The last US combat brigade has left Iraq, but 50,000 US troops and thousands more foreign mercenaries remain in the country to preserve US strategic and economic interests, reports Ultán Gillen.
In the early hours of Thursday 19th August, the last US combat brigade crossed the border from Iraq into Kuwait. As the soldiers of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division prepared to leave, their commanding officer informed them “Operation Iraqi Freedom ends on your watch”. For the second time, the US has declared that the war in Iraq is over.
The reality, however, is not so simple. The US has not left, and is not leaving Iraq in the near future. Only 7% of the US troops in Iraq the morning of the withdrawal left. 50,000 US troops – over one third of the US force occupying Iraq at its height in 2007 – are scheduled to stay in the country until the end of 2011. They will advise Iraqi forces, and “protect US interests”. The Iraqi government can call upon them for combat operations, and they can open fire if attacked. Some 5,000 special forces troops will also remain, officially to train Iraqi forces. Operation Iraqi Freedom may be over; Operation New Dawn is in full swing. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to have seen either the last dead US soldier in Iraq or the last Iraqi civilian die at the hands of US soldiers.
The withdrawal is a sleight-of-hand in more ways than one. 3,500 private mercenaries will arrive in Iraq to replace the combat brigade that has just withdrawn. They will join the many thousands that are already there, employed to protect foreign diplomats, business interests, and even troops. These private armies have been a central plank of the occupation of Iraq, and have already given more than enough evidence of their contempt for civilian lives and the rule of law there. So badly have mercenaries behaved in Afghanistan that the Afghan government has recently announced that they must all disarm and disband.
Explaining the decision to leave such a massive force of troops in Iraq, US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley stated that the US had a trillion-dollar investment in Iraq that had to be protected and that the memory of the 4,415 US troops who have died in Iraq must be honoured. What exactly are these US interests that must be protected?
We are not just talking about US government officials in Iraq. Nor even the US firms that operate in Iraq. We are, of course, talking about oil. Advanced capitalist societies are dependent upon cheap oil. This is especially true of the US, where voters are used to much cheaper petrol prices than in Europe. Iraq is predicted to quadruple oil production in the next decade. Foreign companies will make billions, while the lifestyles of the rich countries can remain the same. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died and unemployment there nears 40%. The effects of the war are here to stay, and well beyond 2011.