Two days ago, President Obama announced that by the end of the year all US troops will be leaving Iraq. Whatever paper you read, everyone simply reported that the United States will be pulling out of Iraq completely.
Do you believe that after nine years, 700 billion dollars and 4,478 American casualties, the US would leave the second largest oil reserves in the Middle East and the fulcrum of oil and gas distribution network of the region, just because their stay might prove embarrassing to some Shi'ite politicians who are afraid of Moqtada al Sadr?
If you do, I know the owner of the Brooklyn bridge and I can get you a good deal.
Actually the US is not going anywhere:
But the fact is America’s military efforts in Iraq aren’t coming to an end. They are instead entering a new phase. On January 1, 2012, the State Department will command a hired army of about 5,500 security contractors, all to protect the largest U.S. diplomatic presence anywhere overseas.And it will not be a passive security force chauffeuring diplomats in armored limousines:
The Department also has asked the Pentagon for twenty-four Blackhawk helicopters, fifty Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles and other military equipment.As Jeremy Scahill reported more than a year ago:
What is unfolding is the face of President Obama's scaled-down, rebranded mini-occupation of Iraq. Under the terms of the Status of Forces agreement, all US forces are supposed to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Using private forces is a backdoor way of continuing a substantial US presence under the cover of "diplomatic security."
In other words, it is part of an ongoing privatization of military operations. As you might know, at the height of the Iraq war, private contractors outnumbered the military personnel. The same is also true of Afghanistan. And they will continue to surge as more troops are withdrawn.
The advantage of having a private army in Iraq (whose rules of engagements cannot be reviewed by the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction or SIGIR) is that if there is a problem you can always claim that they were covered by diplomatic immunity. They are there, ostensibly, to protect your diplomats. Granted, it did not work in Raymond Davies' case in Pakistan but that was too in-your-face and it came at a very low point in US Pakistani relations. My educated guess is that, unless they frequently duplicate the Nisoor Square shooting, it would work in Iraq.
That private army is needed to operate five gigantic outposts, aptly named as Enduring Presence Posts:
The State Department plans to operate five "Enduring Presence Posts" at current US military bases in Basrah, Diyala, Erbil, Kirkuk and Ninewa. The State Department has indicated that more sites may be created in the future, which would increase the demand for private forces. The US embassy in Baghdad is the size of Vatican City, comprised of twenty-one buildings on a 104-acres of land on the Tigris River.You might think that a private army 5,500 is not an important force. First, it is almost certain that this number will "surge" after troop withdrawals. Second, there is no need for a huge force: in fact, the US was negotiating to leave behind about that same number of troops. That is because, all they need to do is to staff those "consulate-like" Enduring Presence Posts which were built to house a much larger force. This way, when needed, actual troops could be moved to those bases and they would become operational within a very short period of time.
Notice also that Ninawa (previously called Mosul), Erbil and Kirkuk are all in the Kurdish part of Iraq. Masoud Barzani said this last month:
The president of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government says U.S. forces will still be needed in Iraq in 2012 and that their absence could lead to a civil war or sectarian conflicts, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.Iraqi Kurds have been doing quite well economically, thanks mostly to their good relations with Turkey, but they are concerned that without an American presence their autonomy could be threatened. And with PKK and PJAK undertaking more and more daring actions in Turkey and Iran, they are worried that their neighbors could use them as a pretext to seal off borders or increase their presence inside Northern Iraq or simply occupy most of the region.
Masud Barzani also called on the Iraqi government to sign an agreement with U.S. forces to stay in the country after their withdrawal deadline of December 31 and until the Iraqi military is able to assume full responsibility in protecting the country's borders and air space.
They believe an American presence would be a major factor in any of these scenarios and would be a deterrent for Iran to do anything about PJAK.
So, they have every reason to give a SOFA, as it were, to the US.
I should have added that even with President Obama's announcement, this is not a done deal and negotiations are still taking place. In fact, Obama's announcement will make a new deal more likely by removing pressure off Prime Minister Maliki.
I would not be surprised if these negotiations end up yielding another backdoor result such as the deployment of several thousand military trainers.
This is what appeared in Washington Post
The State Department is racing against an end-of-year deadline to take over Iraq operations from the U.S. military, throwing together buildings and marshaling contractors in its biggest overseas operation since the effort to rebuild Europe after World War II.
Attention in Washington and Baghdad has centered on the number of U.S. troops that could remain in Iraq. But those forces will be dwarfed by an estimated 16,000 civilians under the American ambassador — the size of an Army division. [my emphasis]