Iraq War is Far from Over!

2 09 2010

End of Combat Operations in Iraq? Perhaps, but Not So Fast!

NJ Peace Action Responds to Speech by President Obama


For more information, contact: Madelyn Hoffman, NJ Peace Action at (973)259-1126.

On Tuesday, August 31st, President Obama will make a speech to the nation announcing that he kept his promise to end the war in Iraq by withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq by August 31, 2010. NJ Peace Action recognizes that this is not only a potentially important milestone in the more than 7-year U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq but that it was reached in part due to persistent calls for an end to the war from peace organizations like ourselves.

However, while it may be technically true that combat troops have left Iraq, the war is far from over. This deadline was not a formal one, but one imposed by President Obama. 50,000 troops remain, as well as 75,000 contractors and 90 military bases. The number of private contractors may also rise significantly in the short-term. Six of the remaining brigades were once conventional combat brigades that were reconfigured and rebranded and their mission now redefined to “advise and assist.”

These moves have little “on the ground” significance. However, it could signal that President Obama will honor other deadlines set forward in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), first arrived at under George W. Bush. Among the most important of the deadlines set in the agreement is the withdrawal of all troops from Iraq on December 31, 2011. Additionally, by this deadline all military bases are supposed to eventually be shut down or handed over to the Iraqis. It is dangerous to assume, though, that either or both provisions will be honored, and many are skeptical that the Pentagon will actually follow through on meeting these deadlines.

Among these skeptics are Phyllis Bennis, Director of the New Internationalism Project with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, who observes, “Instead, I think the formal arrangement following expiration of the current SOFA may be through some sort of officially ‘bilateral’ agreement between Washington and Baghdad, allowing for the U.S. to ‘rent’ or ‘lease’ or ‘borrow’ the bases from an allegedly ‘sovereign’ government in Iraq on a long-term basis. The likelihood of this increases with the growing number of statements from U.S. military and political officials hinting broadly at the possibility of a long-term presence of U.S. troops in Iraq after December 31, 2011, ‘if the sovereign government of Iraq should request such an idea’…”

In the meantime, the remaining contractors are with either the State Department or the oil companies, not the Department of Defense. A new Iraqi law may hold these contractors accountable after 9/11/11, but serious questions remain about the Iraqi government’s capacity and political will to enforce the law. There are also many questions about the State Department’s ability and capacity to handle ongoing security operations in Iraq.

The Status of Forces Agreement could conceivably be renegotiated to allow the Iraqi government to ask for additional troops to be sent back to Iraq before the 2011 deadline, if necessary. Article 27 of the SOFA states, “in the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq that would violate its sovereignty, political independence, or territorial integrity, waters, airspace, its democratic system or its elected institutions, and upon request by the Government of Iraq, the Parties shall immediately initiate strategic deliberations and, as may be mutually agreed, the United States shall take appropriate measures, including diplomatic, economic, or military measures, or any other measure, to deter such a threat.”

While the agreement is ostensibly binding only for three years, Article 30 permits amendments to the SOFA, which could, of course, include extending its timeframe-and with the Iraqi government still qualitatively dependent on U.S. support, this appears likely. The same is true for Article 28, which states, “The Government of Iraq may request from the United States Forces limited and temporary support for the Iraqi authorities in the mission of security for the Green Zone.”

“The likelihood of the U.S. planning to keep troops in Iraq after December 31, 2011 has to be measured in the context of the history of U.S. violations of other countries’ sovereign territory, airspace, etc.,” according to Bennis who states further, “At the moment, this is perhaps most obvious in Pakistan-where the U.S. has been routinely attacking alleged Taliban or al Qaeda supporters with both air and [limited] ground troops in Pakistani territory despite the stated opposition of the Pakistani government which is nominally allied to the U.S.”

Bennis also notes that “The early public discussions of ‘re-missioning’ combat troops, changing their official assignment from combat to ‘training’ or ‘assistance,’ thus allowing them to remain in Iraq after the August 2010 deadline for all combat troops to be removed from the country, provides the model for how such sleight of language will occur,” adding, “It may or may not be linked to a future ‘need’ for U.S. troops to remain to protect the increasing numbers of U.S. government civilians assigned to Iraq as the official number of troops decreases.”

NJ Peace Action pledges to continue pushing for a real end to the war in Iraq by asking our representatives to vote against any additional war funding unless it is specifically allocated for troop withdrawal. NJ Peace Action also asks for a Congressional investigation into the Status of Forces Agreement to ensure it is upheld and at the same time questions why a combat brigade of 3000 was recently deployed from Fort Hood to Iraq if our combat mission in Iraq is over.

NJ Peace Action will also continue working for an end to the war in Afghanistan, and strongly opposes deploying troops withdrawn from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and directs the New Internationalism Project challenging the drive towards U.S. empire, focusing particularly on ending the U.S. wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting an end to Israeli occupation and apartheid policies in Palestine. Link here for more info: