Complete with flight suit, then US President George W. Bush flew by fighter jet to the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln in May 2003. In a performance staged for the cameras before a huge banner reading “Mission Accomplished”, with thousands of troops cheering him on, Bush declared the “end of major combat operations” in Iraq. Since then, the war in Iraq has cost the lives of 4735 US and allied troops and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Now US President Barack Obama, not to be outdone by his predecessor for callous lies, has also declared the end of combat operations in Iraq.
The corporate media, particularly in the US, made a great production of a convoy of 4000 troops crossing the border from Iraq into Kuwait in the early hours of August 19. While hailing the “last combat troops” out of Iraq, the media failed to touch on the bitter irony that the 4000 troops they were filming were almost the same as the number of US soldiers killed (4277) since they joined in the chorus of “Mission Accomplished” on the USS Lincoln.
As Liam Fox reported on the News Junkie Post website on August 21, “Only 7% of the troops in Iraq actually left that morning; a mere 4000, while 52,500 still remain ... Fifty thousand troops will still be in that country, and we’re expected to celebrate a withdrawal and end of combat operations ...” The number of US troops remaining in Iraq is nearly twice the total number of soldiers in the Australian army.
While the “end of combat operations” was still being heralded in the media, more than 3000 soldiers of the Third Armoured Cavalry Regiment left Fort Hood, Texas, in the early hours of August 23, bound for Iraq. The US army delayed their departure until after 3am to minimise the numbers protesting this deployment. As well as opposing the war in Iraq, protesters called for a halt to the redeployment of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury who were included in the ranks of the departing regiment. Despite the army’s efforts to minimise protest, at 3.40am a small group of protesters, including veterans of the Iraq war, carried banners into the street and briefly stopped buses transporting troops, before they were dragged off the road by police.
Another part of Obama’s rebranding is a doubling of private mercenaries in Iraq. Some 3500 mercenaries are to replace the departing troops, joining 3500 mercenaries already operating in Iraq and not counted among the 50,000 regular forces. After this shell game is complete, the real troop reduction will be only 3000. These mercenaries will guard bases, conduct patrols, pilot drones, fly helicopters and provide quick-reaction forces.
On September 1 at another Washington-sponsored performance, a formal ceremony is scheduled supposedly to transfer power from the US military to the Iraqi government. We can rely on the corporate media not to let the facts get in the way of a story that suits their major sponsors, but the reality is that Iraq is still occupied under US control.
As Michael Prysner pointed out on August 21 in an excellent article on the March Forward website: “While U.S. troops leave Iraq, U.S. military equipment flows in to beef up the Iraqi puppet forces that follow the orders of the Pentagon. Cruising Iraq’s streets will be 60 new MRAPs, or ‘mine resistant ambush protected’ vehicles. Their swarm of armored cars will be multiplied. Their number of military airplanes will increase four fold. Their helicopter fleet will grow from 17 to 29.
“This is the real crux of the U.S. drawdown in Iraq: the ability to push the Iraqi army and police to the front lines, with U.S. troops standing a few steps back and the same Pentagon generals sitting atop the chain of command.”
This is in line with the original US invasion plan, to topple the Iraqi government and prop up a new government that would serve the interests of Washington and Wall Street, particularly in regard to Iraq’s large oil reserves.
This plan didn’t go as smoothly as the Bush administration had hoped. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” swept aside Iraq’s formal army but was faced with a civilian population determined not to hand over their country to Washington. Prysner states:
“However, over seven years of bombing, brutality and documented war crimes and human rights violations, the Iraqi government was able to recruit enough job-hungry Iraqis to serve in uniform–one of the few job opportunities in a country now wracked with unemployment–and replace thousands of U.S. troops needed in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
“Those Iraqi troops are performing the same mission as the U.S. troops before them: using brute force to keep the unpopular U.S.-backed regime in power. They ride in the same Humvees, and even inherited the same uniforms. Iraqi families still have their doors kicked down in the middle of the night and are dragged from their beds-only now, they are being screamed at in Arabic instead of English.”
“Operation Iraqi Freedom” has been rebranded “Operation New Dawn”, and US generals and politicians claim that the 50,000 troops are no longer “combat” units. They’ve been renamed “advise and assist” units. All this means is that US troops will “advise” the Iraqi forces of what combat operations to carry out, and will “assist” them in carrying out those operations if they need help. Nothing has changed in the rules of engagement for US troops. They have not become passive observers, nor have their credentials as trainers been established.
Reuters Canada on August 19 quoted a US military spokesperson in Iraq, Major General Stephen Lanza, as saying: “Every soldier is a combat soldier. It’s about the change of mission. It doesn’t change who we are or what we do. You won’t see this big change on 2 September.” US troops will continue to be blown up by roadside bombs, shot and killed by rockets. Only now more Iraqis in US uniforms will bear the brunt of the resistance.
The US says it will withdraw the 50,000 troops by the end of 2011, but subject to “conditions on the ground.” The August 19 New York Times reported that top strategists predict that “thousands of additional troops will be needed after 2011”.
Resistance not defeated
The resistance to the US occupation has made it clear it is not defeated and will continue. On August 25 it launched more than two dozen attacks across Iraq, targeting security personnel. Powerful blasts struck security forces where they are supposed to be safest, turning police stations into rubble and bringing down concrete walls erected to protect them. Dozens of police were killed in Kut, northern Baghdad, Buhriz, Baqouba, Muqdadiya, Fallujah, Ramadi, Tikrit, Kirkuk, Basra, Karbala and Mosul.
These attacks made August the deadliest month in two years for Iraqi police and soldiers, the main targets of the resistance. At least 265 of them were killed from June through August, compared with 180 killed in the previous five months, according to an Associated Press count. The resistance has shown it is capable of a nationwide, coordinated, sustained insurgency against Washington’s rule.
While the corporate media have labelled these attacks as the work of Al Qaeda, this is unlikely. Al Qaeda forces make up only a fraction of the resistance, which comprises a full spectrum from religious fundamentalist groups and moderate nationalists to revolutionary socialists. The only thing they have in common is a desire to end the occupation, but it suits the media and politicians to give the impression that the entire resistance is savage religious fundamentalists who, once they’re finished in Iraq, are coming to get you. They are made into a bogeyman to frighten working people in countries like Australia and the US.
US troops will continue to kill and be killed in Iraq despite their redefined role, and will remain in the country for an indefinite time, required to prop up a weak and increasingly unpopular puppet government and protect US business and geopolitical interests. The continued deaths of foreign troops and Iraqis, with no end in sight, for the profits of a few are the factors that turned the vast majority of the world against the war. These factors remain.