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I can't recall the last time I saw a major news story about Iraq on my TV.  Oddly enough we still have troops over there.  And contractors.  Indeed, the security firm DynCorp (i.e., mercenaries, guns for hire, whatever you wish to call them ) has already signed an agreement with the Iraqi government to provide security services after a US helicopter brigade (but not all US forces stationed there) leaves in December.  And they aren't the only ones who will be sticking around to suck up money from the US and Iraqi governments for "security services."

A U.S. Army helicopter brigade is set to pull out of Baghdad in December, as part of an agreement with the Iraqi government to remove U.S. forces. So the armed helicopters flying over the Iraqi capital next year will have pilots and machine gunners from DynCorp International, a company based in Virginia.

On the ground, it's the same story. American soldiers and Marines will leave. Those replacing them, right down to carrying assault weapons, will come from places with names like Aegis Defence Services and Global Strategies Group — eight companies in all. [...]

Already, the State Department is approving contracts, but there are questions about whether it makes sense to turn over this security job to private companies. [...]

Overseeing the armed personnel is Patrick Kennedy, a top State Department official.

"I think the number of State Department security contractors would be somewhere in the area of between 4,500 and 5,000," Kennedy says.

That's roughly the size of an Army brigade, and double the number of private security contractors there now. [...]

Among those contractors who will be working in Iraq next year is International Development Services, a company with links to Blackwater, now renamed Xe Services.

If you wonder why the US State Department plans to  lavish cash on a private corporation in Iraq, where supposedly we already defeated the "terrorists" and established a "democracy" you might have missed these recent stories about the violence that still rages in what was once the "Central Front in the War on Terror."

May 19, 2011: Link

KIRKUK: A series of attacks against police in the disputed northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Thursday killed at least 25 people and wounded 79 others, the worst violence to hit the country in two weeks.

The attacks in the oil-rich ethnically-mixed city come with just months to go before US forces, who participate in confidence-building tripartite patrols and checkpoints with central government forces and Kurdish security officers in Kirkuk and across north Iraq, must withdraw from the country.

Three explosions – two car bombs and a magnetic ‘sticky bomb’ attached to a car – occurred around one hour apart in the oil-rich ethnically-divided city, security officials said.

May 15, 2011: Link

BAGHDAD: Gunmen broke into a house early Sunday and fatally shot a family of three as they slept, Iraqi officials said. Separately, mortar rounds struck in central Baghdad, killing two.

The dawn house attack, which killed a mother, father and 13-year-old boy, occurred in the mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhood of Baiyaa in the southwestern part of the capital, a police officer said. [...]

In Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square, two mortar rounds slammed into the street at about 1:00 p.m., killing two pedestrians and injuring 10 others, another police officer said.

Two other mortar rounds landed in central Jadiriyah district and injured five civilians, he added.

He said the mortar rounds were aimed at Baghdad’s Green Zone, which houses Iraqi government headquarters and the US and British embassies.

Five Katyusha rockets hit the Green Zone, but there was no immediate word on casualties.

April 27, 2011: Link

BAQUBA: A Sunni imam’s family and four Sunni brothers were shot dead in attacks in central Iraq on Friday, a day after a suicide bomber killed 10 Shia worshippers in a nearby mosque.

The flare-up in restive Diyala province, part of nationwide violence that left 11 people dead, comes with just months before the end-of-2011 scheduled withdrawal of US troops. [...]

The violence came after a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Shia mosque late on Thursday in the Diyala town of Baladruz, killing 10 and wounding 30, all men, according to security and medical sources. [...]

Also on Friday, three roadside bombs which exploded in quick succession in south Baghdad killed three people, including one policeman, an interior ministry official said, on condition of anonymity.

Another 28 people were wounded in the blasts, including 20 policemen.

And in the main northern city of Mosul, gunmen killed tribal chief Mutashar al-Aghaidi near his home just after midday, according to a police source in Mosul.

April 23, 2011: Link

“Two US service members were killed yesterday (Friday) while conducting operations in southern Iraq,” the military said in a statement without giving any other details.

Not surprisingly, the likelihood of US troops remaining in Iraq past the December 31, 2011 withdrawal date (not counting private contractors) appears more and more likely with each passing day.  Check out this story from the Huffington Post dated May 11, 2011:

Maren Leed, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Huffington Post that a strong contingent in the Pentagon believes the United States needs to remain in Iraq since the country does not yet have a fully stable security and rule of law environment. Those officials will likely try accommodate an Iraqi request to stay even if it comes at the end of 2011, but are pushing to make it happen earlier. [...]

