Obama Plays Down Plan for Post-2011 Iraq Troop Presence

IPS — When the Barack Obama administration unveiled its plan last week for an improvised State Department-controlled army of contractors to replace all U.S. combat troops in Iraq by the end of 2011, critics associated with the U.S. command attacked the transition plan, insisting that the United States must continue to assume that U.S. combat forces should and can remain in Iraq indefinitely.   But the differences between the administration and its critics over the issue of a long-term U.S. presence may be more apparent than real.

All indications are that the administration expects to renegotiate the security agreement with the Iraqi government to allow a post-2011 combat presence of up to 10,000 troops, once a new government is formed in Baghdad.

But Obama, fearing a backlash from anti-war voters in the Democratic Party, who have already become disenchanted with him over Afghanistan, is trying to play down that possibility. Instead, the White House is trying to reassure its anti-war base that the U.S. military role in Iraq is coming to an end.

An unnamed administration official who favours a longer-term presence in Iraq suggested to New York Times correspondent, Michael Gordon, last week that the administration’s refusal to openly refer to plans for such a U.S. combat force in Iraq beyond 2011 hinges on its concern about the coming Congressional elections and wariness about the continuing Iraqi negotiations on a new government.

Vice-President Joe Biden said in an address prepared for delivery Monday that it would take a “complete failure” of Iraqi security forces to prompt the United States to resume combat.

Obama referred to what he called “a transitional force” in his speech on Aug. 2, pledging that it would remain “until we remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of the next year”.

He also declared an end to the U.S. “combat mission” in Iraq as of Aug. 31. But an official acknowledged to IPS that combat would continue and would not necessarily be confined to defending against attacks on U.S. personnel.

The administration decided on the transition from military to civilian responsibility for security at an interagency meeting the week of Jul. 19. It made the broad outlines of the plan public at an Aug. 16 State Department news briefing and another briefing the following day, even though crucial details had not been worked out.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Middle Eastern Affairs Colin Kahl and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Michael Corbin presented the administration plan for what they called a “transition from a military to civilian relationship” with Iraq.

The plan involves replacing the official U.S. military presence in Iraq with a much smaller State Department-run force of private security contractors. Press reports have indicated that the force will number several thousand, and that it is seeking 29 helicopters, 60 IED-proof personnel carriers and a fleet of 1,320 armored cars.

The contractor force would also operate radars so it can call in airstrikes and fly reconnaissance drones, according to the New York Times Aug. 21.

Kahl argued that the transition is justified by security trends in Iraq. He said al Qaeda is “weaker than it’s ever been”, that Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been “largely disbanded”, and that there is no strategic threat to the regime.

That provoked predictable criticism from those whose careers have become linked to the fate of the U.S. military in Iraq and who continue to view the United States as having enormous power to decide the fate of the country.

Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, a frequent visitor to Iraq at the invitation of Gen. David Petraeus and his successor, Gen. Ray Odierno, dismissed the idea of giving the former U.S. military role in Iraq to the State Department and Kahl’s assessment of security trends as far too optimistic.

Some officials were talking “as if we’re on the five-yard line,” Pollack told the Christian Science Monitor. “We’re on more like the 40 – and it’s probably our 40.”

Pollack argued that the U.S. has great influence in Iraq, which it must use for “persuading” Iraqi leaders to do various things. If the U.S. troop presence ends in 2011, he argued, that U.S. power would suffer.

Other variants of that argument were offered by Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations and Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, both of whom have been frequent guests of the U.S. command in Iraq and have generally hewed to the military view of Iraq policy.

Former ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, who shared the media spotlight and adulation of Congress with Petraeus in 2007-2009 before retiring from the Foreign Service, opined that the military needs to keep enough presence in Iraq to encourage Iraq’s generals to stay out of politics.

The real position of the administration over the issue is not much different from that of its critics, however. In answer to a question after a briefing Aug.17, Kahl said, “We’re not going to abandon them. We’re in this for the long term.”

Then Kahl observed, “Iraq is not going to need tens of thousands of [American] forces.” That is consistent with the figure of 5,000 to 10,000 being called for by the military, according to the administration official quoted in New York Times Aug. 18.

At another point, Kahl said, “We’ll just have to see what the Iraqi government will do,” adding that the “vast majority of political actors in Iraq want a long-term partnership with the United States.”

It is been generally assumed among U.S. officers and diplomats and the Iraqi officials with whom they talk that once a new Iraqi government is agreed on, it will begin talks on a longer-term U.S. troop presence, as former National Security Council official Brett H. McGurk told the New York Times last month.

