In recent weeks, the Pentagon has reiterated several times that it plans to reassign some 5000 to 10,000 US troops from their current combat roles in Iraq. According to their press releases, these troops will no longer be involved in combat but will be used instead to train Iraqi troops. What exactly does this mean? Will these US troops no longer be involved in fighting? Are they hanging up their weapons for power point presentations?
In reality, this reassignment is little more than a change in terminology. You know, kind of like when your boss gives you a new title that doesn’t involve more money or more free time, just more work. In short, these troops will be killing and dying just like before, only now they’ll be doing it under the guise of instruction. The aim of this exercise is to create the pretense that Iraqis are taking over more of the combat in Iraq, thereby allowing the war makers in DC greater leeway in terms of withdrawal and redeployment.
For the Pentagon and other war makers, the ideal situation in Iraq would be this: the training of Iraqi troops will create a situation in the not too distant future whereby Iraqis can take over the most deadly missions, with US troops providing air and ground cover. Under this scenario, it will be the Iraqis taking most of the bullets, although if Vietnam is any indication, there will still be a lot of US casualties, since US troops will still be involved in combat. In the less than ideal scenario, these US advisors will be advising in name only and will in actuality still be doing most of the fighting. Obviously, which scenario plays out depends a lot on how representative the US-installed government is considered to be by the Iraqi people.
Once again, if Vietnam is any indication-and it seems to be in terms of the broader strategy being employed by the US-the Iraqi government will not be able to address the hopes and concerns of the Iraqis because of its reliance on Washington and the insurgency will become broader and even more deadly. Then, the only role that the advisors will have will be to protect their own and consequently involve themselves in the day-to-day combat in the country.
In his 2005 State of the Union address, George Bush hinted at a US exit strategy from Iraq. It’s not like he said that US troops would be back home by June or even December of this year. He did, however, seem to express the hope that the so-called elections of January 30, 2005 would somehow translate into some kind of honorable way to extricate most US troops from that country. Meanwhile, from the other side of his mouth, Mr. Bush restated that US troops would not be tied to a timetable, even if asked to provide one by the new political leaders in Baghdad. In fact, the only way the US will remove its troops from Iraq is if the people of the United States insist on it to such an extent that the people in Congress have no choice but to respond to our demands.
Right now, with many US residents fooled by the mainstream media’s presentation of the Iraqi election as being fair and representative, the war party has some time to figure out what to do next. One assumes that Bush and his Congress hope that the boasts of their man Allawi regarding the defeat of the insurgency pan out. If they did, then the US military could pull back to its system of bases in Iraq and wait for their next orders to attack. Somehow, I don’t think this is likely to happen. If previous patterns of the insurgents are any indication (and I admit one can’t honestly tell from where I sit), they are not going away and will probably begin their battle sooner rather than later.
Additionally, if the patterns of the US occupation continue, the new National Assembly will soon realize how little power it actually has, especially if it tries to establish its legitimacy outside of the parameters set by the occupation authorities. This realization will cause some of its members to throw their lot in with the occupiers. It will cause others-in fact, probably most of its members-to reject the occupation to varying degrees.
As for the general population, if they perceive that their votes were a waste of their time and energy because their electricity still doesn’t work and US troops are still breaking into their houses and arresting and killing their menfolk and whoever else gets in their way, one can expect a general radicalization. Popular demonstrations against the occupation will increase in size and frequency and the armed insurgency will grow. This time around it wouldn’t be limited to one particular segment of the populace like it seems to be today (albeit a substantial segment).
Military advisors won’t be able to step away from the combat very much should this happen. Instead, they will find themselves trying to motivate the Iraqi forces under their command and, at the least, keep those troops from either quitting or joining the other side. Should Iraq spiral downward into civil war, US advisers won’t be doing much advising either. They’ll be too busy fighting.
Whether the lines divide along religious and ethnic differences or solely around the question of those who support the US-installed regime and those who don’t, any outbreak of civil war will be violent and bloody. Since Washington has so much invested in the country and their military operations there already, the world can be pretty certain that an Iraqi civil war would mean greater US involvement, not less. After all, that oil and all it portends is still there and Washington has no intention of letting anybody have it unless they give them the go-ahead.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org