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2011-11-30

As Biden Visits Iraq Ahead of U.S. Withdrawal, Critics See Last-Ditch Effort to Preserve Occupation

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has arrived in Iraq for an unannounced visit to mark the withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of the year. Shi’ites supporting Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr held an anti-U.S. protest in Basra to oppose Biden’s visit. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that numerous investment bankers are arriving in Iraq to secure potentially lucrative reconstruction and oil deals even though security remains a concern. We’re joined by Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi-American blogger and political analyst who just returned from Iraq two weeks ago. "Biden’s visit is widely seen in Iraq as the last attempt by the U.S. government to keep U.S. troops beyond the deadline and rename them as military trainers," Jarrar says. "Most Iraqis are worried [that] the Pentagon has not let go of its plans to leave the 3,000 to 4,000 troops under the title 'trainers' and that there will be one last showdown at the Iraqi parliament within the next few days." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We move on now to Iraq, where Vice President Joe Biden arrived yesterday for an unannounced visit to mark the withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of the year. Shi’ites supporting Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr held an anti-U.S. protest in Basra while Biden attended ceremonies marking the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

HUSSEIN MIZEL: [translated] The U.S. troops will leave within a month, but there is something going on behind the scenes which the Iraqi people do not know about, some kind of an agreement between Biden and the Iraqi government. For this reason, we have staged a protest. We warn everyone against any agreement that will harm Iraq’s security.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Vice President Biden is expected to thank American and Iraqi troops and to start talks on a new phase in U.S.-Iraqi relations. White House spokesperson Jay Carney yesterday affirmed the administration’s commitment to ending the war.

PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: I just want to note that President Obama, when he was running for this office, made clear that, if elected, he would end the war in Iraq responsibly. What we’re seeing happen in these final six weeks of the year is the fulfillment of that promise, where we are withdrawing the remaining U.S. forces from Iraq, and we are ending that war responsibly and giving the Iraqi people the chance for a better future that they deserve, and also maintaining an important strategic relationship with Iraq. I would note that having, as you know, worked for the Vice President during his first two years here, that it was a measure of the President’s seriousness about Iraq and seriousness about fulfilling his commitment that he asked the Vice President to take on day-to-day management of this policy, which is why he has traveled, as you know, so often to Iraq over the last nearly three years.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Vice President Biden’s visit comes amidst continuing violence in the country, often targeting police and security forces. Three bombs exploded outside a local official’s house in Iraq’s northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk Monday, killing one civilian and wounding at least 15 others. One of the wounded was Fadhil Juma.

FADHIL JUMA: [translated] When the first bomb went off, I went out to see. The second bomb went off, and I and my mother were wounded. And now we are hospitalized.

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, there was a roadside bombing near the central town of Abu Ghraib and several explosions in the center of Baghdad. According to Iraqi officials, the attacks killed at least 15 people, wounded 20 others.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports numerous investment bankers are arriving in Iraq to secure potentially lucrative reconstruction and oil deals, even though security remains a concern.

For more, we begin with Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi-American blogger, political analyst, just returned from Iraq two weeks ago.

Raed, talk about [Vice] President Biden’s surprise visit, the very—the great deal of attention being paid to the fact that the U.S. is pulling out most troops by the end of the year, and what’s been happening in Iraq, in your country.

RAED JARRAR: Vice President Biden’s visit is widely seen in Iraq as the last attempt by the U.S. government to keep U.S. troops beyond the deadline and rename them as military trainers. What’s going on now is that the Vice President, along with Nouri al-Maliki’s cabinet, the Iraqi prime minister, are attempting to pass a new agreement with the NATO. They’re trying to pass it through the Iraqi parliament. If the agreement gets ratified by the parliament, this will grant some levels of immunity to NATO trainers, and I think the Pentagon and Vice President Biden will try to keep between 3,000 and 4,000 U.S. troops as trainers. This is what most Iraqis are worried about now, that the Pentagon has not let go of its plans to leave the 3,000 to 4,000 troops under the title "trainers" and that there will be one last showdown at the Iraqi parliament within the next few days, once this agreement is sent to the floor for voting.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And Raed, what will the role of these trainers be, these 3,000 or 4,000 trainers that the U.S., you’re saying, is interested in keeping in Iraq?

RAED JARRAR: This is exactly the question that the majority of Iraqis are asking. What Iraqis believe, in general, is that the Iraqi armed forces are facing a crisis, but it’s not a crisis of training, it’s a crisis of legitimacy. People don’t see them as a nationalist armed forces that are concerned with Iraq’s security. Instead, they see them as militias who are loyal to their political parties or sects or whatever. So, the U.S. presence will not solve this crisis of legitimacy, from an Iraqi point of view.

I think what Iraqis think that the U.S. is trying to do is that the U.S. is merely trying to leave a permanent base in Iraq, with military presence, and not call it that, because there is so much sensitivity against any U.S. military presence. So there is so much criticism for the plans. There are very strong demands that the last U.S. soldier, regardless of his title or her title, whether it was a trainer or a soldier, non-combat, combat, they have to leave before the end of this year, and the last U.S. base must be shut down before the end of this year. There is no space for the U.S. to stay there and rename themselves as trainers or NATO or whatever. So, we’ll see how that goes within the next few days.

AMY GOODMAN: Raed, we don’t have much time, but I wanted to ask you about the vast U.S. diplomatic mission that is in Baghdad, because we’re not talking, actually, about even 3,000 or 4,000 people who are staying—or the media’s talking about 150 troops—we’re talking about thousands upon thousands, is that right? Even going against the State Department’s own recommendation?

RAED JARRAR: I can’t hear you anymore.

AMY GOODMAN: Talking about the vast U.S. diplomatic mission that will remain in Iraq, who that is going to be peopled by, how many thousands of people who will stay in that diplomatic mission?

RAED JARRAR: Sure. There are—currently, the plan is to leave 16,000 U.S. personnel under the U.S. State Department’s mission. It’s a huge number. This is as large as an Army division. Half of these 16,000 will be armed military contractors. Now, this is, of course, really shocking. The size is unprecedented. It’s not only against Iraq’s national interest and national security interest, but it’s also against the U.S. national security interest to keep these huge numbers of personnel there. Actually, the State Department’s own inspector general in 2009 put a report recommending downsizing, or what he called "right-sizing," the U.S. diplomatic mission in Iraq from the massive thousands to a few hundred. The State Department not only ignored that recommendation, they actually doubled the number of their presence there. So, I think downsizing the U.S. diplomatic footprint is a must. So, even if the U.S. ends its military occupation by the end of the year, as was agreed upon, I think the next step is to pressure the State Department to downsize its mission to a regular size. Iraq has a few dozen employees in D.C., and I think the U.S. must have not more than a few dozen employees in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Raed Jarrar, for being with us, Iraqi-American blogger, speaking to us from Washington. When we come back from break, we’re going to be joined by a State Department Foreign Services officer who’s written a book that the U.S. government is not very happy about. It’s called We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. This is Democracy Now! Back in 30 seconds.

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