when the dust clears

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Operation Kitten Lips

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I’ve heard a lot about who’s leaving Iraq and who’s already left. Video of 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division crossing the border into Kuwait was … striking. But I’ve heard next to nothing about which units, exactly, are staying behind after September 1, 2010, and which fresh troops will be rotated in. When I requested a list of units participating in “Operation New Dawn”—the rechristened “Operation Iraqi Freedom”—I got this from US Forces-Iraq:

In response to your query on the units participating in Operation New Dawn, we will have in place Advise and Assist Brigades (AAB) that will partner with Iraqi Security Forces and continue to enhance the capabilities of Iraqi units. I can give you a few examples of these units, such as elements of 1st Armored Division in USD-Central, 1st Infantry Division in USD-South, and 3rd Infantry Division in USD-North, to name a few.

[USD stands for United States Division.]

DoD usually announces upcoming deployments, and at least one has been posted to defense.gov: About 2,700 Minnesota Army National Guard troops from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, are scheduled to flow in the summer of 2011.

I don’t mind assembling the pieces of the Iraq deployment puzzle, but I wanted a comprehensive list from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Such information should be made both public and prominent so that folks—and by folks I mean Americans—are reminded that men and women from specific units and specific places are still in Iraq and will be for another 16 months (and possibly longer). And though we have been told that the US military has transitioned from combat to advising and assisting, the new mission is very similar to the old one. As Major General Stephen R. Lanza of US Forces-Iraq put in an interview with Rachel Maddow (!): “We’ll still continue to partner to support counterterrorism operations for the Iraqi Security Forces…. We will continue to support Provincial Reconstruction Teams that work for the State Department, with their job to build civil capacity and develop civil institutions, and still support the United Nations and nongovernmental officials.”

“Counterterrorism operations” means, among other things, shooting and getting shot at. And in some cases, so does supporting Provincial Reconstruction Teams, because they sometimes venture into places where they are not welcome.

A close look at DoD’s press releases starkly illustrates that combat hasn’t ended. Amid the more numerous service members killed in Afghanistan, one finds soldiers killed in Iraq. A 24-year-old Army sergeant with 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA, was killed on August 22 in Basrah. He “died of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit using indirect fire.” His home was Kirksville, MO. On the day that stunning video of Fourth Brigade, Second ID’s border crossing filled our TV and computer screens, another 24-year-old soldier, a specialist from Palmyra, NJ, died “of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his vehicle with grenades.”

And what about Iraqis?  Here’s a bulletin from Task Force Marne [this item is no longer on TF Marne’s website] a unit now in Iraq: “Although there have been 17 attacks today in Task Force Marne’s area of operations, no U.S. Soldiers were affected. Sadly, our Iraqi partners were the victims of these attacks today. All were against the Iraqi Police, innocent civilians, and some Iraqi Army, with some deaths and several wounded. Again, though no U.S. Soldiers have been killed or wounded, our Iraqi brethren bore the brunt of today’s attacks.”

“Bombers and gunmen killed at least 43 Iraqis in more than two dozen attacks across the country Wednesday, mostly targeting security forces and rekindling memories of the days when insurgents ruled the streets,” NPR’s Baghdad bureau reported. So much for protecting our “brethren.”

Changing the name of the mission from Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn (or Kitten Lips or Hugs ’n’ Snuggles) and retagging some of the units “Advise and Assist Brigades” is more semantic than substantive, a kind of aspirational renaming. Just because we say combat has ended doesn’t make it so.

This “drawdown,” which leaves 56,000 US troops in the country (dropping to 50,000 in the coming weeks) and commits more private military contractors, seems to be the clearest element of our amorphous Iraq policy. Our national strategy continues to off-load responsibility to the Iraqis for their own security. That’s as it should be at this point. But there’s more to it. This sloughing off also seems to exclude robust and specific commitments to help repair Iraq after seven-plus years of a war we started. The basic facts of Iraqi life–limited access to potable water and sanitation, food insecurity, epidemic unemployment–are abysmal.

“[W]e are also ramping up a civilian-led effort to help ensure Iraq remains stable, sovereign, and self-reliant,” Vice President Joe Biden said in an address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars 111th National Convention yesterday in Indianapolis (emphasis added). “We will continue to help strengthen its economic and political institutions, foster new ties of trade and commerce, and support Iraq’s return to its rightful place in the region and the broader community of nations.” Not much in the way of specificity here—and no mention of where those civilian leaders are going to come from.

President Obama emailed a missive to the White House list that segues quickly from the drawdown to “building a 21st century Department of Veterans Affairs.” That’s a vital issue, but it kind of skips the what-now-in-Iraq step.

I wrote this a year and a half ago, a few weeks after President Obama announced his Iraq strategy:

So where do we go from here? Perhaps more precisely, where can we go realistically? At best, our policy will help us identify and empower Iraqi stakeholders, alleviate suffering, and perhaps mitigate violence that will probably accompany a U.S. withdrawal. At worst, Obama’s administration will simply offer fig leaves to cover a rapid departure.

“The Agenda – Iraq,” posted to the White House website just after the new president took office, promised a relatively speedy, though ill-defined, “withdrawal” from Iraq. A “residual force” would conduct counterterrorism missions and protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel, among them private contractors (many of whom are now rapidly being converted into government employees). President Obama also committed to providing $2 billion to expand services for Iraq’s refugees and internally displaced and to launch “an aggressive diplomatic effort … with Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria.”

Then—poof! After the President’s February 27 Iraq policy speech at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, the above specifics evaporated from the White House website [thank heavens for Versionista]. They were replaced by a vague “three-part strategy” for Iraq: removing combat brigades over an 18-month stretch, “sustained diplomacy,” and “comprehensive engagement across the region.” Furthermore, in the Lejeune address the president spoke of leaving behind a force of some 35,000 to 50,000 troops after the August 2010 withdrawal of “combat” troops. That’s a lot of boots on the ground.

Whether the president is back-pedaling remains to be seen. Perhaps he’s simply dialing back on specificity to give himself more political wiggle room to plow ahead quietly in Iraq. I am trying to hold on to my nascent hope that this is the case. If I were to dream big, President Obama would explicitly renounce the Bush doctrine of preventive/preemptive war. That’s probably pie in the sky, but it’s certainly a goal worth pushing for. To make amends for the damage we have unleashed in and inflicted on Iraq, he could take a page from Jeremy Scahill, who in 2007 recommended that the U.S. withdraw and pay reparations to the Iraqi people.

Much of that hope shriveled in light of the Obama administration’s fervent embrace of conventional wisdom, which counsels using military force to resolve situations that have proven utterly resistant to such force. The United States should do more than declare victory then go home, as the Vietnam-era saying goes. We owe the Iraqi people—and the fallen US troops who took part in a mission called Iraqi Freedom—more than a fig leaf.

ENDS

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Written by bxpnyc

2010/08/26 at 05:41

One Response

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  1. […] Read the piece in full here. […]


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