And, he said, without U.S. involvement, Iraq's struggle could have imploded into anarchy or genocide.

"What we're leaving behind is not perfect," Wiest said.  "But it could have been so much worse."



by Shaun Mullen

The Moderate Voice
October 21, 2011

After eight and a half deeply tragic years highlighted by the deaths of nearly 4,800 U.S. and coalition forces, at least 100,000 Iraqis and millions of people displaced, the Iraq war finally is over.

President Obama, on a military and foreign policy roll, announced yesterday a complete draw-down of U.S. troops at year’s end after he failed to reach agreement with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that would have left a force of 3,000 to 5,000 training troops and some special operations forces in the country.

“After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over,” the president declared in the White House briefing room shortly before 1:00 p.m.  “Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of them, will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home.”

“The last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in their support for our troops,” the president added.  “That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end.”

Obama’s lofty words aside, Iraq will inevitably slide into chaos if not another civil war, although the president appeared to leave the door ajar to possible future negotiations over military trainers.

The majority Shiites, minority Sunnis, and independence-minded Kurds have been unable -- I would say unwilling in the case of Al-Maliki and the Shiites -- to reach anything even vaguely resembling political and social rapprochement, while the long and malevolent shadow of Iran will insinuate itself ever deeper into Iraq.

Long story short, the president might as well have declared “Mission Not Accomplished” in bringing to an end the fool’s mission fueled by neocon hubris that began with a March 2003 invasion on the dubious grounds that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and a fledgling nuclear weapons program, and when those turned out to be bogus, the inane assertion that he was directly involved in the planning and execution of the 9/11 attacks.

By my rough estimate, I have written about 500 posts on Iraq here and at my home blog, and it was the war itself that compelled me to begin blogging in November 2005.  For the following two years a detailed map of Baghdad and its crazy quilt of neighborhoods hung over my desk so I could quickly identify the location of the latest suicide bombing or attack on American troops.  And there were plenty.

I frankly didn’t think that I would be writing this post anytime soon, but Obama is determined to reduce the U.S.’s global military commitment and his announcement today was made in that broader context.

The war resulted in exactly the opposite of what the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis had predicted.

American troops were not greeted as liberators.  The war was not over by Christmas 2003.  Not only did democracy not take root, but the American occupation triggered a civil war and the emergence of an Al Qaeda insurgency in a land where Saddam never would have allowed the terrorist group to become established.  And an already unstable region was further destabilized, giving the upper hand to Iraq.

Every military strategy was driven not by realities on the ground but by political expedience as dictated by the White House.  This resulted in a war that would be fought on the cheap with not nearly enough troops.  Generals who disagreed with that shortsighted decision were transferred or sacked.

By 2006, deeply despairing of the manifold failures of his war, President Bush reluctantly agreed to the so-called Surge Strategy engineered by General David Petraeusz.

Taking a page from the insurgents themselves, Petraeus engineered a stunning series of military victories based on counterinsurgency tactics that in theory would give the Iraqis enough time to sort out their differences and be able to go it alone.  That never happened, the window of opportunity soon slammed shut, and while the bloodshed has abated it has not ended.

By the most conservative estimates, the war cost in excess of $1 trillion, drained precious troops and resources from the right war -- the war in Afghanistan -- for the wrong war, and combined with tax cuts for the rich, ran up the federal budget deficit to dizzying heights, and left the U.S. ill prepared to deal with the recession that began in 2008.  Today a staggering one-quarter of the record national debt is directly attributable to the war.

Meanwhile, Veterans Administration hospitals and clinics have been flooded with thousands of returning GIs suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, many of them no doubt because their mission in Iraq was never clearly defined.

On the home front, Iraq will not be remember as were Vietnam, Korea, and the world wars as the war that shaped a generation.

In fact, to use a phrase I believe I originated and that later turned up as graffiti on the wall of at least one Marine outpost in Iraq, “Americans would rather be shopping at the mall.”

Bush’s efforts to sanitize the war by never asking for sacrifices on the homefront were helped considerably by a compliant news media.  The *New York Times*‘s abrogation of its responsibility to find out what really was going on in Iraq ranks, in my view, as its darkest hour along with reporter Judith Miller, who was played like a cheap violin by Vice President Cheney, insisting that WMDs did exist long when it had become obvious that they did not.

It wasn’t until five years into the war that the Gray Lady stirred and began to dig into what was going on despite the physical and sexual abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison revealed in April 2004 not by a major newspaper but by "60 Minutes" and Seymour Hersh in the *New Yorker*, as well as other atrocities reported on by reporters for smaller newspaper embedded with American troops.

Thanks to our commander in chief for another promise kept as a long national nightmare is finally over.

The few reporters and mainstream pundits, as well as bloggers like myself who kept nipping at Bush’s heels, can go to bed tonight with a sense of relief.  As can the loved ones of the relatively few remaining troops on the ground in Iraq.

I myself plan to first get drunk with my Vietnam War buddies.