Instead of moving toward accommodating the demand
of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a timetable for US military withdrawal,
the George W. Bush administration and the US military leadership are continuing
to pressure their erstwhile client regime to bow to the US demand for a long-term
military presence in the country.
The emergence of this defiant US posture toward the Iraqi withdrawal demand
underlines just how important long-term access to military bases in Iraq has
become to the US military and national security bureaucracy in general.
From the beginning, the Bush administration's response to the al-Maliki withdrawal
demand has been to treat it as a mere aspiration that the United States need
The counter-message that has been conveyed to Iraq from a multiplicity of US
sources, including former CENTCOM commander William Fallon, is that the security
objectives of Iraq must include continued dependence on US troops for an indefinite
period. The larger, implicit message, however, is that the United States is
still in control, and that it not the Iraqi government will make the final
That point was made initially by State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos,
who stated flatly on Jul. 9 that any US decision on withdrawal "will
In a sign that the US military is also mounting pressure on the Iraqi government
to abandon its withdrawal demand, Fallon wrote an op-ed piece published in the
New York Times Jul. 20 that called on Iraqi leaders to accept the US
demand for long-term access to military bases.
Fallon, who became something of a folk hero among foes of the Bush administration's
policy in the Middle East for having been forced out of his CENTCOM position
for his anti-aggression stance, takes an extremely aggressive line against the
Iraqi withdrawal demand in the op-ed. In fact the piece is remarkable not only
for its condescending attitude toward the Iraqi government, but for its peremptory
tone toward it.
Fallon is dismissive of the idea that Iraq can take care of itself without
US troops to maintain ultimate control. "The government of Iraq is eager
to exert its sovereignty," Fallon writes, "but its leaders also recognize
that it will be some time before Iraq can take full control of security."
Fallon goes on to insist that "the government of Iraq must recognize its
continued, if diminishing reliance on the American military." And in the
penultimate paragraph, he demands "political posturing in pursuit of short-term
gains must cease."
Fallon, now retired from the military, is obviously serving as a stand-in for
US military chiefs for whom the public expression of such a hard-line stance
against the Iraqi withdrawal demand would have been considered inappropriate.
But the former US military proconsul in the Middle East, like his active-duty
colleagues, appears to actually believe that the United States can intimidate
the al-Maliki regime. The assumption implicit in his op-ed is that the United
States has both the right and power to preempt Iraq's national interests in
order to continue to build its military empire in the Middle East.
As CENTCOM chief, Fallon had been planning on the assumption that the US
military would continue to have access to military bases in both Iraq and Afghanistan
for many years to come. A Jul. 14 story by Washington Post national security
and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus said that the Army had requested 184
million dollars to build power plants at its five main bases in Iraq.
The five bases, Pincus reported, are among the "final bases and support
locations where troops, aircraft and equipment will be consolidated as the US
military presence is reduced."
Funding for the power plants, which would be necessary to support a large US
force in Iraq within the five remaining bases, for a longer-term stay, was eliminated
from the military construction bill for fiscal year 2008. Pincus quoted a Congressional
source as noting that the power plants would have taken up to two years to complete.
The plan to keep several major bases in Iraq is just part of a larger plan,
on which Fallon himself was working, for permanent US land bases in the Middle
East and Central Asia.
Fallon revealed in Congressional testimony last year that Bagram Air Base in
Afghanistan is regarded as "the centerpiece for the CENTCOM Master Plan
for future access to and operations in Central Asia."
As Fallon was writing his op-ed, the Bush administration was planning for a
videoconference between Bush and al-Maliki Jul. 17, evidently hoping to move
the obstreperous al-Maliki away from his position on withdrawal.
Afterward, however, the White House found it necessary to cover up the fact
that al-Maliki had refused to back down in the face of Bush's pressure.
It issued a statement claiming that the two leaders had agreed to "a general
time horizon for meeting aspirational goals" but that the goals would include
turning over more control to Iraqi security forces and the "further reduction
of US combat forces from Iraq" but not a complete withdrawal.
But that was quickly revealed to be a blatant misrepresentation of al-Maliki's
position. As al-Maliki's spokesman Ali Dabbagh confirmed, the "time horizon"
on which Bush and al-Maliki had agreed not only covered the "full handover
of security responsibility to the Iraqi forces in order to decrease American
forces" but was to "allow for its [sic] withdrawal from Iraq."
An adviser to al-Maliki, Sadiq Rikabi, also told the Washington Post
that al-Maliki was insisting on specific timelines for each stage of the US
withdrawal, including the complete withdrawal of troops.
The Iraqi prime minister's Jul. 19 interview with the German magazine Der
Speigel, in which he said that Barack Obama's 16-month timetable "would
be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes",
was the Iraqi government's bombshell in response to the Bush administration's
efforts to pressure it on the bases issue.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack emphasized at his briefing Tuesday
that the issue would be determined by "a conclusion that's mutually acceptable
to sovereign nations."
That strongly implied that the Bush administration regards itself as having
a veto power over any demand for withdrawal and signals an intention to try
to intimidate al-Maliki.
Both the Bush administration and the US military appear to harbour the illusion
that the US troop presence in Iraq still confers effective political control
over its clients in Baghdad.
However, the change in the al-Maliki regime's behavior over the past six months,
starting with the prime minister's abrupt refusal to go along with Gen. David
Petraeus's plan for a joint operation in Basra in mid-March, strongly suggests
that the era of Iraqi dependence on the United States has ended.
Given the strong consensus on the issue among Shiite political forces of all
stripes as well as Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shiite spiritual leader, the al-Maliki
regime could not back down to US pressure without igniting a political crisis.
(Inter Press Service)