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Imperial Overreach Is Accelerating the Global Decline of America

March 30th, 2006 - by admin

Martin Jacques / Guardian – 2006-03-30 23:32:27

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1740893,00.html

(March 28, 2006) — “Our power, then, has the grave liability of rendering our theories about the world immune from failure. But by becoming deaf to easily discerned warning signs, we may ignore long-term costs that result from our actions and dismiss reverses that should lead to a re-examination of our goals and means.”

These are the words of Henry Hyde, chairman of the House international relations committee and a Republican congressman, in a recent speech. Hyde argues that such is the overweening power of the US that it may not hear or recognise the signals when its policy goes badly wrong, a thinly veiled reference to Iraq. He then takes issue with the idea that the US can export democracy around the world as deeply misguided and potentially dangerous.

He argues: “A broad and energetic promotion of democracy in other countries that will not enjoy our long-term and guiding presence may equate not to peace and stability but to revolution … There is no evidence that we or anyone can guide from afar revolutions we have set in motion. We can more easily destabilise friends and others and give life to chaos and to avowed enemies than ensure outcomes in service of our interests and security.”

It is clear that the US occupation of Iraq has been a disaster from almost every angle one can think of, most of all for the Iraqi people, not least for American foreign policy. The unpicking of the imperial logic that led to it has already commenced: Hyde’s speech is an example, and so is Francis Fukuyama’s new book After the Neocons, a merciless critique of Bush’s foreign policy and the school of thought that lay behind it.

The war was a delayed product of the end of the cold war and the triumphalist mentality that imbued the neocons and eventually seduced the US. But triumphalism is a dangerous brew, more suited to intoxication than hard-headed analysis. And so it has proved. The US still has to reap the whirlwind for its stunning feat of imperial overreach.

In becoming so catastrophically engaged in the Middle East, making the region its overwhelming global priority, it downgraded the importance of everywhere else, taking its eye off the ball in a crucial region such as east Asia, which in the long run will be far more important to the US’s strategic interests than the Middle East. As such, the Iraqi adventure represented a major misreading of global trends and how they are likely to impact on the US.

Hyde is clearly thinking in these terms: “We are well advanced into an unformed era in which new and unfamiliar enemies are gathering forces, where a phalanx of aspiring competitors must inevitably constrain and focus options. In a world where the ratios of strength narrow, the consequences of miscalculation will become progressively more debilitating. The costs of golden theories [by which he means the worldwide promotion of democracy] will be paid for in the base coin of our interests.”

The promotion of the idea of the war against terror as the central priority of US policy had little to do with the actual threat posed by al-Qaida, which was always hugely exaggerated by the Bush administration, as events over the last four and a half years have shown.

Al-Qaida never posed a threat to the US except in terms of the odd terrorist outrage. Making it the central thrust of US foreign policy, in other words, had nothing to do with the al-Qaida threat and everything to do with the Bush administration seeking to mobilise US public opinion behind a neoconservative foreign policy.

There followed the tenuous – in reality nonexistent – link with Saddam, which provided in large measure the justification for the invasion of Iraq, an act which now threatens to unravel the bizarre adventurism, personified by Donald Rumsfeld, which has been the hallmark of Bush foreign policy since 9/11. The latter has come unstuck in the killing fields of Iraq in the most profound way imaginable.

Hyde alludes to a new “unformed” world and “a phalanx of aspiring competitors”. On this he is absolutely right. The world is in the midst of a monumental process of change that, within the next 10 years or so, could leave the US as only the second largest economy in the world after China and commanding, with the rise of China and India, a steadily contracting share of global output.

It will no longer be able to boss the world around in the fashion of the neoconservative dream: its power to do so will be constrained by the power of others, notably China, while it will also find it increasingly difficult to fund the military and diplomatic costs of being the world’s sole superpower. If the US is already under financial pressure from its twin deficits and the ballooning costs of Iraq, then imagine the difficulties it will find itself in within two decades in a very different kind of world.

Hyde concludes by warning against the delusions of triumphalism and cautioning that the future should not be seen as an extension of the present: “A few brief years ago, history was proclaimed to be at an end, our victory engraved in unyielding stone, our pre-eminence garlanded with permanence. But we must remember that Britain’s majestic rule vanished in a few short years, undermined by unforeseen catastrophic events and by new threats that eventually overwhelmed the palisades of the past.

The life of pre-eminence, as with all life on this planet, has a mortal end. To allow our enormous power to delude us into seeing the world as a passive thing waiting for us to recreate it in an image of our choosing will hasten the day when we have little freedom to choose anything at all.”

That the world will be very different within the next two decades, if not rather sooner, is clear; yet there is scant recognition of this fact and what it might mean — not least in our own increasingly provincial country. The overwhelming preoccupation of the Bush administration (and Blair for that matter) with Iraq, the Middle East and Islam, speaks of a failure to understand the deeper forces that are reshaping the world and an overriding obsession with realising and exploiting the US’s temporary status as the sole global superpower. Such a myopic view can only hasten the decline of the US as a global power, a process that has already started.

The Bush administration stands guilty of an extraordinary act of imperial overreach which has left the US more internationally isolated than ever before, seriously stretched financially, and guilty of neglect in east Asia and elsewhere. Iraq was supposed to signal the US’s new global might: in fact, it may well prove to be a harbinger of its decline. And that decline could be far more precipitous than anyone has previously reckoned.

Once the bubble of US power has been pricked, in a global context already tilting in other directions, it could deflate rather more quickly than has been imagined. Hyde’s warnings should be taken seriously.

Martin Jacques is a senior visiting research fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore Martinjacques@aol.com

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

After Iraq, Arabs Wary of ‘Western’ Democracy

March 30th, 2006 - by admin

Meena Janardhan / Inter Press Service – 2006-03-30 23:29:25

http://www.antiwar.com/ips/janardhan.php?articleid=8775

DUBAI (March 29, 2006) — In the evolving debate on reforms, Arab intellectuals and common people continue to emphasize the need for culture- and region-specific democratic reforms in the Middle East, and strongly oppose the imposition of Western models.

Highlighting the difficulty of implementing a Western tailor-made process without heeding local and regional circumstances, Omro Hamzawi, senior fellow at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “The availability of a democratic model that can be exported everywhere is nonsense and has no moral credibility because of the US tragedies and disasters in Iraq.”

“Democracy,” said Hamzawi, “is a popular demand in some countries [but] not so in the Gulf region, as the people don’t suffer severe economic problems and have different concerns. The situation here is completely different, and each case should be handled separately. Democracy is unacceptable if it affects the culture it is meant to govern in a negative way.”

Stated the secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Abdul Rahman bin Hamad al-Attiyah, at a conference organized by the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, earlier this month: “The more we try to find homegrown solutions for [regional] crises, while avoiding the image of reforming under foreign pressure, the more successful we will be in achieving reforms and realistic policies.”

Suggesting areas that require immediate focus, al-Attiyah said, “Domestically, there should be a way to effectively implement a policy of modernization and combat social problems such as poverty and illiteracy, while embarking on a path towards democratization and activating the role of civil society organizations.”

While the reforms debate is invariably linked to the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the past, Iraq is now increasingly cited as an example of how “foreign” solutions are not suited for the region.

