Barack Obama’s announcement in mid-August that the “combat mission in Iraq has ended” gave the impression that he’d delivered on one of his key election promises—the end of the Iraq war. But in the US has far from left Iraq. News footage of US troops leaving Iraq and crossing into Kuwait and the renaming of Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn added to this impression.
But the Iraq war is far from over. Fifty thousand US troops will stay in Iraq until the end of 2011, and 10,000 after that. The Washington spin doctors claim these troops are “advise-and-assist brigades” rather than “combat troops,” but this is just smoke and mirrors.
General Ray Odierno, US commander in Iraq, said, “We will continue to conduct partnered counter-terrorism operations and provide combat enablers to help the Iraqi Security Forces maintain pressure on the extremist networks.” Bases, described as “enduring presence posts,”are still being established. The US’s 4500 Special Forces troops will continue to operate with the authority to “kill or capture” identified individuals. Iraq’s sea lanes and airspace continue to be controlled by the US. The US can rain death from the sky whenever and wherever it wants.
To conceal the extent of the US’s involvement in Iraq, private contractors are being used. There were 95,461 contractors working in Iraq as of March 2010, building bases and transporting supplies.
Increasingly contractors are used directly in security work. Security at the Australian embassy was recently outsourced to a firm employing Chilean mercenaries.
Obama might talk about the end of the “combat mission” but this means very little for the Iraqi people. Civilian deaths in July numbered 535—the worst figure for two years. Baghdad’s suburbs remain divided by walls erected by the US. Six months after the elections, Iraq’s squabbling politicians have failed to reach a power sharing deal and a government is yet to be formed. The millions who were forced to flee violence remain too frightened to return.
When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, they had clear objectives. Regime change in this strategically important, oil rich region of the world would demonstrate US power to potential rivals and send a message to the world—don’t challenge the US. Their overwhelming military superiority was meant to ensure the 21st century was another “American century.”
Seven years later the US has failed miserably in these aims. No stable government exists in Iraq and Iran’s influence in the region has grown—including within Iraq itself. The US’s potential rivals can only be encouraged by the US being bogged down in two costly wars while struggling with a recession at home.
The only achievement has been the misery and trauma inflicted on a nation of 31 million people.
Over a million Iraqis have lost their lives. Two million have fled the country, while another two and half million have been internally displaced. Sixty eight per cent of Iraqis have no access to safe drinking water, malnutrition rates have risen and 60–70 per cent of Iraq’s children are suffering from psychological problems.
The US has left Iraq in tatters but politically it cannot admit it. Instead of a clean sharp exit, leaving behind a stable pro-US regime, Obama has been forced to look for ways to save face while hiding behind anti-war rhetoric.
The talk of withdrawl is necessary because the majority of people in the US want the war to end. Obama, however, is just as committed to maintaining US power as George Bush was. They only differ on the tactics needed to achieve this aim. Recently Obama has praised Bush for his “commitment to our security.”
The mayhem and suffering in Iraq continues. Only seven days after the official end of the “combat mission,” two US soldiers were killed and nine others injured. The continuing violence will make it difficult for Obama to maintain the illusion that the war is over. Anti-war activists will have the opportunity to continue mobilising.
It will be a combination of resistance to the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and an anti-war movement in the West that does not put its faith in politicians like Obama, that will bring these obscene wars to an end.
By Mark Gillespie