By James Cogan
14 July 2011
The Obama administration's recently installed defense secretary, Leon
Panetta, flew unannounced into Iraq on Monday to pressure the Iraqi
government to finalise a formal treaty to sanction the continued
occupation of the country by American forces.
Panetta, the former head of the CIA, met with Prime Minister Nouri
al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and the president of the
autonomous Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani. The key issue discussed
was the December 31 expiry of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)
signed between the Bush administration and Maliki's government in late
Barely five months before the SOFA ends, no new agreement has been
reached to legitimise the US military presence in Iraq.
Last Thursday, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral
Mike Mullen, had confidently told journalists in Washington that talks
were underway to finalise a new pact. On Saturday, following a meeting
of Iraqi parliamentary leaders, Talabani had declared they would come
to a consensus within two weeks to extend the American presence into
2012. This was immediately downplayed by Maliki's media advisor,
however. He complained that the meeting had been dominated by
"partisan or religious stances" and no unified position was likely to
be achieved any time soon.
After meeting with Iraqi leaders on Monday, Panetta publicly vented
the frustration he had clearly conveyed to Maliki and others over the
impasse. He told an assembly of US troops in Baghdad: "Do they want us
to stay? Don't they want us to stay? Damn it, make a decision!"
The Obama administration has no intention of removing American troops
at the end of the year. After more than eight years of military
operations and as much as $3 trillion in war-related spending,
Washington is determined to realise the objectives behind the illegal
invasion in 2003—dominance over the country's vast energy resources
and the establishment of a compliant puppet state in the heart of the
Some 46,000 US military personnel are still occupying 53 bases
throughout Iraq, including the strategic Balad air base in the north
and the Ali or Tallil air base in the south. American aircraft also
continue to use the Al Asad air base in the western province of Anbar.
The immediate US objective is to ensure long-term access to these
bases and maintain a garrison of between 10,000 and 30,000 troops. The
military force would complement the political operations of the US
embassy, which dominates Baghdad's central "Green Zone." Larger than
Vatican City, the embassy has its own power plant and a staff of some
5,500 officials, marines, elite special forces units and intelligence
agents. As many as 50 aircraft and helicopters are located within its
heavily fortified walls.
US ambassador James Jeffrey earlier this month requested $6.2 billion
from Congress to cover the embassy's operations in 2012. In subsequent
comments, he stressed the importance of Iraq to the US, highlighting
its energy reserves. He told journalists that Iraq was on a "glide
path" to dramatically increase its oil production. He noted that
"there's no other source of millions of new barrels [of oil] in the
pipeline anywhere in the world."
Moreover, Jeffrey stated, Iraq was "the only source of enough gas for
Europe to become more diversified in energy sources," noting that
"Azeri gas is not sufficient, Turkmen gas is many years off."
Jeffrey's comment underscored US concerns over the growing dependence
of Western Europe on Russian supplies of gas. The war on Libya has
been driven by similar geo-political considerations.
This week, European transnational Royal Dutch Shell announced a $12.5
billion investment in a joint-venture gas production project in
Every wing of the Iraqi elite has proven willing to serve these
predatory interests. In various ways, they have all accommodated to
the US invasion in return for a parasitic existence derived from the
oil industry. Iraq is ranked among the four most corrupt countries in
the world, with billions in oil revenue plundered every year, while
unemployment and underemployment is as high as 50 percent and poverty
Maliki's government—an unstable coalition of his Da'wa Party, the
Kurdish nationalist parties and the Shiite fundamentalist Sadrist
movement led by Moqtada al-Sadr—is nevertheless nervous about signing
a new agreement and has delayed it as long as possible.
The Iraqi elites are acutely aware that the majority of Iraqis are
bitterly opposed to a continued American military presence. The US
occupation destroyed much of the country's infrastructure, and
fomented ethnic and sectarian conflict in order to divide and rule the
population. Over one million Iraqis have lost their lives and millions
more have been injured or psychologically traumatised. The large scale
resistance that followed the invasion was literally drowned in blood.
There are also signs of escalating unrest over living standards and
democratic rights. Class and social questions are starting to emerge,
undoubtedly inspired in part by the mass upheavals taking place in
Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.
Protests in the Kurdish north in February demanding democratic rights
were suppressed by the autocratic Kurdish authority. Workers in the
southern oilfields threatened strike action in May until they were
paid substantial wage rises. Unemployed youth have demonstrated in
Basra and Baghdad.
In their comments, Panetta and Mullen both used an upsurge in attacks
on US troops to revive long-standing accusations that Iran is
supplying missiles and other munitions to Shiite-based militias. Three
missiles were fired into the Green Zone as Panetta arrived to hold
talks with Maliki. Panetta declared: "We're very concerned about Iran
and the weapons they're providing to extremists in Iraq. We cannot sit
back and simply allow this to continue ... It's something we're going
to take on head on."
The accusations against Tehran—which it again categorically
denied—feed into the central argument that is being fashioned in both
Washington and the Iraqi establishment: that American forces must
remain to serve as a deterrent to alleged Iranian attempts to dominate
the country. Mullen told a press conference that Iraqi security forces
would face "clear capability gaps" if the US withdrew and Baghdad
would "need help" for years with its air force and intelligence.
Within 24 hours of Panetta's talks with Maliki on Monday, the Wall
Street Journal reported that the Iraqi government had reversed a
decision made earlier in the year not to purchase US F-16 fighter
aircraft. The newspaper claimed Iraq was now moving to purchase
between 18 and 36 of the fighters, in a multi-billion dollar deal that
would "counter Iranian influences and cement long-term ties with
Baghdad after American troops pull out." The deal would include
"parts, spares, training and related weaponry"—requiring an ongoing US
The Wall Street Journal editorial on Wednesday demanded that the Obama
administration and the Maliki government rapidly settle the question
of a new status of forces agreement, in order to block "Iran's designs
The editorial declared: "America's continued troop presence can fill
in security gaps and provide a stabilising influence in Iraq and the
region. The US has kept troops in South Korea and Japan for six
decades after the end of the wars there, and a similar presence in
Iraq might be as salutary... A long-term security relationship with
Iraq can best ensure that the sacrifices made in the last decade
The Journal editorial sums up the designs of the American ruling
elite—it intends Iraq to remain a de-facto US colony for decades to