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Iraq Withdrawal? Obama and Clinton Expanding US Paramilitary Force in Iraq | The Nation

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Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill

Dispatches on wars, the military-industrial complex and national security.

Iraq Withdrawal? Obama and Clinton Expanding US Paramilitary Force in Iraq

UPDATE: In Iraq today, three private security contractors were killed in a rocket attack on Baghdad's Green Zone. All of them were employees of Triple Canopy, the security company hired by the Obama administration to take over much of Blackwater's work in Iraq. Another fifteen people were wounded in the attack. The dead included two Ugandans and a Peruvian. The attack highlights the inevitable consequences of an emerging Obama administration policy wherein more contractors are going to be deployed to Iraq and many of them will be so-called third country nationals like those killed in today's attack. The coming surge in contractors in Iraq is being done under the auspices of the State Department's diplomatic security division, which was massively expanded under the Bush administration paving the way for the Department's almost total reliance on private contractors for security in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

As a candidate for president, Senator Hillary Clinton vowed to ban the use of private security contractors, which she referred to as mercenaries. "These private security contractors have been reckless and have compromised our mission in Iraq," Clinton said in February 2008. "The time to show these contractors the door is long past due." Clinton was one of only two senators to sponsor legislation to ban these companies. Fast forward to the present and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is presiding over what is shaping up to be a radical expansion of a private, US-funded paramilitary force that will operate in Iraq for the foreseeable future--the very type of force Clinton once claimed she opposed.

The State Department is asking Congress to approve funds to more than double the number of private security contractors in Iraq with a State Department official testifying in June at a hearing of the Wartime Contracting Commission that the Department wants "between 6,000 and 7,000 security contractors." The Department also has asked the Pentagon for twenty-four Blackhawk helicopters, fifty Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles and other military equipment. "After the departure of U.S. Forces [from Iraq], we will continue to have a critical need for logistical and life support of a magnitude and scale of complexity that is unprecedented in the history of the Department of State," wrote Patrick Kennedy, under secretary of state for management, in an April letter to the Pentagon. "And to keep our people secure, Diplomatic Security requires certain items of equipment that are only available from the military."

What is unfolding is the face of President Obama's scaled-down, rebranded mini-occupation of Iraq. Under the terms of the Status of Forces agreement, all US forces are supposed to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Using private forces is a backdoor way of continuing a substantial US presence under the cover of "diplomatic security." The kind of paramilitary force that Obama and Clinton are trying to build in Iraq is, in large part, a byproduct of the monstrous colonial fortress the United States calls its embassy in Baghdad and other facilities the US will maintain throughout Iraq after the "withdrawal." The State Department plans to operate five "Enduring Presence Posts" at current US military bases in Basrah, Diyala, Erbil, Kirkuk and Ninewa. The State Department has indicated that more sites may be created in the future, which would increase the demand for private forces. The US embassy in Baghdad is the size of Vatican City, comprised of twenty-one buildings on a 104-acres of land on the Tigris River.

In making their case to Congress and the Defense Department for the expansion of a private paramilitary force in Iraq, State Department officials have developed what they call a "lost functionality" list of fourteen security-related tasks that the military currently perform in Iraq that would become the responsibility of the State Department as US forces draw down. Among these are: recovering killed and wounded personnel, downed aircraft or damaged vehicles, convoy security and threat intelligence. The department also foresees a need to run a tactical operations center that would dispatch of armed response teams. Ambassador Kennedy said that without military equipment and an expansion of personnel, "the security of [State] personnel in Iraq will be degraded significantly and we can expect increased casualties."

For years, companies operating in the private security/defense logistics industry have predicted an increased reliance on contractors in Iraq that would accompany a draw-down of official US forces. What is clear from the current State Department plan for Iraq is that the United States is going to have armed forces in the country for the foreseeable future. The only question is, How many will be there as uniformed soldiers and how many will be private paramilitaries?

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