At a Pentagon press conference Feb. 22, Gen. Odierno, U.S. overall commander in Iraq, referred to the purchase by the Iraqi government of “significant amounts of military material from the United States,” including M1A1 tanks and helicopters.

Odierno said he expected it would require a “small contingent” to “train and advise” the Iraqis. That formula implicitly anticipated a continuation of the U.S. combat presence in the guise of “advisory and assistance” units.

But the administration apparently made it clear to Odierno and others that they were not to contradict the administration’s public posture that U.S. troops were being withdrawn by the end of 2011.

During the interagency meeting that adopted the Obama administration transition plan, Odierno told reporters at a breakfast meeting Jul. 21 he expected U.S. troops to be down to zero by the end of 2011.

Meanwhile, the Nouri al-Maliki government is not admitting publicly that it would consider such an extension of the U.S. troop presence. The spokesman for al-Maliki said Aug. 12 there are alternatives to keeping U.S. troops in the country, such as signing “non-aggression and non- interference pacts” with neighbours.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. His latest book, with John Kiriakou, is The CIA Insider’s Guide to the Iran Crisis: From CIA Coup to the Brink of War. Read other articles by Gareth.

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  1. Mulga Mumblebrain said on August 25th, 2010 at 2:54am #

    We know that the Yankee Reich is in Iraq to stay because that is its invariable history. The Reich continues to have bases in Germany seventy years after the war,twenty years after the USSR imploded and the same situation applies in Japan. In fact the Japanese,so-called ‘democratic’ government was destroyed by US intransigence when it tried to fulfil an election promise and remove the Reich’s military infestations from populated regions of Okinawa. The Fourth Reich always expands its dominance. Like a cancer it must grow or die. The archipelago of the Reich’s bases,hundreds in numbers,is being spread into Central Asia. US Aircraft carriers prowl right off China’s coast, within bombing distance of Beijing and Shanghai. Several new bases have been established in the narco-death-squad state Colombia. On and on, ever expanding, until it destroys its host, humanity.
    There is more here than the ambition of the US’s rulers,its moneyed classes, to rule the planet,a constant obsession since 1776. There’s more here than ‘Manifest Destiny’, or ‘American Exceptionalism’. There is more than Zionazism’s ambition to be the secret power (not so secret, really) behind the throne of this global empire, and for the establishment of a Judaic Reich ‘..from the Nile to the Euphrates’, with the ‘two-legged animals’ expelled or reduced to slavery.
    What we see is the preparation for genocide. The masters are not all psychopathic denialists.They know that the earth’s life-support systems are collapsing. They are not, however,prepared to surrender their wealth and privilege for the benefit of billions who they regard as insects.Zionism, with its innate and virulent racism,has become an effective de facto state religion for the West, legitimising, as it does, the destruction of inferior creatures as the prerogative of the Judeo-Christian ‘Chosen People’. The genocides of the colonial and imperial period,often justified by direct reference to the genocides outlined and endorsed by ‘God’ (itself a psychopathic projection of Judaic egos,ids and superegos) in the Torah/Old Testament, are about to be re-enacted, to rid the planet of ‘useless eaters’ whose instability threatens the global elect.
    Israel is the point of the spear, and Zionazism the racist poison anointing that cutting edge. One does not have to look far in Israeli discourse, and not on the fringes by any means, to see open calls for total war against whole societies. Judaic ‘scholars’ repeatedly endorse the killing of civilians, aggressive war and the murder of children as religiously sanctified acts, while Israeli politicians attempt to subvert and pervert global jurisprudence by making these acts acceptable under law. The fate of Gaza,Lebanon,Iraq,Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan awaits the rest of the Islamic world, starting with Iran, all at the behest of one tiny terror state whose leaders openly proclaim it the spearhead of a Western war against ‘barbarism’.
    That the real barbarism is that of the West, of Fallujah,Abu Ghraib,of death-squad raids,of gutless drone attacks, makes this crude projection truly abhorrent,but the motivation behind it, the absolutist religion of Judaic and, by inference Western, cultural, racial and religious superiority to the rest of humanity, is literally merciless. The Judaic fascist is as contemptuous of the life of his victims as any Nazi was of Jews or Roma,any Ustashi Croat of the Serb, any Calley exterminating the ‘gooks’in Vietnam,or any British colonial officer exporting grain as millions died in the Irish or Indian famines of the 19th century. That humanity has made no progress from rank barbarity and hatred of the other is depressing but undeniable,and it is the one inescapable fact that makes the coming age of ecological collapse tolerable. We seem not to be worthy of surviving, and our self-destruction has always simply been a matter of time and chance.

