US military leaders and Pentagon officials have
made it clear through public statements and deliberately leaked stories in recent
weeks that they plan to violate a central provision of the US-Iraq withdrawal
agreement requiring the complete withdrawal of all US combat troops from Iraqi
cities by mid-2009 by reclassifying combat troops as support troops.
The scheme to engage in chicanery in labeling US troops represents both open
defiance of an agreement which the US military has never accepted and a way
of blocking President-elect Barack Obama's proposed plan for withdrawal of all
US combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of his taking office.
By redesignating tens of thousands of combat troops as support troops, those
officials apparently hope to make it difficult, if not impossible, for Obama
to insist on getting all combat troops out of the country by mid-2010.
Gen. David Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top
US commander in Iraq, who opposed Obama's 16-month withdrawal plan during the
election campaign, have drawn up their own alternative withdrawal plan rejecting
that timeline, as the New York Times reported Thursday. That plan was
communicated to Obama in general terms by Secretary of Defense Robert M.Gates
and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen when he met with
his national security team in Chicago on Dec. 15, according to the Times.
The determination of the military leadership to ignore the US-Iraq agreement
and to pressure Obama on his withdrawal policy was clear from remarks made by
Mullen in a news conference on Nov. 17 after US Ambassador Ryan Crocker
had signed the agreement in Baghdad.
Mullen declared that he considered it "important" that withdrawal
of US forces from Iraq "be conditions-based". That position directly
contradicted the terms of the agreement, and Mullen was asked whether the agreement
required all US troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, regardless of the
security conditions. He answered "Yes," but then added, "Three
years is a long time. Conditions could change in that period of time..."
Mullen said US officials would "continue to have discussions with them
over time, as conditions continue to evolve", and said that reversing the
outcome of the negotiations was "theoretically possible".
Obama's decision to keep Gates, who was known to be opposed to Obama's withdrawal
timetable, as defense secretary confirmed the belief of the Pentagon leadership
that Obama would not resist the military effort to push back against his Iraq
withdrawal plan. A source close to the Obama transition team has told IPS that
Obama had made the decision for a frankly political reason. Obama and his advisers
believed the administration would be politically vulnerable on national security
and viewed the Gates nomination as a way of blunting political criticism of
The Gates decision was followed immediately by the leak of a major element
in the military plan to push back against a 16-month withdrawal plan a scheme
to keep US combat troops in Iraqi cities after mid-2009, in defiance of the
terms of the withdrawal agreement.
The New York Times first revealed that "Pentagon planners"
were proposing the "relabeling" of US combat units as "training
and support" units in a Dec. 4 story. The Times story also revealed that
Pentagon planners were projecting that as many as 70,000 US troops would be
maintained in Iraq "for a substantial time even beyond 2011", despite
the agreement's explicit requirement that all US troops would have to be withdrawn
Odierno provided a further hint Dec. 13 that the US military intends to ignore
the provision of the agreement requiring withdrawal of all US combat troops
from cities and towns by the end of May 2009. Odierno told reporters flatly
that US troops would not move from numerous security posts in cities beyond
next summer's deadline for their removal, saying "We believe that's part
of our transition teams."
His spokesman, Lt. Col. James Hutton, explained that these "transition
teams" would consist of "enablers" rather than "combat forces",
and that this would be consistent with the withdrawal agreement.
But both Odierno's and Hutton's remarks were clearly based on the Pentagon
plan for the "relabeling" of US combat forces as support forces in
order to evade a key constraint in the pact that the Times had reported
earlier. In an article in The New Republic dated Dec. 24, Eli Lake writes
that three military sources told him that the US "Military Transition Teams",
which who have been fighting alongside Iraqi units, as well as force-protection
units and "quick-reaction forces", are all being redesignated as "support
units", despite their obvious combat functions, "in order to skirt
the language of the SOFA [status of forces agreement]".
US commanders have not bothered to claim that this is anything but a semantic
trick, since the redesignated units would continue to participate in combat
patrols, as confirmed by New York Times reporters Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom
The question of whether Iraqis would permit such "relabeled" combat
forces to remain after next June was discussed with Obama on Monday, according
to the Times report. One participant reportedly said Gates and Mullen "did
not rule out the idea that Iraqis might permit such troops..."
Despite Odierno's assertion of the US military's prerogative to unilaterally
determine what US troops may remain Iraqi cities, the Iraqi government has already
made it clear that the US military has no such right. Defense Ministry spokesman
Maj. Gen. Mohammed al Askari, responded to Odierno's and Hutton's statements
by saying that US commanders would have to get permission from the Iraqi government
to station any non-combat troops in cities beyond the deadline.
The signals from Odierno of US military defiance of the withdrawal agreement
suggest that the Pentagon and military leadership still do not take seriously
the views of the Iraqi public as having any role in determining the matter of
foreign troops in their country. Nevertheless, the withdrawal agreement is still
subject to a popular referendum next July, and Iraqi politicians have already
warned that evidence of US refusal to abide by its terms will affect the outcome
of that vote.
Washington Post reporters quoted Sunni legislator Shata al-Obusi as
saying that Iraqis "will see this procrastination and they will vote no
against the agreement, and after that the government should cancel it according
to its provision".
Beyond the aim of getting Obama to abandon his 16-month plan, the military
and Pentagon group still hopes to pressure Obama to agree to a long-term US
military presence in Iraq.
Further evidence emerged last week that Gates is a central figure in that effort.
In a Washington Post column Dec. 11, George Will quoted Gates as saying
that there is bipartisan congressional support for "a long-term residual
presence" of as many as 40,000 US troops in Iraq, and such a presence for
"decades" has been the standard practice following "major US
military operations" since the beginning of the Cold War.
Those statements evidently represent part of the case Gates, Mullen and the
military commanders are already making behind the scenes to get Obama to acquiesce
in the subversion of the intent of the US-Iraq agreement.
(Inter Press Service)