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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Permanent Bases in Iraq: the silence of the Democrats

If the bipartisan push for a Hydrocarbon Law written to benefit United States oil companies is one under reported, if not taboo, story in the press and Congress regarding the United States occupation of Iraq, another taboo topic is that of permanent, or enduring, bases in Iraq.

In September, 2005 I cited this April 2003 New York Times report:

The United States is planning a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to military bases and project American influence into the heart of the unsettled region, senior Bush administration officials say.

American military officials, in interviews this week, spoke of maintaining perhaps four bases in Iraq that could be used in the future: one at the international airport just outside Baghdad; another at Tallil, near Nasiriya in the south; the third at an isolated airstrip called H-1 in the western desert, along the old oil pipeline that runs to Jordan; and the last at the Bashur air field in the Kurdish north.

What have we learned since that time about US intentions regarding permanent bases in Iraq? This February 2006 report by Tom Engelhardt in Salon tells the essential story. It's a must-read:

For the first time, we have actual descriptions of a couple of the "super-bases" built in Iraq in the last two and a half years and, despite being written by reporters under Pentagon information restrictions, they are sobering.

Recently, Oliver Poole, a British reporter, visited another of the American "super-bases," the still-under-construction al-Asad Airbase ("Football and pizza point to US staying for long haul"). He observes, of "the biggest Marine camp in western Anbar province," that "this stretch of desert increasingly resembles a slice of U.S. suburbia." In addition to the requisite Subway and pizza outlets, there is a football field, a Hertz rent-a-car office, a swimming pool, and a movie theater showing the latest flicks. Al-Asad is so large -- such bases may cover 15 to 20 square miles -- that it has two bus routes and, if not traffic lights, at least red stop signs at all intersections.

There are at least four such "super-bases" in Iraq, none of which have anything to do with "withdrawal" from that country. Quite the contrary, these bases are being constructed as little American islands of eternal order in an anarchic sea. Whatever top administration officials and military commanders say -- and they always deny that we seek "permanent" bases in Iraq -- facts on the ground speak with another voice entirely. These bases practically scream "permanency."

{See also: Englehardts' 2006 the Nation piece: "Can you say 'Permanent Bases?'"}

Englehardt notes that press descriptions of these bases (see this Thomas Ricks Feb 2006 report in the Washington Post about the base constructed in Balad Iraq) simply hint at how contractors working for the US government are building "facts on the ground" in Iraq without discussing the issue of their clear permanence. In sum, the US press occasionally and obliquely reports on the bases without really reporting on the significance of the bases. This is a fact that politicians on both sides of the aisle and the mainstream press don't, won't or can't talk about. This MSNBC article features photographs of the Balad base that Ricks discusses; that swimming pool looks pretty permanent to this observer.

Numerous writers in the alternative press, however, have done research into the extent and legality of these bases in Iraq. Dr. Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee reported at Common Dreams in March of 2007:

Post-invasion, the U.S. military established 110 bases in Iraq. By spring 2006 the Pentagon had “reduced the size of its footprint” by consolidating them into approximately 75 bases across the country. As authority is turned over to the central government in Baghdad or seized by competing Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurdish mini-states, the Pentagon is working feverishly to further consolidate the U.S. military presence to 14 “enduring bases” in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan), Baghdad, Anbar province (home to Sunni Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tikrit), and Shi’a-dominated southern approaches to Baghdad.

Organized around airfields “to facilitate resupply operations and troop mobility,” the major bases in Baghdad include: Camp Victory at the airport, which hosts as many as 14,000 U.S. troops; Anaconda Air Base, just north of Baghdad, which spreads across 15 square miles and is being built for 20,000 U.S. troops; Camp Falcon / Al Sarq, which will accommodate 5,000 U.S. soldiers; and the so-called U.S. “embassy complex” in the Green Zone. There, $1 billion is being spent on a 100-acre installation, comparable to the size of Vatican City, with a Marine barracks, 300 homes, 21 other buildings, and its own electrical, water, and sewage systems.