Stating that the war in Iraq and the US pressures on the Middle East countries were having a negative impact, Bourhan Ghalioun, director of the Paris-based Center for Contemporary Oriental Studies at the Sorbonne University, said, “Since the US administration came up with its plan to promote democracy in the Middle East and to stir economic development in the region in order to encounter the ‘culture’ that breeds terrorism, the administration made deadly mistakes because it linked its project with protecting Israeli interests.”

He explained: “The war to democratize Iraq was the most valuable gift the American administration has ever given the dictator regimes in the Arab world. It is a practical example of what democracy means as seen by the Americans. Arab nations see the war in Iraq as an exercise to secure oil supplies from the region and to destroy an Arab country for the best interests of Israel.”

Even ordinary citizens believe that, while new and innovative ideas and viewpoints must be considered, local cultural and social conditions must be at the forefront while conceptualizing reforms for the region.

Amer Moustafa, an Arab working in an oil company, said, “Many countries in the region have new leaders, and they are taking constructive steps in improving the political systems. But democracy cannot be achieved in a short period. It will be successful only if it is planned in stages and takes our culture into account. Simply following a Western model will be disastrous.”

Some experts, however, insist that a combination of Western ideals and internal reforms would achieve the right balance, and urge countries in the region to keep an open mind while contemplating reforms.

While agreeing that pressure will not work, Dawood al-Azdi, an academic, reiterated that Arab nations should cooperate with the West rather than getting involved in conflict. “Our success in democratization lies in creating a forum for multilateral dialogue, which can create an atmosphere of mutual trust.”

Al-Azdi suggested that Arabs could adapt India’s democratic system. “They [the Indians] have their problems and they are addressing them, and we too should address ours. We can start from the beginning by uprooting corruption and adopting transparency.”

Ghalioun said he would go with “pressure,” but with a difference. “It is crucial for reforms in the Arab world because civil society organizations are weak,” he said. “It would perhaps be more acceptable if this pressure was exerted on Arab regimes by international bodies such as the United Nations rather than by the US.”

The current debate also suggests that while reforms are best served if they are implemented by the governments themselves, depending on their determination and preparedness, they should not be hastily rejected if enforced by foreign parties.

Experts, however, warn that the reform process could face several obstacles. Some stress that reformists should focus their efforts on education to achieve reforms in the Arab world, as people in the region have developed an “unjustifiable paranoia” against all kinds of reforms, including education, as the project has been promoted by Western governments following the September 2001 attacks on the US.

Ebrahim Guider, director general of the Cairo-based Arab Labor Organization, said Arabs also need to achieve economic development to overcome the problem of rising unemployment. “It is a time bomb that might explode at any time. The problem lies with corrupt governments, which are hindering the integration of Arab countries,” he said.

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Shiite leaders in Iraq denounce US

March 30th, 2006 - by admin

Nancy A. Youssef / Knight Ridder – 2006-03-30 23:26:48

http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/world/14199914.htm

BAGHDAD, Iraq (March 29, 2006) — Top Shiite political leaders condemned US forces on Monday for raiding a suspected Shiite terrorist cell in what they said was a mosque and killing more than a dozen people, exposing the growing schism between the country’s largest and most powerful sect and US officials.

Shiite leaders charged that Sunday’s raid in northeast Baghdad was an attempt by the Americans to distance themselves from the sect. They claimed that US officials were trying to give Sunnis more power than they won in the Dec. 15 election because they feared that Iraq would be controlled exclusively by Shiites, rather than shared with the Sunnis. Shiites represent 60 percent of Iraq’s population and won a near-majority of seats in the parliament.

A widespread loss of support from the Shiites could make Iraq almost impossible to govern and could put US forces stationed in Iraq in a precarious position.

“There is a policy by the American administration and its ambassador in Iraq to regain balance (between opposing Shiite and Sunni forces) by creating combating fronts,” said Salam al-Maliki, the minister of transportation and a member of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s party.

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of the Multinational Corps Iraq, said Sunday’s raid didn’t involve a mosque but an office complex that held terrorists and an Iraqi hostage.

He said about 50 Iraqi special forces members led the attack and were fired upon by insurgents protecting the compound, prompting them to return fire.

“They didn’t go in guns blazing,” Chiarelli said.

About 25 US military troops supported the Iraqi forces, but they didn’t kill anyone in the complex, US military officials said.

Identifying a mosque isn’t always easy for non-Arabic speakers, since some mosques don’t have the characteristic domes and minarets. Many Shiites, who were forbidden from building mosques during Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, converted ordinary neighborhood buildings into places of worship after the US invasion. The site of the Sunday’s raid had been recently converted into a mosque, Shiite leaders said.

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a coalition spokesman, said the complex had three buildings and that military officials determined that two were off-limits. The third, which they entered, was under constant guard, he said.

Members of the major Shiite slate, the United Iraqi Alliance, warned US officials against fighting Shiite forces.

“I warn them (the US) that a battle with the calm giant Shiite means they are falling into a dangerous swamp,” said Kuthair al-Khuzaie, a spokesman of the Shiite Dawa party, at a press conference. “The US is making things more complicated and losing their credibility among the Iraqis.”

The raid targeted Shiites, some of whom were affiliated with al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, US officials said. Al-Sadr has called for his followers to remain calm.

Since the December election – in which the United Iraqi Alliance won 10 seats short of the majority – the US envoy in Iraq has hinted that American support for the Shiites isn’t ironclad. US officials have pushed the government to rein in militias, most of which are run by Shiites.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, has said that Shiite-dominated militias must be integrated into government forces. On Saturday, he said that Shiite-led militias are creating more violence than the Sunni-led insurgency, a charge not heard before the election.

Although Shiite leaders say they want a national unity government, many aren’t willing to dismantle their militias, saying their armed factions will protect them if their party – or the government – falls apart. They’ve dismissed suggestions that the militias are contributing to the sectarian violence and instead charge that the Iraqi police and military have been infiltrated by enemy elements who are stirring up trouble.

“These militias have an honorable history in fighting the tyrant (Saddam) and supporting the political process,” al-Maliki said.

US officials believe that as long as militias remain an unchecked security faction, sectarian violence will increase, delaying the drawdown of US forces.

Since the Feb. 22 bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in the Sunni-dominated city of Samarra, retaliatory killings have surged. Dozens of bodies, mostly Sunnis, have been dumped in fields and side streets, many showing signs of torture. US officials believe members of the Mahdi Army have been behind much of the violence.

The split between the Shiites and the United States emerged after the election, when the two sides strongly disagreed over how the new Iraq should take shape, said James Denselow, an Iraq specialist at the London-based Chatham House, a foreign-policy research group.

Since the December election, “the US no longer directly influences the process,” he said. “They are battling the idea of a national unity government against the reality of a severely fractured state along sectarian lines.”

The US Embassy declined to comment on Monday.

Top leaders have been haggling over the government since the election, but Shiite leaders said they suspended negotiations after the raid.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani announced that he would lead an investigation, a common practice after major events. Iraqi officials don’t publicly release the results of their investigations.

Knight Ridder special correspondents Huda Ahmed and Ahmed Mukhtar contributed to this report.

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Analysis: Sadr Clash Ominous for US

March 30th, 2006 - by admin

Martin Sieff / UPI Senior News Analyst – 2006-03-30 23:25:24

http://www.upi.com/SecurityTerrorism/view.php?StoryID=20060329-085841-2069r

WASHINGTON, DC (March 29, 2006) — The killing of between 16 and 37 members of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite militia by US forces Sunday may herald a massive escalation of the Iraq conflict. And it could prove extremely dangerous for US forces there.

