The Rationale for Keeping U.S. Forces in Iraq by Jeremy R. Hammond

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by Jeremy R. Hammond
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
Foreign Policy Journal
25 February, 2010

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With the deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of next year creeping nearer, the U.S. has to find some way to convince the Iraqi government to allow a continued military presence, which is the likely outcome despite the U.S.-Iraq status of forces agreement containing the deadline.

One means by which this will be accomplished, relabeling “combat forces” something else, perhaps remaining as “military advisers” or something to that effect, has already been discussed. Thomas E. Ricks outlines another rationale for maintaining a military occupation of Iraq in the New York Times, offering up a variation on a theme that has been familiar throughout the war that is likely to become a mainstay in the political discourse.

With a national election approaching for Iraq on March 7, Ricks opines that “the results are unlikely to resolve key political struggles that could return the country to sectarianism and violence.” Therefore, what “probably is the best course” for President Obama is to “once again break his campaign promises about ending the war, and to offer to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for several more years.”

Ricks emphasizes the theme of chaos in his op-ed, even writing that the consequence of U.S. troops withdrawing might be “a civil war”.

The notion of the U.S. military presence as a stabilizing influence in Iraq is certainly not unfamiliar, despite all evidence to the contrary, including Iraqi opposition—oftentimes violent—to continued occupation. It’s a theme that has also been used to justify the troop surge falsely credited with the decline in violence since 2007.

Ricks suggests that the American public could be persuaded to accept a continued military occupation in Iraq because they “understand just what a mess it is”, but adds that “Extending the American military presence will be even more politically controversial in Iraq” than in the U.S. The reason is too obvious to mention, but Ricks does manage to fit it in further down the page. “No one there particularly likes having the Americans around,” he concedes in passing, towards the end of his argument for why the Americans should stick around.

As evidence of what “a mess” Iraq is and just how real the threat of “civil war” might be if U.S. forces don’t remain to stabilize the country, Ricks writes that “the latest” sign is “the decision over the weekend of the leading Sunni party, the National Dialogue Front, to withdraw from the elections.”

Ricks doesn’t bother enlightening his readers as to why the party decided to boycott the elections. But the New York Times did explain elsewhere that its “two most prominent leaders were disqualified from next month’s parliamentary elections in Iraq because of supposed ties to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party” (emphasis added), and that the boycott “was prompted by the disqualification of hundreds of candidates, most of them Sunni, by a parliamentary commission last month.”

The party issued a statement declaring that “The National Dialogue Front cannot continue in a political process run by a foreign agenda,” a reference to the origins of the commission that disqualified Sunni candidates, although the Times doesn’t bother to explain the remark to its readers.

The Times did, however, does offer an explanation in a separate article, which noted that the decision to disqualify “515 candidates” was mostly on the basis “of accusations that they retained links to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party” (emphasis added).

The body in question, the Times noted, is “the Accountability and Justice Commission, charged with purging the country’s government of loyalists of the Baath Party”.

Although an appeals court reversed the disqualification of 26 of the candidates, the commission’s decisions on the rest were upheld, either through rejection of appeals or failure to appeal in the first place.

Yet another Times article offered a few more dots, though again no effort was made to connect them for their its readers. It stated that “many lawmakers had questioned the murky process by which a committee with disputed authority … was able to bar nearly one in six candidates based on evidence that has never been made public.”

Additionally, “Some of those disqualified appeared to have only tenuous ties, if any, to the Baath Party, the only official political entity allowed under Mr. Hussein’s government and one that dominated social and economic life.”

The article cryptically hinted at the commission’s origin by stating that “The process for establishing those ties dates from the early months after the American invasion in 2003 when the party was banned after Mr. Hussein’s fall.”

For a more complete explanation, one may turn to still another Times article entitled “The Long, Long Shadow of Early Missteps in Iraq”,which actually manages to connect a few dots for its readers. The  commission’s origin was “Order No. 1”, issued by L. Paul Bremer III on his fifth day as the head of the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority, established after the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime. That decree banned the Baath Party, a process dubbed “de-Baathification” that helped to spur the Iraqi insurgency.

