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Where does the Bush-Petraeus strategy lead?

"The existence of the permanent bases has been something constructed under the radar, without any attention being paid by the press … we know [of] at least 4 giant
permanent bases, one in each quadrant of Iraq … These are small towns that are essentially being built up."

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VOICE OF ZAA NKWETA: Senior Editor Paul Jay discusses the Petraeus report on Iraq with Phyllis Bennis, Author and Senior Analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: In the report of General David Petraeus in front of Congress, he essentially says that the solution to the crisis in Iraq is to maintain the course. He says the surge is working, and he points to some statistics of 45 percent less deaths by sectarian violence over the month of December. He says there’s been an 80 percent reduction in what he calls ethno-sectarian deaths over the period of the surge. And he says that there is the possibility of creating a kind of stability that will lead to a political reconciliation in Iran. What’s wrong with this?

PHYLLIS BENNIS, SENIOR ANALYST, INSTT. FOR POLICY STUDIES: There’s many things wrong with it. We had been told since the beginning of this occupation that the Pentagon doesn’t do body counts. I want to know when they started doing these body counts that all of a sudden they can tell us how much lower they are. The evidence that he points to is all-anecdotal. Even if every one of those specific statistics was true, it affects a very narrow time frame, an extraordinarily narrow piece of geography of Iraq, and there’s no indication that it will have any lasting effect. Nor is there any indication that the so-called Iraqi government that was installed largely at the behest of the United States has any intention of using the opportunity that is allegedly being provided by this surge to actually go through any of the political shenanigans that they were told to do by Congress.

JAY: If the current plan by the White House is not a solution, what is? What should American people be asking their government to do?

BENNIS: Step one is to end the occupation. That means pull out all the troops, pull out the so-called coalition troops, pull out all the mercenaries, who now total over 125,000, not counting the 45,000 or so Iraqi mercenaries. All those that are working for the US occupation forces should be withdrawn, the US military bases should be closed, and the US should announce it has no intention of trying to control Iraqi oil resources.

JAY: We’re told if that happens it will unleash even potential genocide, a violence even surpassing the kind of violence we’ve seen in the last period that the sectarian militias have come into being. Perhaps this Pandora’s box has now been opened and the Iraqi people will be the ones that will suffer the result of a quick withdrawal.

BENNIS: No one knows for sure. What I believe will happen: I think there will be a short-term spike in violence. I have not yet figured out a way to avoid that. But I think it will be very short-term, a matter of weeks, not months, and I think that very quickly what we will see is that in the moment when US troops pull out, and as they’re pulling out—because obviously it will take a matter of months to withdraw 160,000 US troops, not to mention the coalition forces and the mercenaries—during that time, I think that the anti-occupation resistance will diminish to almost nothing. The people who are fighting primarily against the US troops will stop fighting. The people who are what I consider terrorists, those who are fighting against Iraqi civilians, using the cover of the US occupation to engage in sectarian, extremist warfare against their own people and against—because many of them are from outside of Iraq—against the people of Iraq, they will not stop fighting, unfortunately. But what will be possible then, what is not possible now, is that the people who have been fighting against the US occupation will be able to mobilize, to identify, and isolate those terrorist forces and eliminate them as a fighting force. That’s not possible now, because they’re operating in this very privileged political cover, in which the occupation provides a justification for the military that we’re seeing all throughout the country.

JAY: The plan for what’s being called withdrawal is probably something like the way the British have withdrawn from Basra, which is back to bases fifteen miles away. What’s being called withdrawal looks more like a long-term occupation, sitting in bases, perhaps protecting oil resources.

BENNIS: Unfortunately, full, immediate withdrawal is not being debated. It is on the floor of the Congress. There’s a resolution that was proposed by Congresswoman Barbara Lee and several [inaudible] from the [inaudible] caucus and the Progressive Caucus, the Black Caucus. But that resolution has not been allowed to come to the floor. It says that the only funding that should be allowed is funding for the full and safe withdrawal of all US troops. That is not the main debate. The main debate is: do we begin to look like we are withdrawing a few troops? Which is essentially what General Petraeus is calling for. Or do we begin a significant draw-down, leaving behind—and it varies with different political figures—but leaving behind somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 troops on a permanent deployment in Iraq, as you say, both to protect the oil interests of the US and to maintain US bases, to use Iraq as a center for new expansion of US military power in the region and beyond through these permanent bases?

JAY: One wouldn’t even know, I think, by watching American television media what this debate’s about about permanent bases or not. It seems to be no media conversation about it.

BENNIS: There’s virtually no conversation, as you say. The existence of the permanent bases has been something constructed under the radar without any attention being paid by the press, by most of the American people. We have what we know are at least four giant permanent bases, one in each quadrant of Iraq. These are bases that comprise not just acres but square miles upon square miles of territory, big enough that they need two bus lines to crisscross the territory—these are small towns that are essentially being built up—aside from another ten large bases scattered around Iraq and hundreds—literally hundreds—of other small bases and supply depots that have been constructed throughout the country. Withdrawing the bases, closing the bases, is something that has to happen as part of step one. Only then, after the withdrawal of the troops and the closing of the bases, can we get to the longer-term obligations that we in the United States have towards the people of Iraq.

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