For all the ongoing ferocity and unexpected staying power of the Iraqi insurgency, up to now it has been confined to the Sunni Muslim minority of only around five million people, or 20 percent of the total population of the country. And it has been almost entirely contained within two predominantly Sunni provinces in central Iraq and in the capital Baghdad.

The Sunnis do not control any part of the more than 200,000-strong new Iraqi police and military forces. The Shiites do, through their tight grip on Iraq’s new defense and interior ministries.

But the more US forces clash with the Mahdi Army militia force of Sadr, the more they risk alienating major elements within the majority Shiite community of 15 million Iraqis, or 60 percent of the total population, that US policy has systematically empowered over the past three years.

Bush administration policymakers recognize that Sadr is ferociously anti-American and is determined to drive US forces out of Iraq. They also correctly assess him as being strongly supported with funding and even weapons by neighboring Iran.

But even the current Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad has refused to tow Washington’s line and has openly and energetically been building close security and diplomatic ties to Tehran that have been unprecedented in the entire independent history of Iraqi throughout the past century.

Also, Sadr is far from being the marginal figure in Iraqi politics and society that so many administration policymakers and their mouthpieces on American op-ed pages still insist on seeing him as. Parties that he quietly endorsed or approved did well in the Shiite community, especially across southern Iraq, in the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

And since those elections his Mahdi Army, supported by Iran, has quietly but energetically stepped up its policy of networking close organized cooperation with other Shiite militias across southern Iraq and with the backing of Iran.

British military intelligence has been monitoring this process. And the more than 8,000 strong British military contingent across previously peaceful southern Iraq has been reporting a steady process of stepped up hostility, tensions and confrontation with Shiite militia networks there.

The explosion of Shiite retaliation killings and even massacres of Sunnis in central Iraq following the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara on Feb. 22 has also served grim notice to US policymakers that the new Iraqi security forces have a will and momentum of their own and cannot be easily or automatically controlled by the US advisers and forces that did so much to help create them.

This means that US forces in Iraq are not free to act against Sadr’s forces in a local political vacuum. Indeed, within a day of the clash that killed more than a score of Sadr’s followers, the Shiite governor of Baghdad announced that he was suspending cooperation with US forces.

Some US defense intellectuals have argued the now-fashionable nostrum of targeted killings or assassinations of insurgency local leaders or prominent cadre figures to “decapitate” insurgencies such as the Sunni one in Iraq.

But pursuing that kind of policy against the Mahdi Army or against Sadr himself would risk huge dangers. The Shiite branch of the Muslim faith has always been fixated on the martyrdom of heroic and righteous leaders and Sadr’s father and two brothers both died violent and mysterious deaths, apparently at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s regime, years ago.

If Sadr were to die violently too, and if the event could be plausibly, even if falsely, laid at America’s door, it could set off a huge popular violent uprising across Shiite Iraq eagerly fanned by Iran.

However hard going the 130,000 US troops still in Iraq find things now against the Sunni insurgency, it would be vastly worse if they faced a far larger insurgency simultaneously from within the Shiite community that could, at the very least, count on intelligence and some degree of cooperation from elements within the new Shiite-dominated police and military forces.

Land supply routes to US forces in Baghdad and central Iraq from Kuwait and the Gulf might then be interdicted and the Pentagon might be forced to rely on air transport, at least in the short term, to supply US forces in the heart of the country.

The rapid, tactically brilliant ground forces operation in driving to Baghdad and toppling Saddam Hussein in only three weeks in March-April 2003 was followed by a now well-documented period when US policymakers completely failed to recognize what the social and political dynamics of the fractured country were, as the Sunni insurgency struck down deep roots and gathered formidable strength.

Escalating clashes with Sadr’s Mahdi Army carry far greater dangers today. US policymakers and troops on the ground have already discovered the hard way that Iraq is not the kind of place to rush into confrontations without counting the cost in advance.

© Copyright 2006 United Press International, Inc

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

US Troops, Iraqis Think US in their Nation to Stay

March 30th, 2006 - by admin

– 2006-03-30 08:37:54

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/1107AP_Iraq_Future_Bases.html

“I Think We’ll Be Here Forever,” Says US Soldier

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq – The concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that’s now the home of up to 120 US helicopters

At another giant base — al-Asad in Iraq’s western desert — the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership

At a third hub in the south, Tallil, they’re planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldier

These descriptions of US bases in Iraq, from a reporter who visited the country earlier this month, vividly illustrate why many Iraqis believe the US is planning to permanently occupy their country. And it isn’t only Iraqis who have this perception.

For a full map of proposed US bases in Iraq Go to:
http://www.fcnl.org/iraq/bases.htm

The Associated Press reporter who visited these bases interviewed a 29-year-old soldier from Wilkes-Barre, PA: “I think we will be here forever,” the soldier said. Read the full Seattle Post-Intelligencer report below:

The perception that the US intends to permanently occupy Iraq is fueling the conflict in that country. In early 2005, FCNL crafted the Iraq STEP (Sensible Transition to an Enduring Peace) Resolution as a legislative tool that would allow the Congress to make a statement declaring, “It is the policy of the United States policy to withdrawal all US military troops and bases from Iraq.” http://www.fcnl.org/issues/item.php?item_id=1353&issue_id=35

Your letters, phone calls, and visits with members of Congress over the last year made a difference. Just in the last month, FCNL has recorded thousands of letters sent from FCNL constituents to members of Congress urging support for a clear statement that the US will withdraw all military troops and bases from Iraq.

Over the St. Patrick’s Day recess, participants in the FCNL network took War Is Not the Answer signs to demonstrations, vigils, and other events marking the anniversary of the war. We received reports of events all over the country. Photos of people carrying the War Is Not the Answer signs appeared in major newspapers in Memphis, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.

Your Message Is Being Heard in Washington
The House of Representatives voted earlier this month to bar the US from establishing permanent military bases in Iraq – the first positive step toward enacting FCNL’s Iraq STEP resolution.

In an amendment to the administration’s request for supplemental funding for the war in Iraq, the House stated “None of the funds in this Act may be used by the US government to enter into a basing rights agreement between the United States and Iraq.” Read about the House vote at http://www.fcnl.org/issues/item.php?item_id=1761&issue_id=35

But the administration continues to insist, as the president declared last week, that US troops will be in Iraq for years to come. In fact, the supplemental appropriations legislation that will be debated by the Senate in mid-April includes hundreds of millions of dollars for continued construction of military bases in Iraq.

The Congressional Research Service reports that US spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is averaging about 44 percent more per month this fiscal year than last. These are not the actions of a country preparing to withdraw from Iraq.

The Senate Must Act
The US House of Representatives has provided people in Iraq, the international community, and within the United States the first step toward a clear statement of US policy. Now it is up to the Senate. The Senate should attach a resolution to the Iraq war “supplemental” spending bill stating “it is the policy of the United States to withdraw all US military troops and bases from Iraq” and initiate steps for a withdrawal this year.