“Order No. 1 was a beginning that has yet to have an end,” the article stated, “a little like America’s presence in a land it clumsily sought to cast in its own image.” The Accountability and Justice Commission, it explained, is “the legacy of Mr. Bremer’s order”.

Moreover, we may learn elsewhere, the chairman of the commission is none other than Ahmed Chalabi, the known fabricator who peddled false claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to the U.S., including through Times reporter Judith Miller.

The commission is dominated “by officials appointed by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki,” Kenneth M. Pollack and Michael E. O’Hanlon inform us in an additional Times op-ed offering up a few more dots.

The commission’s decision, they write, “will do more than just throw a wrench in the works. It will persuade a great many Iraqis that the prime minister or other Shiites, like Mr. Chalabi, are using their control over the electoral mechanics to kneecap their rivals. It may also convince many Sunnis that they will never be allowed to win if they play by the rules, and that violence is their only option.”

Echoing Ricks’ rationale for maintaining a military presence in Iraq, they add, “If this ban remains in effect, the likelihood of electoral violence will skyrocket, and American soldiers will inevitably be called on to halt it.” The U.S. embassy in Baghdad, they write, “is working feverishly to persuade the Iraqis to change course.”

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, General Raymond T. Odierno, publicly accused Chalabi and the executive director of the commission, Ali Faisal al-Lami, of being “clearly influenced by Iran”. Al-Lami, Odierno added, “has been involved in very nefarious activities in Iraq for some time. It is disappointing that someone like him is put in charge of the de-Ba’athification commission.”

In other words, the U.S. is now criticizing both Iraq and Iran for upholding a law the U.S. itself was responsible for decreeing, through a commission the U.S. itself was responsible for establishing, by means of a mandate the U.S. itself was responsible for implementing.

As a result of the supposedly Iranian-influenced decision of the Iraqi commission to carry out its U.S.-dictated mandate, the country is expected to erupt once more into sectarian violence unless the decision to withdraw U.S. forces is reversed so that the U.S. military can save Iraqis, most of whom don’t want U.S. forces in their country, from themselves.

This view is expressed by Ricks, who adds that by withdrawing its forces, “the United States would be rushing toward failure in Iraq” by “trying to pass responsibility to Iraqi officials and institutions before they are ready for the task.” But there is hope in that both U.S. and Iraqi leaders “may come to recognize that the best way to deter a return to civil war is to find a way to keep 30,000 to 50,000 United States service members in Iraq for many years to come.”

Perhaps an indication of what he means by “many years to come”, Ricks closes by asserting that “The best argument against keeping troops in Iraq is the one some American military officers make, which is that a civil war is inevitable, and that by staying all we are doing is postponing it. That may be so, but I don’t think it is worth gambling to find out.”

The logical corollary is that U.S. forces must remain in Iraq for a period of time perhaps shorter than forever, but longer than the foreseeable future, in order to prevent this “inevitable” consequence of withdrawal, which is itself evidence that the Iraqis couldn’t get along without the U.S. there to, as Ricks puts it, “help Iraq move forward politically”.

In this case, that apparently means disregarding the U.S. “Order No. 1”. But never mind the actual origin of this particular crisis. It’s a simple enough matter to just attribute it to the backwardness of the Iraqis themselves, or perhaps to the meddlesomeness of neighboring Iran, which, needless to say, isn’t on Washington’s good side anyways.

Ricks’ or a similar rationale is likely to win the day, and by such means the U.S. will work around the status of forces agreement deadline for withdrawal and convince the American people and the Iraqi leadership that it needs to stay.

The Iraqi public is another matter, but, they, after all, require no convincing, since their views simply don’t matter, except for possibly factoring in as a minor political obstacle to be overcome.

And so it goes.

Jeremy R. Hammond is an independent journalist and the Editor of Foreign Policy Journal, an online source for news, critical analysis, and opinion commentary on U.S. foreign policy from outside the standard framework as defined by political officials and the mainstream corporate media. He was among the recipients of the 2010 Project Censored Awards for outstanding investigative journalism, and is the author of “The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination”, available from


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