“Mission accomplished”- that`s how a banner displayed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln was titled during a televised address by the then U.S. President George W. Bush on May 1, 2003. Bush`s speech was meant to mark the end of major combat operations in Iraq. But since the war itself was not over, the displaying of the banner was followed by much controversy. However, there was a grain of truth to Bush`s words: Saddam Hussein, Israel’s major enemy was toppled, while the resources of the richest Mideast state were now in control of the U.S. In the subsequent eight years Americans were trying to strengthen their presence in the region and ensure control of Iraqi oil fields.
The most oil-rich areas of Iraq were divided between Halliburton, Baker Hughes, Weatherford Intl and Schlumberger, all four companies linked to Texas… The US oil giants were intended to invest up to $150 billion into Iraqi oil industry. As you see, the sum speaks for itself. The Congress approved the extension of the US presence in Iraq. Fifteen US representative offices are planned to be set up in all major Iraqi cities. Official reports say that currently more than 17,000 US citizens are working in Iraq.
Since such ambitious goals require solid guarantees, the lack of security in Iraq remains a matter of concern for the US. All efforts made in the past eight years to bring peace to Iraq have failed. And yet there is no sign of improvement about the issue.
Plans to have security forces in Iraq that would be loyal to the U.S. Central Command proved very hard to accomplish. As of July 1, 2011, the official number of Iraqi armed forces stood at more than 780,000. However, these forces are suffering great losses and are too weak to control the situation: last month 116 soldiers and policemen were killed and 262 more wounded in numerous bloody clashes, which is by 30% more than in May. Apart from garrisons and police stations, rebels attack headquarters of various political parties, banks, hospitals and offices accommodating foreign employees. Kidnapping has long become a lucrative business in Iraq. Numerous armed groups have given rise to criminal activity.
Though in December, 2010, Washington officially announced that there were no longer US troops in Iraq, from time to time American troops have to join military operation there. In Jan-Jun 2011 the US and Iraqi armed forces lost 44 soldiers, with 15 killed in June alone- the highest monthly death toll since 2008. As part of the rotation plan, 7,175 US officers and men were deployed to Iraq this month.
Currently, the total number of US troops in Iraq is approaching 49,000 people, 1,600 of whom are said to be aides serving for the Iraqi army and police. Meanwhile, Iraq has turned to have made several steps back in its economic and industrial development. The country is robbed, its agriculture, health care and education in total decline. Eight years since the toppling of the Hussein regime the lives of millions of Iraqis have turned almost into a nightmare. Though the country’s population shrank during the war, there are 1 million of jobless now in Iraq (15% of able-bodied population). In view of this, of course, rebels have no problems in recruiting more members into their cells.
Looking for a justification for their weakness, Iraqi authorities said they lacked enough money and even tried to accuse the US of stealing $17 billion. The money was kept at the so-called Foundation for Iraq Development, which was set up in 2004 at the order of Paul Bremer, the then Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq. The money for the foundation was raised through the sales of Iraqi oil; a part was what they had earned from the UN Oil-for-Food program, and what was transferred from Iraqis frozen assets abroad, mainly in the US. Evidently, the budget of the foundation was controlled by Americans.
The Integrity Committee in the Iraqi parliament made a statement, accusing the US of stealing the money that had been meant for Iraq`s recovery. The committee described the theft as ‘financial crime’ and addressed the UN to deal with the situation. It also complained that some UN resolutions prevented Baghdad from issuing a warrant directly to the US.
This case is just a drop in the ocean of difficulties the present-day Iraq is going through, deprived of its true sovereignty. And what appears to be more astonishing is the fact that tens of thousands of armed people, mostly foreign citizens, meet no obstacles in crossing the Iraqi border: they need no visas, they are not searched at customs points and they do not inform the authorities on the aim of their staying in Iraq. I am talking about soldiers of the coalition forces, as well as about people employed by private security firms. U.S. officers had long been enjoying immunity from court proceedings abroad. In 2004 the US-backed administration in Iraq passed a bill which granted similar immunity to members of private security firms. Many Iraqi civilians had to pay too high a price for it.
According to the Interior Ministry of Iraq, the number of foreigners in private security firms stands at 12,000, most of them are natives of Africa and Asia. When the Iraqi authorities said they wanted to reduce the number of foreign employees, the UN representative office in Baghdad warned them against making such statements that could be described as instigating racial hatred. Meanwhile, the US State Department is now negotiating deals with eight private security firms (for example, Aegis Defence Services and Global Strategies Group) to expand their presence in Iraq. Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy said his department would be allocating $3 billion to send 5,100 security officers to Iraq.
It is quite clear that a decision to withdraw US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 was a political declaration. Quite often political statements are used to conceal true motives. American experts agree that the extension of US military presence in Iraq meets their country`s security interests since US forces in Iraq ‘stop tyranny and terror’. Washington also believes that Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and some other monarchies are also interested in continued US military presence in Iraq amid fears of growing Iranian influence.
The US military presence in Iraq seems to be a long settled political issue in Washington. Shortly before his resignation, the former Pentagon chief Robert Gates said: “I think there is interest in having a continuing presence… Iraq is not ready to defend their country, especially from the skies…The Iraqis also need assistance in data collection, logistics and the use of various weapons systems in a consistent way of war”.
The new US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that he was sure that Baghdad would soon ask Washington to keep some US troops in Iraq. He added that the US administration ought to respond positively. In early July, soon after assuming office as Defense Secretary, Panetta paid a visit to Baghdad, where he stressed that the situation in Iraq was yet far from stable, and extra measures were needed to maintain what was already achieved.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki responded by saying that his country might need the US assistance in 2012. His words were backed by Kurdish politicians. One of them said that the US presence would help to avoid ethnic clashes in the disputed region of Kirkuk and protect Iraq`s exterior borders. But not all Iraqis share this opinion. Many of them insist that their country is occupied and the government is ‘marionette’. Prominent Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr’ threatened to recruit men into his Mehdy Army he dissolved in 2007 and ‘ force the US troops to go’. He said: “America is the reason of all misfortunes. The US occupation must end in 2011”.
On June 30 the US Secretary of Defense announced a new army rotation (actually, the eighth one since 2003) in Iraq. Beginning Sept. 1, 2010, the U.S. presence in Iraq was coined “Operation New Dawn,” marking the transition from combat operations to an advisory role. It is remarkable that an operation to arrest Saddam Hussein in 2003 was called ‘Red Dawn’: apparently, imagination of US military command is running out. If there are no more colors to use, they could resort to figures after all. Like they did it in Afghanistan.
However, it appears that a kind of a cycle has come to an end. What the US believed was a road upward, turned to be a spiral. Climbing stairs that go down.
Sergei SHASHKOV |Strategic Culture Foundation