Lobby Your Senators During Easter Recess
Your senators will be back in your state during the congressional Easter recess (April 8 to 23). This is an ideal time to contact your senators and urge them to offer an amendment to the Iraq war supplemental funding legislation. Check the FCNL website for details at www.fcnl.org/iraq

Contact Congress and the Administration:
http://capwiz.com/fconl/dbq/officials

Friends Committee on National Legislation
245 Second St. NE, Washington, DC 20002-5795
fcnl@fcnl.org * http://www.fcnl.org
phone: (202)547-6000 * toll-free: (800)630-1330


Iraqis Think US in their Nation to Stay
Charles J. Hanley / AP

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (March 20, 2006) — The concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that’s now the home of up to 120 US helicopters, a “heli-park” as good as any back in the States.

At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq’s western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.

At a third hub down south, Tallil, they’re planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldiers for chow.

Are the Americans here to stay? Air Force mechanic Josh Remy is sure of it as he looks around Balad. “I think we’ll be here forever,” the 19-year-old airman from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., told a visitor to his base.

The Iraqi people suspect the same. Strong majorities tell pollsters they’d like to see a timetable for US troops to leave, but believe Washington plans to keep military bases in their country.

The question of America’s future in Iraq looms larger as the US military enters the fourth year of its war here, waged first to oust President Saddam Hussein, and now to crush an Iraqi insurgency.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, interim prime minister, has said he opposes permanent foreign bases. A wide range of American opinion is against them as well. Such bases would be a “stupid” provocation, says Gen. Anthony Zinni, former US Mideast commander and a critic of the original US invasion.

But events, in explosive situations like Iraq’s, can turn “no” into “maybe” and even “yes.”

The Shiite Muslims, ascendant in Baghdad, might decide they need long-term US protection against insurgent Sunni Muslims. Washington might take the political risks to gain a strategic edge – in its confrontation with next-door Iran, for example.

The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and other US officials disavow any desire for permanent bases. But long-term access, as at other US bases abroad, is different from “permanent,” and the official US position is carefully worded.

Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman on international security, told The Associated Press it would be “inappropriate” to discuss future basing until a new Iraqi government is in place, expected in the coming weeks.

Less formally, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked about “permanent duty stations” by a Marine during an Iraq visit in December, allowed that it was “an interesting question.” He said it would have to be raised by the incoming Baghdad government, if “they have an interest in our assisting them for some period over time.”

In Washington, Iraq scholar Phebe Marr finds the language intriguing. “If they aren’t planning for bases, they ought to say so,” she said. “I would expect to hear ‘No bases.'”

Right now what is heard is the pouring of concrete.

In 2005-06, Washington has authorized or proposed almost $1 billion for US military construction in Iraq, as American forces consolidate at Balad, known as Anaconda, and a handful of other installations, big bases under the old regime.

They have already pulled out of 34 of the 110 bases they were holding last March, said Maj. Lee English of the US command’s Base Working Group, planning the consolidation.

“The coalition forces are moving outside the cities while continuing to provide security support to the Iraqi security forces,” English said.

The move away from cities, perhaps eventually accompanied by US force reductions, will lower the profile of US troops, frequent targets of roadside bombs on city streets. Officers at Al-Asad Air Base, 10 desert miles from the nearest town, say it hasn’t been hit by insurgent mortar or rocket fire since October.

Al-Asad will become even more isolated. The proposed 2006 supplemental budget for Iraq operations would provide $7.4 million to extend the no-man’s-land and build new security fencing around the base, which at 19 square miles is so large that many assigned there take the Yellow or Blue bus routes to get around the base, or buy bicycles at a PX jammed with customers.

The latest budget also allots $39 million for new airfield lighting, air traffic control systems and upgrades allowing al-Asad to plug into the Iraqi electricity grid – a typical sign of a long-term base.

At Tallil, besides the new $14 million dining facility, Ali Air Base is to get, for $22 million, a double perimeter security fence with high-tech gate controls, guard towers and a moat – in military parlance, a “vehicle entrapment ditch with berm.”

Here at Balad, the former Iraqi air force academy 40 miles north of Baghdad, the two 12,000-foot runways have become the logistics hub for all US military operations in Iraq, and major upgrades began last year.

Army engineers say 31,000 truckloads of sand and gravel fed nine concrete-mixing plants on Balad, as contractors laid a $16 million ramp to park the Air Force’s huge C-5 cargo planes; an $18 million ramp for workhorse C-130 transports; and the vast, $28 million main helicopter ramp, the length of 13 football fields, filled with attack, transport and reconnaissance helicopters.

Turkish builders are pouring tons more concrete for a fourth ramp beside the runways, for medical-evacuation and other aircraft on alert. And $25 million was approved for other “pavement projects,” from a special road for munitions trucks to a compound for special forces.

The chief Air Force engineer here, Lt. Col. Scott Hoover, is also overseeing two crucial projects to add to Balad’s longevity: equipping the two runways with new permanent lighting, and replacing a weak 3,500-foot section of one runway.

Once that’s fixed, “we’re good for as long as we need to run it,” Hoover said. Ten years? he was asked. “I’d say so.”

Away from the flight lines, among traffic jams and freshly planted palms, life improves on 14-square-mile Balad for its estimated 25,000 personnel, including several thousand American and other civilians.

They’ve inherited an Olympic-sized pool and a chandeliered cinema from the Iraqis. They can order their favorite Baskin-Robbins flavor at ice cream counters in five dining halls, and cut-rate Fords, Chevys or Harley-Davidsons, for delivery at home, at a PX-run “dealership.” On one recent evening, not far from a big 24-hour gym, airmen hustled up and down two full-length, lighted outdoor basketball courts as F-16 fighters thundered home overhead.

“Balad’s a fantastic base,” Brig. Gen. Frank Gorenc, the Air Force’s tactical commander in Iraq, said in an interview at his headquarters here.

Could it host a long-term US presence?

“Eventually it could,” said Gorenc, commander of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. “But there’s no commitment to any of the bases we operate, until somebody tells me that.”

In the counterinsurgency fight, Balad’s central location enables strike aircraft to reach targets in minutes. And in the broader context of reinforcing the US presence in the oil-rich Mideast, Iraq bases are preferable to aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, said a longtime defense analyst.

“Carriers don’t have the punch,” said Gordon Adams of Washington’s George Washington University. “There’s a huge advantage to land-based infrastructure. At the level of strategy it makes total sense to have Iraq bases.”

A US congressional study cited another, less discussed use for possible Iraq bases: to install anti-ballistic defenses in case Iran fires missiles.

American bases next door could either deter or provoke Iran, noted Paul D. Hughes, a key planner in the early US occupation of Iraq.

Overall, however, this retired Army colonel says American troops are unwanted in the Middle East. With long-term bases in Iraq, “We’d be inviting trouble,” Hughes said.

“It’s a stupid idea and clearly politically unacceptable,” Zinni, a former Central Command chief, said in a Washington interview. “It would damage our image in the region, where people would decide that this” – seizing bases – “was our original intent.”

Among Iraqis, the subject is almost too sensitive to discuss.

“People don’t like bases,” veteran politician Adnan Pachachi, a member of the new Parliament, told the AP. “If bases are absolutely necessary, if there’s a perceived threat … but I don’t think even Iran will be a threat.”

If long-term basing is, indeed, on the horizon, “the politics back here and the politics in the region say, ‘Don’t announce it,'” Adams said in Washington. That’s what’s done elsewhere, as with the quiet US basing of spy planes and other aircraft in the United Arab Emirates.

Army and Air Force engineers, with little notice, have worked to give US commanders solid installations in Iraq, and to give policymakers options. From the start, in 2003, the first Army engineers rolling into Balad took the long view, laying out a 10-year plan envisioning a move from tents to today’s living quarters in air-conditioned trailers, to concrete-and-brick barracks by 2008.