  2. Don Hawkins said on August 25th, 2010 at 3:26am #

    For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reasons. Douglas Adams

    — Douglas Adams

    The crucified planet Earth,
    should it find a voice
    and a sense of irony,
    might now well say
    of our abuse of it,
    “Forgive them, Father,
    They know not what they do.”

    The irony would be
    that we know what
    we are doing.

    When the last living thing
    has died on account of us,
    how poetical it would be
    if Earth could say,
    in a voice floating up
    from the floor
    of the Grand Canyon,
    “It is done.”
    People did not like it here.
    Kurt Vonnegut

  3. mary said on August 25th, 2010 at 7:09am #

    How will this ‘legacy’ be handled?

    25 August 2010

    Fort Carson soldiers’ killing spree after Iraq combat
    By Dan Edge

    Seventeen US soldiers from a Colorado military base who mostly served in Iraq have been linked to violent killings and attempted killings since their return to US soil. Three of them came from one platoon – highlighting how a generation of American soldiers are struggling to cope with life after military service.

    “I was having a total mental breakdown. Every day we were getting in battles, and never having a break, it seemed like, it was just crazy.

    “I just got to where I couldn’t take it. I tried to go to mental health, and they put me on all kinds of meds, too. And I was still going out on missions… they tried different medications, different doses, and nothing worked.”

    Kenny Eastridge was a decorated gunner, but is now serving 10 years in prison for his role in the murder of fellow soldier Kevin Shields in Colorado Springs.


  4. shabnam said on August 25th, 2010 at 7:43am #


    {The fate of Gaza,Lebanon,Iraq,Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan awaits the rest of the Islamic world, starting with Iran, all at the behest of one tiny terror state whose leaders openly proclaim it the spearhead of a Western war against ‘barbarism’.}

    The above countries plus SUDAN are areas that Zionists want to CONTROL. Therefore: ‘..from the Nile to the Euphrates’,
    is not correct and it goes beyond that.

    Sudan with plenty of natural resources is the biggest country in Africa next to Red Sea, which makes is very important for the Zionist project. The Zionist control over the Red Sea and its water way including Suez Canal, like the partition of Iraq and creation of Kurdish pawns to have access to oil of Northern Iraq, has been part of the Zionist project since its erection in 1948.
    David Ben-Gurion was the first to voice the Zionist ambition of gaining control over the Red Sea. In 1949 he said, “We are surrounded on land… The sea is our only route of contact with the rest of the world. Developing Eilat will be a major goal towards which we will direct our steps.”

    The Zionist have funded and given military training to groups in Southern Sudan and Darfur disguised as ‘opposition’ to destabilize and divide the country to steal its resources like what they did in other parts of Africa where looted diamond, gold and precious gems and other natural resources. The partition of Sudan has already started in the Southern Sudan. The charge of ‘genocide’ against Al Bashir was fabricated by the Zionist Jewish agency through ‘Save Darfur’ and ‘holocaust’ museum using their agents including an Iranian, Payam Akhavan, a Baha’i, a Canadian citizen and one of the Green stooges, is in the services of NED, ‘rights and democracy’ funded by the Canadian government, who goes after the leaders of the target countries, Milosevic, Al Bashir and now Khamanie in Iran. The ‘documentation center’ in New Heaven was established by Payam Akhavan was funded by the NED where still is collecting ‘evidence’ to fabricate charges of ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ against Khamanie, the most popular politician, according to its enemy, in Iran. This agent of the West, however, has a blind eye when it comes to the crimes of the West, including Abu Gharib, Gaza or crimes of Canadian government in Afghanistan, Haiti and elsewhere.


  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on August 26th, 2010 at 4:26am #

    I agree totally shabnam, The ‘..from the Nile to the Euphrates’ quotes Herzl and Ben-Gurion,or paraphrases their statements.I’ve seen other Zionazi fantasies that include Arabia,much of Turkey etc. Of course, in the end, Zionism envisages total global domination,behind the scenes, exercised through money power, with Eretz Yisrael as the ethnically purified bolt-hole from which to run the rackets, the sex trade,pornography, drug and blood diamond trafficking, the stupendous financial crime, the arms trade and the human organ trades, that the Judaic economic gangsters dominate. It’s the demented dream of the religious extremists amongst Jewry who literally believe the clap-trap about their ‘chosen’ status and God-like superiority to the rest of humanity.