In Iraq forever?

Battle expected in Congress over Bush’s long-term Iraq stay



The online activism group MoveOn.org has launched an “Iraq/Recession” campaign, aiming to “make sure that politicians and pundits understand what voters already know: As long as we keep pouring that money down the drain in Iraq, we won’t have the money we need to solve our economic woes.”

With the war costing Americans more than $338 million a day, MoveOn says, “The tradeoffs are stark: Bombs or unemployment insurance for people laid off as the economy slows? Billions for Halliburton and Blackwater, or help for people on the verge of losing their homes because of the subprime meltdown?”

Urging people to raise the issue in letters to their local newspapers, MoveOn says, “More and more Americans are making the connection between the billions we’ve spent over there and the crumbling economy here at home.”

But, even as the Iraq price tag approaches $500 billion so far, the Bush administration is pushing a plan for long-term involvement in Iraq that could squeeze American taxpayers and federal, state and local budgets for years to come.

Negotiations are set to start Feb. 27 between the White House and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over an open-ended military, political and economic agreement that would secure a heavy U.S. military/corporate presence in Iraq for decades. To date neither the U.S Congress nor Iraq’s Parliament has been consulted about the proposed deal.

The U.S. occupation is currently operating under a United Nations Security Council mandate that that will expire at the end of this year, as insisted on by Iraq. Negotiations on the new U.S.-Iraq agreement are supposed to be completed by July 31.

Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.) told a congressional hearing Feb. 8 that the “Declaration of Principles” announced last November for the agreement “suggests an indefinite U.S. military presence in Iraq.” The proposed agreement is “not just about military commitments,” he noted, but also includes “a political and economic agenda that involves serious and possibly open-ended obligations.”

Delahunt chairs a House foreign affairs subcommittee that has held three hearings so far to try open up public debate on the agreement.

After months of administration stonewalling, Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried to pacify congressional opposition, telling the House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 6 that the U.S.-Iraq agreement would not include any commitment to defend Iraq militarily and would not specify permanent U.S. bases.

That did not impress Joseph Gerson, director of programs at the American Friends Service Committee in New England, which is working on an anti-military-bases campaign. Gates assures us the U.S. military presence in Iraq is “not permanent,” said Gerson, “but neither is the Great Wall of China or the pyramids in Egypt, and they’re still there.”

It is important to remember that Bush’s original goals in Iraq were not only to gain control over Iraq’s oil but also consolidate long-term control over the entire region’s oil and geopolitics, Gerson told the World. The Bush administration is planning for 14 long-term military bases in Iraq, he said. The aim is to “turn Iraq into a virtual unsinkable aircraft carrier for the U.S.”

Salam Ali, a spokesperson for Iraq’s influential Communist Party, said the issue has not been adequately discussed by Iraq’s cabinet or lawmakers. He warned that the U.S. could steamroller ill-prepared Iraqi negotiators into a deal that would not only allow an enduring U.S. military presence, but also entrench U.S. corporate interests in Iraq.

Any agreement Ali emphasized, “should provide a timetable for withdrawal.” In addition, he said, Iraq has to regain full control over its oil revenues, which are still being administered by a UN-mandated fund dominated by the U.S., International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Echoing the concerns raised by U.S. lawmakers, Ali said that in Iraq, “you cannot at all just sign an agreement without referring to Parliament. All stages of negotiations have to be transparent, not behind closed doors without the Iraqi people knowing what’s going on.”

In the U.S., the battle over the proposed agreement could become “the principal focus of Democratic opposition to the war this year,” Gerson said.

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both called for requiring the administration to obtain congressional approval for any long-term agreement with Iraq.

Noting that “the financial cost of this war is well on its way to a trillion dollars — with no end in sight,” Delahunt assailed the administration for trying to block Congress from weighing in.

On Feb. 11, 50 House members sent a letter to President Bush saying the administration” must engage with Congress on long-term agreements on Iraq.”

Republican presidential contender John McCain emphasizes his support for a long-term U.S. occupation of Iraq. However, staking his campaign on the claimed success of Bush’s troop surge could be a problem for McCain, says Foreign Policy magazine commentator Blake Hounshell. In a blog at the journal’s web site, Hounshell writes, “Most voters have made up their minds about Iraq: They want to leave, recent success be damned. That sentiment will only increase as the economy sours and calls grow to spend that $10 billion a month at home.”

suewebb@pww.org