A Real Withdrawal of Troops:
Since President Obama has taken office only 30,000 troops have left Iraq. 134,000 remain, just slightly fewer than the number of troops that were in Iraq in 2003. Present planning would leave these numbers well above 100,000 until 2010.
The June 30, 2009 deadline for American soldiers to be out of Iraqi cities finds many troops still there. 3,000 troops stationed within Baghdad at Forward Operating Base Falcon will remain because their commanders have determined that they are not within the city. Thousands of other troops will continue to operate in the cities but their presence will be redefined as “advisory” and “support” roles.
As many as 50,000 military personnel will remain in Iraq after the December 31, 2011 deadline for withdrawal. Their presence will also be defined as “advisory” and they may stay indefinitely. Congress has passed a war spending bill that contains money for new military construction; entirely new military bases are being constructed outside the Iraqi cities.
The original intent of setting deadlines for withdrawal of troops from the cities was to reduce the U.S. military role and to begin a drawdown of U.S. troops in the country. Neither of these are happening; loopholes are being used to keep U.S. troops in place and actively involved in the fighting. The U.S. government should live up to the letter of the Status of Forces Agreement, withdraw its troops from active involvement in the fighting and draw down the number of troops in the country.¹
End the Use of Contractors:
Another loophole in the SOFA agreement is the failure to address private contractors. According to a March 2009 report by Central Command, there are some 136,000 contractors in Iraq of which 36,000 are American. The Pentagon has failed to keep control over these forces, although the Blackwater scandals prompted the Department of Defense to issue stricter guidelines for contractors. (The CENTCOM report notes a 23% increase in the number armed contractors under DoD contract but attributes this to “our improved ability to account for subcontractors who are providing security services.”)
Although the SOFA now brings private contractors under the jurisdiction of Iraqi law, they have committed serious crimes in Iraq and remained untouchable by the law due to a combination of international treaties, jurisdictional loopholes and bureaucratic confusion. Independent contractors should be withdrawn from Iraq.²
Aid to Iraqi Refugees:
Several million Iraqis have fled the fighting and live in poor conditions in neighboring countries. According to the International Rescue Committee, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is outdated and under-funded and is resettling Iraqi refugees into poverty rather than helping rebuild their lives in the country that offered them sanctuary.
The IRC’s new report, “Iraqi Refugees in the United States: In Dire Straits,” claims that resettlement continues to a critical for thousands of at-risk Iraqi refugees who are living in precarious conditions in exile and unable to return home safely. Yet the federal program no longer meets their basic needs and requires urgent reform. “The resettlement program in the United States fails individuals with high levels of vulnerability, especially during difficult economic times,” the report states.³
While reconstruction efforts have produced some successes, serious problems remain with the implementation of internationally funded efforts. These include inadequate security, pervasive corruption, insufficient funding and poor coordination among international agencies and local communities. Many suggest that the efforts were hampered by a poor understanding of Iraq on the part of the occupiers. Typifying the poor control over these efforts was the loss of 285 pallets loaded with cash sent by the US government.
The reconstruction effort needs to be overhauled to improve accountability to guarantee that the money is actually being spent on necessary reconstruction projects4.
- “U.S. Troops Are Leaving Iraqi Cities Tomorrow? Think Again.” www.alternet.org/world/140973/u.s._troops_are_leaving_iraqi_cities_tomorrow_think_again
- “Obama Has 250,000 ‘Contractors’ in Iraq and Afghan Wars, Increases Number of Mercenaries, Common Dreams.” www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/06/01-6.(DoD reports on Contractors can be located here).
- “Iraqi Refugees in the United States: In Dire Straits,” The International Rescue Committee. www.theirc.org/resources/2009/irc_report_iraqcommission.pdf
- “How the US sent $12bn in cash to Iraq. And watched it vanish,” The Guardian. www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/feb/08/usa.iraq1