“Post Freedom,” Camp Marez, and the Mosul Airfield serve the 101st Airborne Division and defend U.S. allies and interests in oil-rich Kurdistan. “Camp Renegade” is an air base “strategically located near the Kirkuk oil fields and the Kirkuk refinery and petrochemical plant.” Tajji, just north of Fallujah, is built on the site of a former Republican Guard “military city” and is replete with the comforts of Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Subway restaurants to make U.S. warriors feel right at home. Camps Speicher and Fallujah are located near Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit and the center of Sunni resistance in Fallujah. Little is known about the other planned “enduring bases.”

David Swanson, reporting in Alternet last December, noted that such bases may already have run afoul of US law:

Donald Rumsfeld, testifying before the same Senate Armed Services Committee, said: ''We have no intention, at the present time, of putting permanent bases in Iraq.'' Now, in Rumsfeldspeak this probably meant that he would build temporary bases and then decide later to make them permanent, or that they would just be "enduring," which would mean permanent but not, you know, permanent -- in the same way that an "enemy combatant" is a prisoner of war without the rights of, you know, a prisoner of war. In any case, what is gained by having Bush or Rumsfeld say the words? Wouldn't it make more sense to recommend to Congress that it do something that used to be the role of Congress: namely, pass a law?

But there's the catch. Congress already has. Since the moment we entered Fiscal Year 2007 in October, every dime spent on permanent military bases in Iraq has been illegal. But no one even knows how to find out how many dimes that is. And that illustrates a broader problem. Bush not only began this war in secret with money that Congress had approved for something else, but he also immediately turned it into a permanent occupation and began constructing permanent bases. It took Congress three years to get around to cutting off the funding for more such construction, but Congress had never approved the whole idea. Neither, of course, had the Iraqis.


The common thread here, however, is that the mainstream press has simply not covered this major story in any critical way and that politicians, on both sides of the aisle, have stayed conspicuously mum.

For the hundreds of thousands of grass-roots activists who helped the Democratic Party achieve majorities in the House and the US Senate last fall while arguing for a change of course leading to a US withdrawal from Iraq, these are two issues that should be front and center. A hydrocarbon law that is a giveaway to US oil companies and permanent US military bases being constructed across the nation of Iraq are two central, practical questions facing the United States in Iraq. On both of these questions the Bush Administration has disavowed in public what they are actually doing on the ground, and Democrats in Congress have simply let them get away with it.

When the Democratic leadership, including Speaker Pelosi, says they are committed to ending this war, and yet do not talk about these two issues which are central to the debate, that leadership is betraying its obligation to the clear majority of the American public that wants an end to this occupation. Politicians are not talking about the hydrocarbon law or permanent US bases because to do so gets to the heart of the matter in Iraq: either the United States is occupying Iraq with long term ambitions of controlling Iraq's oil and projecting US military power in the region from unilateral permanent bases in Iraq, or it isn't.

If everyone is Washington, including the Bush Administration, seems willing to deny these two ambitions but only in vague, nonspecific terms, then the Democratic Congress should make it formal and pass some regulations that make just those two positions the clear law of the land: no permanent US bases and US support for a fair hydrocarbon law with no giveaways to US oil companies. For that to happen, the folks who helped win Nancy Pelosi the Democratic majority need to raise these two questions in no uncertain terms.

It's time for Democrats to talk turkey on two of the central issues facing the United States in Iraq: oil and permanent bases. Until that time, on all sides, Democratic talk of withdrawal from Iraq is only so much hot air.

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2 Comments:

  • This issue has been raised by candidate Bill Richardson (and, of course, Dennis Kucinich). D-day reports on Bill Richardson's position on permanent bases here.

    By Blogger kid oakland, at 1:26 PM  

  • When I sent a spot of money to the Netroots candidates last fall, I did so with a shudder. I knew they would disappoint me. Democrats typically disappoint. Republicans typically appall. So, you know ...

    Anyway, you're right; I haven't read much about the Permanent Bases (nice pool).

    By Blogger Glenn Ingersoll, at 11:18 AM  

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