In early 2006, no one’s confirming such next steps, but a Balad “master plan,” details undisclosed, is nearing completion, a possible model for al-Asad, Tallil and a fourth major base, al-Qayyarah in Iraq’s north.


EDITOR’S NOTE – This report is based on interviews with US military engineers and others before and during the writer’s two weeks as an embedded reporter at major US bases in Iraq.

AP Investigative Researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this report.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposs.

Soldiers Flee to Canada to Avoid Iraq Duty

March 30th, 2006 - by admin

Duncan Campbell / The Guardian – 2006-03-30 08:26:21

http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1740905,00.html

LONDON (March 28, 2006) — Hundreds of deserters from the US armed forces have crossed into Canada and are now seeking political refugee status there, arguing that violations of the rules of war in Iraq by the US entitle them to asylum.

A decision on a test case involving two US servicemen is due shortly and is being watched with interest by fellow servicemen on both sides of the border. At least 20 others have already applied for asylum and there are an estimated 400 in Canada out of more than 9,000 who have deserted since the conflict started in 2003.

Ryan Johnson, 22, from near Fresno in California, was due to be deployed with his unit to Iraq in January last year but crossed the Canadian border in June and is seeking asylum. “I had spoken to many soldiers who had been in Iraq and who told me about innocent civilians being killed and about bombing civilian neighbourhoods,” he told the Guardian.

“It’s been really great since I’ve been here. Generally, people have been really hospitable and understanding, although there have been a few who have been for the war.” He is now unable to return to the US. “I don’t have a problem with that. I’m in Canada and that’s that.”

Mr Johnson said it was unclear exactly how many US soldiers were in Canada but he thought 400 was a “realistic figure”. He had been on speaking tours across the country as part of a war resisters’ movement and had come across other servicemen living underground.

Jeffry House, a Toronto lawyer who represents many of the men, said that an increasing number were seeking asylum. “There are a fair number without status and a fair number on student visas,” he said, and under UN guidelines on refugee status they were entitled to seek asylum.

The first test cases involve Jeremy Hinzman, 26, who deserted from the 82 Airborne Division and Brandon Hughey from the 1st Cavalry Division. A decision on their applications is due within the next few weeks. If they are turned down the case will be taken to the federal appeal court and the Canadian supreme court, according to Mr House, a process that would last into next year at least.

All deserters, past and present, are placed on an FBI wanted list. Earlier this month, Allen Abney, 56, who deserted from the US marines 38 years ago during the Vietnam war, was arrested as he crossed into the US, a journey he had taken many times before without problem. He was held in a military jail in California for a few days, then discharged.

“They have resuscitated long-dormant warrants,” said Mr House. “I know 15 people personally who have crossed 10 or more times without problems and then all of a sudden they are arresting people. It seems like it would be connected to Iraq.”

Lee Zaslofsky, 61, the coordinator of the War Resisters’ Support Campaign in Toronto, said that he was impressed by the young men who were seeking asylum. “Some have been to Iraq and others have heard what goes on there,” he said. “Mainly, what they discuss is being asked to do things they consider repugnant. Most are quite patriotic … Many say they feel tricked by the military.”

During the Vietnam war between 50,000 and 60,000 Americans crossed the border to avoid serving.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Argentina, Uruguay Reject School of the Americas

March 30th, 2006 - by admin

SOAWatch Update / SOAWatch.org – 2006-03-30 08:20:31

http://www.soaw.org/new/article.php?id=1290

Argentina, Uruguay Abandon School of the Americas
SOAWatch Update / SOAWatch.org

(March 28, 2006) — We are thrilled to tell you that, after meeting with representatives of human rights organizations and the three SOA Watch activists Carlos Mauricio, Lisa Sullivan and Fr. Roy Bourgeois, the governments of Argentina and Uruguay have agreed to stop sending soldiers to train at the School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC)!

These decisions are a critical victory for all those struggling for human rights, justice and military accountability across the Americas! Argentina and Uruguay are the second and third countries to take this vital step; they join Venezuela, which announced in January of 2004 that they would no longer send soldiers to the school.

This past Friday, Roy, Carlos and Lisa met with the Defense Minister of Uruguay, Azucena Berrutti. Minister Berrutti is a former human rights lawyer. During the long dictatorship in Uruguay she defended numerous political prisoners.

Lisa Sullivan writes: “From the beginning of the conversation, Minister Berrutti told us that there was no need to explain the atrocities of the SOA, as she, and the people of Uruguay, were fully aware of this reality, having experienced first hand the horrors of the tortures, detentions, imprisonments and ‘disappearances’ caused by its graduates.

Over and over here in Latin America we have been humbled and realize that we do not need to explain these things to our public, but rather they have much to tell us, to put faces and emotions on the statistics which we have memorized so efficiently….”Minister Berrutti shared with Carlos, Lisa and Roy some very good news: during the year President Tabaré Vázquez has been in office, no military personnel from Uruguay have been sent to the SOA, and none will be sent under this current administration.

Yesterday, the three SOA Watch activists and the head of the Mothers of the Disappeared met with the defense minister, Nilda Garré, whose husband was disappeared during the repression in Argentina.

Minister Garrê agreed that after the one Argentinean soldier currently at the SOA/ WHINSEC finishes his classes, no more Argentinean soldiers will be sent to the School of the Americas. Read the whole update from Lisa, Carlos & Roy.

The tide is turning in Latin America! All across Central and South America, governments and citizens are rejecting SOA-style military “solutions” to social problems.

Across the Americas, support for the School of the Americas is eroding every day. Add your voice to this movement for justice! March, rally and lobby to close the SOA in Washington, DC April 23-25!

March, Rally and Lobby to Close the SOA April 23-25 in Washington, DC

We are riding a tide of momentum as we prepare for our Spring Lobby Days! From Argentina and Uruguay to the incredible movement we’ve seen in support of immigrant rights, now is the time to take our message to Capitol Hill.

Join us in DC from April 23-25 as we tell Congress to close the School of the Americas once and for all! Let’s ride this tide and flood the halls of Congress with justice.

On Sunday, April 23, we’ll gather for a day of legislative trainings, workshops and a talk from Father Roy. On Monday, April 24, we’ll process to Capitol Hill, hold a brief rally and meet with Members of Congress. We’ll continue to hold Congressional meetings on Tuesday, April 25.


Hundreds of Thousands Mobilize to Support Immigrant Rights
Yesterday tens of thousands of students walked out of school in California and other states in a second week of massive protests across the United States against legislation to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants and supporters participated in enormous and energetic marches in Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Boulder, Washington, DC and other cities to protest a bill that would make it a felony to be in this country illegally and would make it crime to dispense aid to those without legal documents.

Broad-based coalitions of faith, labor, business and community leaders have come together to oppose this bill and to call for the creation of a path to citizenship for immigrants.

In several US cities, the massive marches of the past two weeks are the largest public gatherings ever to occur in those communities. The outpouring of opposition to the conservative bill has been historic.

SOA Watch understands that many immigrants to the United States are victims of US-sponsored military training and atrocities in Latin America. In our fight to close the SOA, we continue to work towards a world that is free of suffering and violence.

We recognize the SOA as being a part of the same racist system of violence and domination. We ally ourselves with the victims of military violence and their families in our effort to create a better world.

