This piece originally appeared at Tom Dispatch.
The construction projects are sprouting like mushrooms: walled complexes, high-strength weapons vaults, and underground bunkers with command and control capacities—and they’re being planned and funded by a military force intent on embedding itself ever more deeply in the Middle East.
If Iran were building these facilities, it would be front-page news and American hawks would be talking war, but that country’s Revolutionary Guards aren’t behind this building boom, nor are the Syrians, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, or some set of al-Qaeda affiliates. It’s the US military that’s digging in, hardening, improving, and expanding its garrisons in and around the Persian Gulf at the very moment when it is officially in a draw-down phase in Iraq.
On August 31st, President Obama took to the airwaves to announce “the end of our combat mission in Iraq.” This may, however, prove yet another “mission accomplished” moment. After all, from the lack of a real Iraqi air force (other than the US Air Force) to the fact that there are more American troops in that country today than were projected to be there in September 2003, many signs point in another direction.
In fact, within days of the president’s announcement it was reported that the US military was pouring money into improving bases in Iraq and that advance elements of a combat-hardened armored cavalry regiment were being sent there in what was politely dubbed an “advise and assist” (rather than combat) role. On September 13th, the New York Times described the type of operations that US forces were actually involved in:
“During two days of combat in Diyala Province, American troops were armed with mortars, machine guns, and sniper rifles. Apache and Kiowa helicopters attacked insurgents with cannon and machine-gun fire, and F-16’s dropped 500-pound bombs.”
According to the report, US troops were within range of enemy hand grenades and one American soldier was wounded in the battle.
Adhering to an agreement inked during George W. Bush’s final year in office, the Obama administration has pledged to withdraw all US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. US military commanders have, however, repeatedly spoken of the possibility of extending the US military’s stay well into the future. Just recently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates let the Iraqi government know that the U.S. was open to such a prospect. "We’re ready to have that discussion if and when they want to raise it with us," he said. As the British Guardian’s Martin Chulov wrote last month, “[T]he US is widely believed to be hoping to retain at least one military base in Iraq that it could use as a strategic asset in the region.”