Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Marjorie Cohn: Business as Usual in Iraq

by Marjorie Cohn, CommonDreams.org, Sep 14, 2010

Last week, President Obama ceremoniously announced that U.S. combat operations had ended in Iraq. As Democrats face an uphill battle in the upcoming midterm elections, Obama felt he had to make good on his campaign promise to move the fighting from Iraq to Afghanistan. But while he has escalated the killing in Afghanistan, it’s business as usual in Iraq.

The United States, with its huge embassy in Baghdad and five large bases throughout Iraq, will continue to pull the strings there. Last week, Vice President Biden delivered a power-sharing plan to the Iraqis, who have been unable to form a government in the six months since the March election resulted in a stalemate. “We think that’s better for the future of Iraq,” Biden declared. The New York Times speculated about whether “the Americans can close the deal.” But the United States will continue to do a lot more than simply make suggestions about how Iraqis should share political power.

The timing of Obama’s announcement that combat troops are leaving Iraq is based on the status of forces agreement (SOFA) the Bush administration negotiated with the Iraqis in 2008. It calls for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq by August 31, 2010. The SOFA also requires the Pentagon to withdraw all of its forces by the end of 2011, but this date may be extended.

Obama’s speech about withdrawing combat troops from Iraq is an effort to demonstrate compliance with the SOFA as the midterm elections draw near. But events on the ground reveal that he is playing a political version of the old shell game. As Obama proclaimed the redeployment of a Stryker battalion out of Iraq, 3,000 combat troops from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment redeployed back into Iraq from Fort Hood, Texas. And that cavalry regiment will have plenty of company. The State Department is more than doubling its “security contractors” to 7,000 to make sure U.S. interests are protected. And with them will come 24 Blackhawk helicopters, 50 Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles and other military equipment.

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