SOAW, PO Box 4566 Washington, District of Columbia 20017. United States.
http://www.SOAW.org (202) 234-3440

My Lai in Iraq: Iraqi Police Detail Civilian Deaths at Hands of US Troops

March 30th, 2006 - by admin

Matthew Schofield / Knight Ridder Newspapers – 2006-03-30 08:01:50

http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/14138980.htm

BAGHDAD, Iraq (March 19, 2006) — Iraqi police have accused American troops of executing 11 people, including a 75-year-old woman and a 6-month-old infant, in the aftermath of a raid last Wednesday on a house about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

The villagers were killed after American troops herded them into a single room of the house, according to a police document obtained by Knight Ridder Newspapers. The soldiers also burned three vehicles, killed the villagers’ animals and blew up the house, the document said.

A US military spokesman, Major Tim Keefe, said that the US military has no information to support the allegations and that he had not heard of them before a reporter brought them to his attention Sunday.

“We’re concerned to hear accusations like that, but it’s also highly unlikely that they’re true,” he said. He added that US forces “take every precaution to keep civilians out of harms’ way. The loss of innocent life, especially children, is regrettable.”

Accusations that US troops have killed civilians are commonplace in Iraq, though most are judged later to be unfounded or exaggerated. Navy investigators announced last week that they were looking into whether Marines intentionally killed 15 Iraqi civilians — four of them women and five of them children — during fighting last November.

But the report of the killings in the Abu Sifa area of Ishaqi, eight miles north of the city of Balad, is unusual because it originated with Iraqi police and because Iraqi police were willing to attach their names to it.

The report, which also contained brief descriptions of other events in the area, was compiled by the Joint Coordination Center in Tikrit, a regional security center set up with United States military assistance. An Iraqi police colonel signed the report, which was based on communications from local police.

Brig. Gen. Issa al-Juboori, who heads the center, said that his office assembled the report on Thursday and that it accurately reflects the direction of the current police investigation into the incident. He also said he knows the officer heading the investigation. “He’s a dedicated policeman, and a good cop,” he said when reached by phone in Tikrit from Baghdad. “I trust him.”

The case involves a US raid conducted, according to the official US account, in response to a tip that a member of al-Qaida in Iraq was at the house. Neighbors, interviewed by a special correspondent for Knight Ridder, agreed that the al-Qaida member was at the house. They said he was visiting the home’s owner, a relative. The neighbors said the homeowner was a schoolteacher.

According to police, military and eyewitness accounts, US forces approached the house at around 2:30 a.m. and a firefight ensued. By all accounts, in addition to exchanging gunfire with someone inside the house, US troops were supported by helicopter gunships, which fired on the house. But the accounts differ on what took place after the firefight.

According to the US account, the house collapsed because of the heavy fire. When US forces searched the rubble they found one man, the al-Qaida suspect, alive. He was arrested. They also found a dead man they believed to be connected to al-Qaida, two dead women and a dead child.

But the report filed by the Joint Coordination Center, which was based on a report filed by local police, said US forces entered the house while it was still standing. “The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 persons, including five children, four women and two men,” the report said. “Then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals.”

The report identified the dead by name, giving their ages. The two men killed were 22 and 28. Of the women, one was 22, another was 23, a third was 30 and the fourth was 75. Two of the children were 5 years old, two were 3, and the fifth was 6 months old, the document said. The report was signed by Col. Fadhil Muhammed Khalaf, who was described in the document as the assistant chief of the Joint Coordination Center.

A local police commander, Lt. Col. Farooq Hussain, interviewed by a Knight Ridder special correspondent in Ishaqi, said autopsies at the hospital in Tikrit “revealed that all the victims had bullet shots in the head and all bodies were handcuffed.” Efforts to reach hospital spokesmen Sunday were unsuccessful.

Keefe, the US military spokesman, said that he had seen photographs of the victims and had not seen handcuffs, which caused him to doubt the validity of the report. He said, however, that he has no reason to doubt the body count provided by local police. “We conducted a preliminary investigation,” he said. “They were the investigating officers on the ground.”

Keefe said that he didn’t know which US unit conducted the raid. An official account of the raid provided Sunday by the military also did not mention the unit involved by name.

Ibraheem Hirat Khalaf, whose brother Faiz owned the house and was among the dead, said he watched and heard the assault from his home 100 yards away. He said that US troops used six missiles from helicopters to destroy the house as they were leaving.

Abu Hijran, 38, and a neighbor, said those in the house were liked and respected, though the wanted al-Qaida member was not as well known.

Rasheed Thair, an employee of Ishaqi, said that the town was in a state of shock over the killings. “Everyone attended the funeral,” he said. “We want the Americans to give an explanation for this horrible crime which took the smile and the dream of a spring night from 11 people, and destroyed even the simple toys of children.”

Three Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondents contributed to this report. Their identities are being withheld for security reasons.

POLICE REPORT

This is a translation of the Iraqi police report obtained by Knight Ridder, including accounts of events not related to the Ishaqi raid.

In the name of God, the most merciful
This is the morning and afternoon events of 15/3/2006

1. Interior Ministry Operations:
All forces belonging to the Interior Ministry will go on 100 percent alert status starting Wednesday 15/3/2006 until 1000 hours Friday 17/3/2006.

2. Coordination Center of Beji
At 810 gunmen in a white vehicle, duck type (a reference to the local name for a Toyota model) kidnapped the child Mohamed (Badei Khaled) from Samaha school in Beji (map coordinates 617667).

3. Coordination Center of Dujail
At 730 a benzene truck burned near Gassem al Queisy fuel station after one of its tires caught fire. The incident burned the driver (Hamed Abdalilah) and he was transported to the hospital (map coordinates 263519).

4. Coordination Center of Balad
At 230 of 15/3/2006, according to the telegram (report) of the Ishaqi police directorate, American forces used helicopters to drop troops on the house of Faiz Harat Khalaf situated in the Abu Sifa village of the Ishaqi district. The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 people, including 5 children, 4 women and 2 men, then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals (map coordinates 098702).

They were:
Turkiya Muhammed Ali, 75 years
Faiza Harat Khalaf, 30 years
Faiz Harat Khalaf, 28 years
Um Ahmad, 23 years
Sumaya Abdulrazak, 22 years
Aziz Khalil Jarmoot, 22 years
Hawra Harat Khalaf, 5 years
Asma Yousef Maruf, 5 years
Osama Yousef Maruf, 3 years
Aisha Harat Khalaf, 3 years
Husam Harat Khalaf, 6 months

(Signed)
Staff Colonel Fadhil Muhammed Khalaf
Assistant Chief of the Joint Coordination Center
3/16/2006

Three Knight Ridder special correspondents contributed to this report. Their identities are being withheld for security reasons.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Iraqis Think US in their Nation to Stay

March 29th, 2006 - by admin

Charles J. Hanley / AP – 2006-03-29 23:41:07

“I Think We’ll Be Here Forever,” Says US Soldier

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq – The concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that’s now the home of up to 120 US helicopters

At another giant base — al-Asad in Iraq’s western desert — the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership

At a third hub in the south, Tallil, they’re planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldier

These descriptions of US bases in Iraq, from a reporter who visited the country earlier this month, vividly illustrate why many Iraqis believe the US is planning to permanently occupy their country. And it isn’t only Iraqis who have this perception.

