People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 29

July 19, 2009

Iraq: Sham US Withdrawal

 

Yohanan Chemarapally

 

JUNE 30 was declared a national holiday by the Iraqi government to mark the formal withdrawal of American occupation troops from the cities and town. The supporters of the American backed Iraqi government celebrated as the last of the American soldiers retreated to sanctuary of their bases. Walls were festooned with slogans describing the occasion as “national sovereignty day” and “independence day”, as Iraqi police and army took control of security in urban areas after the withdrawal of American forces. The US president Barack Obama had promised the speedy withdrawal of US troops from Iraq during his presidential campaign.

 

In his much-publicised Cairo speech in June, president Obama had also promised that the US would not retain any military bases in Iraq. But if recent developments are any indication, the US president is taking his own sweet time to fulfill his pledges. In fact, many observers of the West Asian scene are of the view that the Obama administration while reducing the number of troops in Iraq will keep the actual combat forces of around 50,000 on the ground in Iraq much beyond the withdrawal deadline of 2012. They also feel that the US military would be reluctant to leave the five huge military bases they have built in Iraq at considerable cost.   

 

CLAIMS OF FULL MILITARY

WITHDRAWAL RING HOLLOW

 

Some of the US military bases, like the ones in Baghdad and Mosul actually fall within city limits. Therefore American claims of a full military withdrawal from Iraqi cities rings hollow. American forces have been told to keep a low profile and make large scale troop movements only in the stealth of the night. More than 120,000 American soldiers along with 132, 000 US military contractors remain in Iraq belying the claims of the Iraqi prime minster, Nouri al Malliki that his forces can handle security matters on its own. 36,000 of the military contractors are American citizens.

 

Maliki is trying to portray the withdrawal of US troops as “an end of American occupation”. He did not mention that around 50,000 US trainers will remain embedded with Iraqi security forces till the US forces completely withdraw from the country. Iraq’s interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani was more circumspect. “June 30 is not an historical end point to be celebrated by political philosophers; it is the beginning of a highly uncertain chapter in Iraqi democracy and self governance”, Bolani wrote in the Washington Post.

 

One of the leading resistance groups - the Islamic Army of Iraq, issued a statement, which said that if anyone has the right to celebrate victory, it should be the resistance. “They are the ones who brought the occupation to a despicable defeat”, the statement said.  Iraqi opposition leaders urged Iraqis to keep on resisting the Americans until the last US soldier had left the country. The Association of Muslim Scholars, which has taken an uncompromising stance against the occupation, issued a statement calling upon Iraqis “across the spectrum” to keep up the resistance.

 

Both the Islamic Army, known to have close links with the Ba’ath Party of Saddam Hussein as well as other militant groups called on Iraqis to desist from sectarian killings. The radical Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr described the withdrawal of American forces as a “mere media event”. He highlighted the continuing presence of American military personnel, including intelligence agencies and security contractors, in Iraqi cities. Sadr said that Iraqis want American withdrawal from all aspects of Iraqi life, not just on the military front. 

 

The US has invested huge amounts to build gargantuan bases in Iraq. The Al Asad Base, the biggest one, was built at the cost of more than $100 million. Under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between the US and the Iraqi governments, all US combat troops have to leave Iraq by the middle of next year. By 2011, even the US trainers and advisers have to quit the country. The SOFA agreement is however silent about the status of the military contractors after 2011. They may very well stay on after 2011.  Senior American officials and politicians as well as some prominent Iraqis have already started making demands that the US forces should be allowed to stay on for an indefinite period. The US Army Chief of Staff, Gen George Casey told the Washington media in late May that the Pentagon was planning for a “reality scenario” in which the US will have combat troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan for at least ten years more. 

 

Other US military commanders have recently said that the American military presence in Iraq could last for another 15-20 years. Article 27 of the SOFA agreement allows the US forces to undertake military operation “or any other measure” inside Iraq’s borders “in the event of any internal or external threat or aggression against Iraq”. The commander of US forces in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno told reporters on June 30, that “we want to make sure that we have enough forces on the ground to ensure good, legitimate and credible elections”, scheduled to be held in January. Odierno was earlier quoted in the American media as saying that between 30,000-50,000 American troops may remain in Iraq beyond the 2011 deadline.

 

Iraqis are due to hold a referendum on SOFA on July 30, this year. According to an opinion poll, 73 per cent of all Iraqis oppose the presence of foreign troops on their soil. If the majority vote is against the SOFA, then American troops will have to accelerate their withdrawal from Iraq much before their scheduled departure in 2011. Washington is pressuring the Malliki government against holding the scheduled referendum.

 

In the run-up to the withdrawal of the American soldiers from the populated urban areas, insurgents had set off bombs in crowded civilian areas. The month of June was the bloodiest month this year for Iraqi civilians as well as American and Iraqi soldiers. Many of the Kurds in the North as well as the Sunnis are wary about the prospects of a Shia dominated security force roaming the streets of Baghdad, Kirkuk and Mosul. The virtually autonomous Kurdish dominated northern part of the country has been functioning as an American protectorate. The Iraqi Sunnis have no love lost for the American occupation forces but fear that they could now be targeted for more sectarian attacks. Malliki has established a network of security agencies that report directly to his office as he prepares to contest in the elections scheduled for 2010.

 

MOVES TO PRIVATISE 

OIL INDUSTRY

 

Malliki saw it fit to open up Iraq’s massive untapped oil and gas reserves to foreign bidders on the very occasion of “national sovereignty day”. Iraq was among the first countries to nationalise its oil industry earning it the enmity of the West. The fields offered for exploitation by foreign countries hold about 43 billion of Iraq’s 115 billion barrels of crude reserves. Iraq has proven oil reserves of 112 billion barrels and an estimated 150 billion barrels of untapped oil. Iraq has the potential of emerging as the second biggest oil producing country after Saudi Arabia. It is no surprise that the big oil companies like Shell, Exxon, BP and Total are making a beeline for Iraq.

 

The Iraqi people do not want the control of their oil to once again revert to foreign companies. Oil workers unions in Iraq have strongly protested against the government’s move to once again privatise the industry. Under pressure from the unions and nationalist politicians, the government has decreed that the foreign oil firms will not be getting a long-term share of Iraq’s oil. Instead they will be allowed to work in the country for the next 20 years with a 75 per cent stake in the operations. But many Iraqis continue to be critical about the government’s oil policy. They feel that the Iraqis have the expertise to exploit their hydro-carbon resources themselves. They also feel that the government is not doing enough to stop the Kurdish Regional government from signing lucrative contracts with foreign oil companies, completely bypassing the central government in Baghdad.

 

The withdrawal of the American troops from the Iraqi cities marks the end of the “military surge” that the former American president George W. Bush had ordered to meet the military and security challenges posed by the Iraqi resistance forces. President Barack Obama has already signaled that the new administration’s first priority is Afghanistan. That country is now witnessing an American troop “surge” of its own.

 

The “troop surge” in Iraq did not bring any succour to the millions of displaced people there. The refugee crisis in Iraq has been described as the biggest since 1948 in the region. The professional middle class in Iraq has voted with its feet, preferring to live in refugee camps or work abroad. The country still lacks basic electricity, water and sanitation services. The UN estimates that 4.7 million Iraqis have been turned into refugees after the American occupation started in March, 2003. The refugees are unwilling to return mainly due to the prevailing security situation—a legacy of American occupation.