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Withdrawal Talk: Bait & Switch?

by Tod Ensign

As the mid-term elections draw closer, it's likely that Congressional candidates and the White House will float proposals to withdraw troops from Iraq. Republicans with close races will spin any military talk of redeployment from Iraq as evidence of progress. On May 9th, the New York Times reported that Pentagon officials have been discussing the possibility of bringing American troop levels down to 100,000 assuming that Iraqi troops "continue to improve."

With little fanfare, the US command in Iraq has been busy spending tens of millions of dollars to upgrade several military bases which appear intended for long-term use by American personnel. One of their largest projects is "Camp Anaconda" at Balad, Iraq where a major rebuilding effort is expected to take another nine years. Two 12,000 foot runways to accomodate the US military's largest cargo jets have already been extensively upgraded. Contracts totally $62 million have been let to construct three enormous ramps that can accomodate dozens of C-5 and C-130 cargo planes, as well as every type of helicopter in the US arsenal. The huge base, which covers fourteen square miles, can accomodate up to 25,000 workers, many of whom are currently American soldiers and construction workers.

Another huge rebuilding project is taking place at al-Asad in the desert west of Baghdad where 17,000 GIs and construction workers are already stationed. This faux American small town, features a Burger King, Pizza Hut, and a car dealership which operates from the PX. Plans are underway to further improve base security by encircling the entire 19 square mile base with a state-of-the-art security fence.

At two other large bases, Talil air base in the south and the al-Qayyereh military base in the north, similar construction programs are also underway. At Tallil, an enormous mess hall which can accomodate 6,000 diners is currently being built. Some have speculated that the al-Qayyereh base may become an anti-ballistic missile site, since it's strategically located near the Iranian border.

For the record, many Iraqi political leaders refuse to be drawn into discussions about the long-term status of these bases. Some prominent critics of Bush's invasion, such as former US Mideast commander, General Anthony Zinni (Ret.) have labelled plans to construct permanent bases as, "a stupid idea and politically unacceptable." Zinn told the Associated Press that the bases would "damage our image in the region and (make) people decide that this (seizing bases) was our original intent.