For a full map of proposed US bases in Iraq visit http://www.fcnl.org/iraq/bases.htm

The Associated Press reporter who visited these bases interviewed a 29-year-old soldier from Wilkes-Barre, PA: “I think we will be here forever,” the soldier said. Read the full Seattle Post-Intelligencer report below:

The perception that the US intends to permanently occupy Iraq is fueling the conflict in that country. In early 2005, FCNL crafted the Iraq STEP (Sensible Transition to an Enduring Peace) Resolution as a legislative tool that would allow the Congress to make a statement declaring, “It is the policy of the United States policy to withdrawal all US military troops and bases from Iraq.” http://www.fcnl.org/issues/item.php?item_id=1353&issue_id=35

Your letters, phone calls, and visits with members of Congress over the last year made a difference. Just in the last month, FCNL has recorded thousands of letters sent from FCNL constituents to members of Congress urging support for a clear statement that the US will withdraw all military troops and bases from Iraq.

Over the St. Patrick’s Day recess, participants in the FCNL network took War Is Not the Answer signs to demonstrations, vigils, and other events marking the anniversary of the war. We received reports of events all over the country. Photos of people carrying the War Is Not the Answer signs appeared in major newspapers in Memphis, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.

Your Message Is Being Heard in Washington
The House of Representatives voted earlier this month to bar the US from establishing permanent military bases in Iraq – the first positive step toward enacting FCNL’s Iraq STEP resolution. In an amendment to the administration’s request for supplemental funding for the war in Iraq, the House stated “None of the funds in this Act may be used by the US government to enter into a basing rights agreement between the United States and Iraq.” Read about the House vote at http://www.fcnl.org/issues/item.php?item_id=1761&issue_id=35

But the administration continues to insist, as the president declared last week, that US troops will be in Iraq for years to come. In fact, the supplemental appropriations legislation that will be debated by the Senate in mid-April includes hundreds of millions of dollars for continued construction of military bases in Iraq. The Congressional Research Service reports that US spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is averaging about 44 percent more per month this fiscal year than last. These are not the actions of a country preparing to withdraw from Iraq.

The Senate Must Act
The US House of Representatives has provided people in Iraq, the international community, and within the United States the first step toward a clear statement of US policy. Now it is up to the Senate. The Senate should attach a resolution to the Iraq war “supplemental” spending bill stating “it is the policy of the United States to withdraw all US military troops and bases from Iraq” and initiate steps for a withdrawal this year.

Lobby Your Senators During Easter Recess
Your senators will be back in your state during the congressional Easter recess (April 8 to 23). This is an ideal time to contact your senators and urge them to offer an amendment to the Iraq war supplemental funding legislation. Check the FCNL website for details at www.fcnl.org/iraq

Contact Congress and the Administration:
http://capwiz.com/fconl/dbq/officials/

Friends Committee on National Legislation
245 Second St. NE, Washington, DC 20002-5795
fcnl@fcnl.org * http://www.fcnl.org
phone: (202)547-6000 * toll-free: (800)630-1330


Iraqis Think US in their Nation to Stay
Charles J. Hanley / AP

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (March 20, 2006) — The concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that’s now the home of up to 120 US helicopters, a “heli-park” as good as any back in the States.

At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq’s western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.

At a third hub down south, Tallil, they’re planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldiers for chow.

Are the Americans here to stay? Air Force mechanic Josh Remy is sure of it as he looks around Balad. “I think we’ll be here forever,” the 19-year-old airman from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., told a visitor to his base.

The Iraqi people suspect the same. Strong majorities tell pollsters they’d like to see a timetable for US troops to leave, but believe Washington plans to keep military bases in their country.

The question of America’s future in Iraq looms larger as the US military enters the fourth year of its war here, waged first to oust President Saddam Hussein, and now to crush an Iraqi insurgency.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, interim prime minister, has said he opposes permanent foreign bases. A wide range of American opinion is against them as well. Such bases would be a “stupid” provocation, says Gen. Anthony Zinni, former US Mideast commander and a critic of the original US invasion.

But events, in explosive situations like Iraq’s, can turn “no” into “maybe” and even “yes.”

The Shiite Muslims, ascendant in Baghdad, might decide they need long-term US protection against insurgent Sunni Muslims. Washington might take the political risks to gain a strategic edge – in its confrontation with next-door Iran, for example.

The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and other US officials disavow any desire for permanent bases. But long-term access, as at other US bases abroad, is different from “permanent,” and the official US position is carefully worded.

Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman on international security, told The Associated Press it would be “inappropriate” to discuss future basing until a new Iraqi government is in place, expected in the coming weeks.

Less formally, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked about “permanent duty stations” by a Marine during an Iraq visit in December, allowed that it was “an interesting question.” He said it would have to be raised by the incoming Baghdad government, if “they have an interest in our assisting them for some period over time.”

In Washington, Iraq scholar Phebe Marr finds the language intriguing. “If they aren’t planning for bases, they ought to say so,” she said. “I would expect to hear ‘No bases.'”

Right now what is heard is the pouring of concrete.

In 2005-06, Washington has authorized or proposed almost $1 billion for US military construction in Iraq, as American forces consolidate at Balad, known as Anaconda, and a handful of other installations, big bases under the old regime.

They have already pulled out of 34 of the 110 bases they were holding last March, said Maj. Lee English of the US command’s Base Working Group, planning the consolidation.

“The coalition forces are moving outside the cities while continuing to provide security support to the Iraqi security forces,” English said.

The move away from cities, perhaps eventually accompanied by US force reductions, will lower the profile of US troops, frequent targets of roadside bombs on city streets. Officers at Al-Asad Air Base, 10 desert miles from the nearest town, say it hasn’t been hit by insurgent mortar or rocket fire since October.

Al-Asad will become even more isolated. The proposed 2006 supplemental budget for Iraq operations would provide $7.4 million to extend the no-man’s-land and build new security fencing around the base, which at 19 square miles is so large that many assigned there take the Yellow or Blue bus routes to get around the base, or buy bicycles at a PX jammed with customers.

The latest budget also allots $39 million for new airfield lighting, air traffic control systems and upgrades allowing al-Asad to plug into the Iraqi electricity grid – a typical sign of a long-term base.

At Tallil, besides the new $14 million dining facility, Ali Air Base is to get, for $22 million, a double perimeter security fence with high-tech gate controls, guard towers and a moat – in military parlance, a “vehicle entrapment ditch with berm.”

Here at Balad, the former Iraqi air force academy 40 miles north of Baghdad, the two 12,000-foot runways have become the logistics hub for all US military operations in Iraq, and major upgrades began last year.

Army engineers say 31,000 truckloads of sand and gravel fed nine concrete-mixing plants on Balad, as contractors laid a $16 million ramp to park the Air Force’s huge C-5 cargo planes; an $18 million ramp for workhorse C-130 transports; and the vast, $28 million main helicopter ramp, the length of 13 football fields, filled with attack, transport and reconnaissance helicopters.

Turkish builders are pouring tons more concrete for a fourth ramp beside the runways, for medical-evacuation and other aircraft on alert. And $25 million was approved for other “pavement projects,” from a special road for munitions trucks to a compound for special forces.

The chief Air Force engineer here, Lt. Col. Scott Hoover, is also overseeing two crucial projects to add to Balad’s longevity: equipping the two runways with new permanent lighting, and replacing a weak 3,500-foot section of one runway.

Once that’s fixed, “we’re good for as long as we need to run it,” Hoover said. Ten years? he was asked. “I’d say so.”

