Saturday, November 22, 2008

On withdrawing from Iraq - it's all about "stuff"

[Photo of Camp Victory dining room]

It's difficult to ascertain exactly what's going on with the US/Iraqi pact to withdraw US troops in Iraq. At last report, it would appear that the Iraqi government and the Bush administration have agreed to pull out US troops from Iraqi cities by 2009 and from the entire country by 2011.

However, there are substantive, unresolved issues still aboil. According to, one MP from the Iraqi National List is arguing against the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) because it does not guarantee Iraq's sovereignty. The agreement allows for ground troops to remain in Iraq until 2011 and there has been no consensus as to how many bases the US should retain in Iraq, or on the matter of immunity from prosecution for US personnel, or on an exact withdrawal timetable.

President-elect Obama has noted he wants US forces gone from Iraq within 16 months of his administration taking office.

None of this may matter at all.

As Tom Engelhardt notes in an Asian Times article titled "Stuff happens in Iraq," US withdrawal from Iraq "has nothing to do with the vicissitudes of Iraqi politics, the relative power of Shi'ites or Sunnis, the influence of Iran, or even the riptides of war. It really doesn't matter what Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki or oppositional cleric Muqtada al-Sadr think about it. In fact, [it]... has nothing to do with Iraq and everything to do with the American way of war (and life) ... "

Engelhardt refers to a comment made recently by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mike Mullen: "We have 150,000 troops in Iraq right now. We have lots of bases. We have an awful lot of equipment that's there. And so we would have to look at all of that tied to, obviously, the conditions that are there, literally the security conditions ... Clearly, we'd want to be able to do it safely."

To get all our troops and "stuff" out of Iraq would take, according to Mullen, not less than "two or three years."

In other words, the 16-month timetable is "physically impossible," no matter what the major players desire. Again from Engelhardt:

"We have too much stuff to leave Iraq any time soon. In war, as in peace, we're trapped by our own profligacy. We are the Neiman Marcus and the Wal-Mart of combat. Where we go, our 'stuff' goes with us - in such prodigious quantities that removing it is going to prove more daunting than invading in the first place. ...

"Some have estimated ... that simply getting each of the 14 combat brigades still stationed in Iraq on January 20, 2009, out with all their equipment might take up to 75 days per brigade. (If you do the math, that's 36 months, and even that wouldn't suffice if you wanted to remove everything else we now have in that California-sized country.)"

When we invaded Iraq, we moved in to stay. "On taking Iraq, they [the military] promptly began constructing a series of gigantic military bases, American ziggurats meant to outlast them. These were full-scale 'American towns', well-guarded, 22-32 kilometers around, with multiple PXes, fitness clubs, brand fast-food outlets, traffic lights, the works. (This, in a country where, for years after the invasion, nothing worked.)

Not only so, but then we put up a gazillion-dollar American Embassy in the middle of Baghdad, "safely" enscounced in the Green Zone, so 1,000 plus diplomats could do their work in luxurious comfort.

In other words, we have dumped loads of stuff in Iraq that has to be brought back home. One US Air Force expert noted our "stuff" includes "10,000 flatbed trucks, 1,000 tanks and 20,000 Humvees ... and the 300,000 'heavy' items that would have to be shipped back, such as ice-cream machines that churn out different flavors upon request at a dozen bases..."

That's only part of it. We've got tons of high-tech gear, computers, furniture, a/c units, generators, water plants. There are PXes full of stuff, gyms full of stuff, Burger Kings and Subways.

Then there's all that contractor "stuff" - "millions of tons of contractor equipment that belongs to the United States government ... "

Of course, we could leave it all there: let the Iraqis have it; bury it in the sand; take stuff out on ships and dump it in the ocean. We've done that before.

Ironically, the American dream followed our troops to Iraq and now we've got to figure out how to bring it all back home. That is the most important factor in any withdrawal timetable. Timetables are nice but unless they're related to moving stuff, they are not much use.

We are constrained by our "stuff."

Mr. Engelhardt offers a number of pithy and insightful comments on this mess and you can read his entire article here.

And here's a listing of U.S. bases in Iraq.

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