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently said he would support the Obama administration if it decides to keep troops in Iraq beyond 2011.

Last month, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, "If we're not smart enough to work with the Iraqis to have 10,000 to 15,000 American troops in Iraq in 2012, Iraq could go to hell."

“I think it's also obvious that the Iraqi military doesn't have a lot of the technological capability that they need to combat to this kind of insurgency that is still out there," argued Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in February.

House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has also said it's "highly likely" Iraq will ask the United States to extend its presence, claiming the number of troops left in the country could be as high as 20,000.

So nice to see that elusive "bipartisanship" in Washington, DC isn't it?  Too bad for our troops that the only issue that some Republicans and Democrats can find common ground is the very real possibility that our government should keep those troops in Iraq past 2011.  Too bad, I say, because Iraq is a dangerous place for US ground troops, regardless of whether the Iraqi opposition to their presence is Sunni or Shi'ite:

Link

BAGHDAD — American forces are facing an increasingly dangerous environment in southern Iraq, where Shiite militias trying to claim they are driving out the U.S. occupiers have stepped up attacks against bases and troops.

The uptick in violence serves as a warning about what American forces could face if U.S. and Iraqi officials come to an agreement about keeping more U.S. troops in the country past Dec. 31.  

“We’re very concerned about it,” said Col. Reginald Allen, who commands the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment that operates in five, predominantly Shiite provinces. “This environment is very fluid, but in general our planning assumptions and our precautions are based on the worst case, that levels of violence will continue to increase.”

Allen’s regiment lost five soldiers in April, one of the highest months for combat-related deaths in Iraq since U.S. forces pulled out of the cities in June 2009.

So don't count your US troop withdrawals from Iraq just because the current Status of Forces agreement says we have to exist the country by the end of this year.  After all, the Maliki government and the Pentagon are both seriously considering an option whereby that American forces stay past they12/31/2011 withdrawal deadline.  Very seriously considering it, actually:

On paper, the future of the US military in Iraq is clear-cut. US and Iraqi officials say there are no plans and no negotiations to extend the troop presence here past the agreed Dec. 31 deadline – a major political priority in both Washington and Baghdad. But faced with that rapidly approaching date in a newly volatile Middle East, the US, at least, seems to be having second thoughts. [...]

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has expressed an openness to keeping a US military presence in Iraq past December.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on May 11 that he was open to an extended US stay if there was enough backing from Iraqis, but was vague about how much support he would require – and from whom. He has insisted that Iraqi forces can take care of their internal security – "our agencies and our forces have become competent and capable of controlling the security situation," he said last month – but acknowledged that Iraq needs help meeting outside threats. [...]

[T]he major and more politically sensitive area of concern is the US military's role in keeping tensions from erupting along the disputed boundaries between the Kurdish-controlled north and central Iraq. In those flash-point areas, US soldiers have served as a buffer between the Kurdish peshmerga forces and Iraqi government soldiers.

"Let's be clear – the reason we should stay is to keep the Iraqis from fighting each other, particularly the Kurds and the Arabs," says Peter Mansoor, a former executive officer to Gen. David Petraeus and a professor of military history at Ohio State University. "We can couch it in whatever terms we want to but ... they need us to protect them from themselves," he said in a telephone interview.

Let me be clear.  We should never have invaded Iraq.  By doing so we kicked a hornet's nest of simmering sectarian and ethnic rivalries that has never abated since Bush and Co. first ordered a "Shock and Awe" invasion to oust Saddam Hussein back in March 2003.  Every day since that fateful and grievously mistaken decision to attempt to change the political landscape in the Middle East by using American military power, people have died: Americans and Iraqis.  The only beneficiaries of the Iraq war have been Iran (which extended its influence on the region tremendously thanks to the US military occupation in Iraq) and a host of "corporations"  and "contractors" who have milked and bilked the US government out of billions of dollars.

The US media, particularly the television news networks has largely forgotten Iraq.  Politicians rarely speak about it, and when they do, the news programs provide little if any coverage. But the troops have not forgotten, nor have their families.  What do they think?  Do they really believe they will be leaving Iraq once and for all come December 31st?  Not exactly:

"How many of you know when you're going to be going home?" Gen. Martin Dempsey, the US Army's top general, asked a group of soldiers during a recent visit to Baghdad. Only a handful raised their hands.

I think that about says it all, doesn't it?

Originally posted to Steven D on Thu May 19, 2011 at 04:46 AM PDT.

Also republished by Military Community Members of Daily Kos.

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