Away from the flight lines, among traffic jams and freshly planted palms, life improves on 14-square-mile Balad for its estimated 25,000 personnel, including several thousand American and other civilians.

They’ve inherited an Olympic-sized pool and a chandeliered cinema from the Iraqis. They can order their favorite Baskin-Robbins flavor at ice cream counters in five dining halls, and cut-rate Fords, Chevys or Harley-Davidsons, for delivery at home, at a PX-run “dealership.” On one recent evening, not far from a big 24-hour gym, airmen hustled up and down two full-length, lighted outdoor basketball courts as F-16 fighters thundered home overhead.

“Balad’s a fantastic base,” Brig. Gen. Frank Gorenc, the Air Force’s tactical commander in Iraq, said in an interview at his headquarters here.

Could it host a long-term US presence?

“Eventually it could,” said Gorenc, commander of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. “But there’s no commitment to any of the bases we operate, until somebody tells me that.”

In the counterinsurgency fight, Balad’s central location enables strike aircraft to reach targets in minutes. And in the broader context of reinforcing the US presence in the oil-rich Mideast, Iraq bases are preferable to aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, said a longtime defense analyst.

“Carriers don’t have the punch,” said Gordon Adams of Washington’s George Washington University. “There’s a huge advantage to land-based infrastructure. At the level of strategy it makes total sense to have Iraq bases.”

A US congressional study cited another, less discussed use for possible Iraq bases: to install anti-ballistic defenses in case Iran fires missiles.

American bases next door could either deter or provoke Iran, noted Paul D. Hughes, a key planner in the early US occupation of Iraq.

Overall, however, this retired Army colonel says American troops are unwanted in the Middle East. With long-term bases in Iraq, “We’d be inviting trouble,” Hughes said.

“It’s a stupid idea and clearly politically unacceptable,” Zinni, a former Central Command chief, said in a Washington interview. “It would damage our image in the region, where people would decide that this” – seizing bases – “was our original intent.”

Among Iraqis, the subject is almost too sensitive to discuss.

“People don’t like bases,” veteran politician Adnan Pachachi, a member of the new Parliament, told the AP. “If bases are absolutely necessary, if there’s a perceived threat … but I don’t think even Iran will be a threat.”

If long-term basing is, indeed, on the horizon, “the politics back here and the politics in the region say, ‘Don’t announce it,'” Adams said in Washington. That’s what’s done elsewhere, as with the quiet US basing of spy planes and other aircraft in the United Arab Emirates.

Army and Air Force engineers, with little notice, have worked to give US commanders solid installations in Iraq, and to give policymakers options. From the start, in 2003, the first Army engineers rolling into Balad took the long view, laying out a 10-year plan envisioning a move from tents to today’s living quarters in air-conditioned trailers, to concrete-and-brick barracks by 2008.

In early 2006, no one’s confirming such next steps, but a Balad “master plan,” details undisclosed, is nearing completion, a possible model for al-Asad, Tallil and a fourth major base, al-Qayyarah in Iraq’s north.


EDITOR’S NOTE — This report is based on interviews with US military engineers and others before and during the writer’s two weeks as an embedded reporter at major US bases in Iraq.

AP Investigative Researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this report.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposs.

Argentina, Uruguay Abandon School of the Americas

March 29th, 2006 - by admin

SOAWatch Update / SOAWatch.org – 2006-03-29 23:35:58

Argentina, Uruguay Abandon School of the Americas
SOAWatch Update / SOAWatch.org

WASHINGTON (March 28, 2006) — We are thrilled to tell you that, after meeting with representatives of human rights organizations and the three SOA Watch activists Carlos Mauricio, Lisa Sullivan and Fr. Roy Bourgeois, the governments of Argentina and Uruguay have agreed to stop sending soldiers to train at the School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC)!

These decisions are a critical victory for all those struggling for human rights, justice and military accountability across the Americas! Argentina and Uruguay are the second and third countries to take this vital step; they join Venezuela, which announced in January of 2004 that they would no longer send soldiers to the school.

This past Friday, Roy, Carlos and Lisa met with the Defense Minister of Uruguay, Azucena Berrutti. Minister Berrutti is a former human rights lawyer. During the long dictatorship in Uruguay she defended numerous political prisoners.

Lisa Sullivan writes: “From the beginning of the conversation, Minister Berrutti told us that there was no need to explain the atrocities of the SOA, as she, and the people of Uruguay, were fully aware of this reality, having experienced first hand the horrors of the tortures, detentions, imprisonments and ‘disappearances’ caused by its graduates.

Over and over here in Latin America we have been humbled and realize that we do not need to explain these things to our public, but rather they have much to tell us, to put faces and emotions on the statistics which we have memorized so efficiently….”Minister Berrutti shared with Carlos, Lisa and Roy some very good news: during the year President Tabaré; Vázquez has been in office, no military personnel from Uruguay have been sent to the SOA, and none will be sent under this current administration.

Yesterday, the three SOA Watch activists and the head of the Mothers of the Disappeared met with the defense minister, Nilda Garré, whose husband was disappeared during the repression in Argentina.

Minister Garrê agreed that after the one Argentinean soldier currently at the SOA/ WHINSEC finishes his classes, no more Argentinean soldiers will be sent to the School of the Americas. Read the whole update from Lisa, Carlos & Roy.

The tide is turning in Latin America! All across Central and South America, governments and citizens are rejecting SOA-style military “solutions” to social problems. Across the Americas, support for the School of the Americas is eroding every day.

• Add your voice to this movement for justice! March, rally and lobby to close the SOA in Washington, DC April 23-25! (see below for more info).


March, rally and lobby to close the SOA April 23-25 in Washington, DC

We are riding a tide of momentum as we prepare for our Spring Lobby Days! From Argentina and Uruguay to the incredible movement we’ve seen in support of immigrant rights, now is the time to take our message to Capitol Hill.

Join us in DC from April 23-25 as we tell Congress to close the School of the Americas once and for all! Let’s ride this tide and flood the halls of Congress with justice.

On Sunday, April 23, we’ll gather for a day of legislative trainings, workshops and a talk from Father Roy. On Monday, April 24, we’ll process to Capitol Hill, hold a brief rally and meet with Members of Congress. We’ll continue to hold Congressional meetings on Tuesday, April 25.


Hundreds of Thousands Mobilize
to Support Immigrant Rights

Yesterday tens of thousands of students walked out of school in California and other states in a second week of massive protests across the United States against legislation to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants and supporters participated in enormous and energetic marches in Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Boulder, Washington, DC and other cities to protest a bill that would make it a felony to be in this country illegally and would make it crime to dispense aid to those without legal documents.

Broad-based coalitions of faith, labor, business and community leaders have come together to oppose this bill and to call for the creation of a path to citizenship for immigrants.

In several US cities, the massive marches of the past two weeks are the largest public gatherings ever to occur in those communities. The outpouring of opposition to the conservative bill has been historic.

SOA Watch understands that many immigrants to the United States are victims of US-sponsored military training and atrocities in Latin America.

In our fight to close the SOA, we continue to work towards a world that is free of suffering and violence. We recognize the SOA as being a part of the same racist system of violence and domination. We ally ourselves with the victims of military violence and their families in our effort to create a better world.

SOAWatch, PO Box 4566 Washington, District of Columbia 20017 United States
http://www.SOAW.org |202-234-3440

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