What We Didn’t Get from Congress

Tomgram: Scahill, A Democratic Sell-out on Bush’s Mercenaries

Let’s be clear about what it is — when it comes to “withdrawal” from Iraq — that the President will veto this Wednesday. Section 1904(b) of the supplemental appropriations bill for the Pentagon, H.R. 1591, passed by the House and Senate, mandates that the Secretary of Defense “commence the redeployment of the Armed Forces from Iraq not later than October 1, 2007, with a goal of completing such redeployment within 180 days.” If you’ve been listening to network TV news shows or reading your local newspaper with less than an eagle eye, you might well be under the impression that — just as the phrasing above seems to indicate — a Democratic-controlled Congress has just passed a bill that mandates a full-scale American withdrawal from Iraq. (Reporters and commentators regularly speak of the Democrats’ insistence that “American troops be withdrawn from Iraq.”) But that’s only until you start reading the exceptions embedded in the bill.

Here are the main ones. According to H.R. 1591, the Secretary of Defense is allowed to keep U.S. forces in Iraq for the following purposes:

1. “Protecting American diplomatic facilities and American citizens, including members of the United States Armed Forces”: This doesn’t sound like much, but don’t be fooled. As a start, of course, there would have to be forces guarding the new American embassy in Baghdad (known to Iraqis as “George W’s Palace”). When completed, it will be the largest embassy in the known universe with untold thousands of employees; then there would need to be forces to protect the heavily fortified citadel of the Green Zone (aka “the International Zone”) which protects the embassy and other key U.S. facilities. Add to these troops to guard the network of gigantic, multibillion dollar U.S. bases in Iraq like Balad Air Base (with air traffic volume that rivals Chicago’s O’Hare) and whatever smaller outposts might be maintained. We’re talking about a sizable force here.

2. “Training and equipping members of the Iraqi Security Forces”: By later this year, U.S. advisors and trainers for the Iraqi military, part of a program the Pentagon is now ramping up, should reach the 10,000-20,000 range (many of whom — see above — would undoubtedly need “guarding”).

3. “Engaging in targeted special actions limited in duration and scope to killing or capturing members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations with global reach”: This is a loophole of loopholes that could add up to almost anything as, in a pinch, all sorts of Sunni oppositional forces could be labeled “al-Qaeda.”

An Institute for Policy Studies analysis suggests that the “protection forces” and advisors alone could add up to 40,000-60,000 troops. None of this, of course, includes U.S. Navy or Air Force units stationed outside Iraq but engaged in actions in, or support for actions in, that country.

Another way of thinking about the Democratic withdrawal proposals (to be vetoed this week by the President) is that they represent a program to remove only U.S. “combat brigades,” adding up to perhaps half of all U.S. forces, with a giant al-Qaeda loophole for their return. None of this would deal with the heavily armed and fortified U.S. permanent bases in Iraq or the air war that would almost certainly escalate if only part of the American expeditionary forces were withdrawn (and the rest potentially left more vulnerable).

No less strikingly, in an era in which the “privatizing” of state functions is the rage, the enormous mercenary forces of private “security” companies like Blackwater USA, now fighting a shadow war alongside U.S. troops in Iraq, would be untouched. On this striking point Jeremy Scahill has much to say — and he should know. He’s the author of the surprise national bestseller, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, which will shake you to your combat boots when it comes to the nature of the mercenary age — sorry, the age of “private security contractors” — that we’ve now entered. No personal library that claims to make sense of our messy, bloody planet should be without his book. Tom

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Who Will Stop the U.S. Shadow Army in Iraq? Don’t Look to the Congressional Democrats
By Jeremy Scahill

The Democratic leadership in Congress is once again gearing up for a great sell-out on the Iraq war. While the wrangling over the $124 billion Iraq supplemental spending bill is being headlined in the media as a “show down” or “war” with the White House, it is hardly that. In plain terms, despite the impassioned sentiments of the anti-war electorate that brought the Democrats to power last November, the Congressional leadership has made clear its intention to keep funding the Iraq occupation, even though Sen. Harry Reid has declared that “this war is lost.”

For months, the Democrats’ “withdrawal” plan has come under fire from opponents of the occupation who say it doesn’t stop the war, doesn’t defund it, and insures that tens of thousands of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq beyond President Bush’s second term. Such concerns were reinforced by Sen. Barack Obama’s recent declaration that the Democrats will not cut off funding for the war, regardless of the President’s policies. “Nobody,” he said, “wants to play chicken with our troops.”

As the New York Times reported, “Lawmakers said they expect that Congress and Mr. Bush would eventually agree on a spending measure without the specific timetable” for (partial) withdrawal, which the White House has said would “guarantee defeat.” In other words, the appearance of a fierce debate this week, Presidential veto and all, has largely been a show with a predictable outcome.

Read the rest here.

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