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Vol. 74/No. 34      September 6, 2010

Washington not preparing to
end combat mission in Iraq
(front page)
Newspapers headlines worldwide give the impression that Washington’s combat mission in Iraq is drawing to a close. However, 50,000 U.S. troops are still in the country and it appears many will remain for years to come.

Washington’s reduction of its forces in Iraq shows that it has made progress in cobbling together a somewhat stable regime to safeguard the interests of U.S. imperialism in the region. But the U.S. government still faces big challenges that could undermine its success.

While the White House has declared that the “combat mission in Iraq” has ended, Army Times ran an article August 19 titled “Combat brigades in Iraq under different name.”

The article compared the Army’s 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, which left Iraq August 19, with the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division, which is staying.

The 50,000 troops in Iraq are now divided into seven “Advise and Assist” brigades, like the 2nd Stryker, equipped with robots, pilotless drones, and dog teams, as well as standard combat gear and materiel. The paper points out that remaining U.S. forces will “retain their inherent capability to conduct offensive and defensive operations.”

“I don’t think anybody has declared the end of the war as far as I know,” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told MSNBC. “Counterterrorism will still be part of their mission.”

The Pentagon is not reducing the 4,500-strong U.S. Special Forces contingent in Iraq. At the same the State Department is moving ahead with hiring up to 7,000 security contractors, who will make up “quick reaction forces” in Iraq.

According to the news agency Agence France-Presse, U.S. and Iraqi military officials are discussing keeping U.S. troops in the country long after Dec. 31, 2011—the date a previous accord had set for withdrawing all U.S. forces.

“We’re obviously open to that discussion,” U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated. “But that initiative will have to come from the Iraqis.”

Lt. Gen. Babakir Zebari, head of the Iraqi Army, told the London Daily Telegraph, “If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the U.S. army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020.”

“The country is moving forward,” Gen. Raymond Odierno, head of U.S. forces in Iraq, told the media. “It’s moving forward a little bit economically. Its security forces are improving. Its diplomatic efforts are improving. Its government functions are improving.”

But Washington faces serious difficulties achieving the long-term stability it needs in Iraq. More than five months after the country’s parliamentary elections, competing bourgeois parties are still unable to reach agreement on a coalition government. No coalition has a majority in the 325-member body.

Competing Shiite coalitions won 159 seats, four short of a majority. The Iraqiya coalition, backed by Sunni Arab capitalists and some Shiites, won 91 seats in the March election.

Iraqiya has been negotiating with the Shiite State of Law alliance, headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Those negotiations broke down August 16. Al-Maliki’s party is also in a bloc with another Shiite capitalist grouping, the Iraqi National Alliance, which is closely allied to the Iranian government.

U.S. troops will continue to staff checkpoints separating Kurdish and Arab areas in northern Iraq. The Kurds, an oppressed nationality with a long history of struggle, won a measure of autonomy after the U.S. invasion and occupation of the country, but tensions remain high. The Kurdish regional government has its own armed forces, independent of the Iraqi Army.

In Mosul, Kurdish troops have prevented the Sunni Arab governor from traveling to Kurdish-controlled areas of the province. Arab and Kurdish forces are also in a dispute over who will control the oilfields around the city of Kirkuk.

Another unintended consequence of the U.S. war against Iraq was the opening of political space for working people. In June thousands of demonstrators in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, and in Nasiriya protested widespread shortages of electricity.

Wealthier neighborhoods in Basra have up to eight hours of electricity a day from the power grid. They can afford to pay $50 a month for power from a generator during blackouts. But working-class neighborhoods often have just one hour of electricity per day.

In the summer temperatures rise above 110 Fahrenheit. One banner at the Basra protest read, “Prison is more comfortable than our homes.”
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