Iraq: Withdrawal progresses, with "non-combat" caveat

 In Iraq

This post has been corrected from the version first posted at 3pm PST.

President Obama announced Monday that the plan to end the combat mission in Iraq by the end of this month is on schedule, saying that “Make no mistake, our commitment in Iraq is changing – from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats.” This is great news, but the withdrawal is far from over.

In case we need a reminder of the urgent need to withdraw all troops from Iraq, (including the 50,000 residual troops that will remain after August), last week three former soldiers from the ground unit involved in the notorious “Collateral Murder” video released last April by Wikileaks came forward to tell their stories. They insisted that the excessively violent behavior displayed in that video is something that takes place daily and is part of U.S. military procedure.

“From my experiences in Iraq, we shouldn’t even be in these countries fighting wars. This is a war of aggression, of occupation. There is nothing justifiable to me about this war,” says McCord. “And this isn’t someone sitting back saying ‘I think’ or ‘I believe.’ This is from someone who was there. […] Corcoles, now suffering from severe PTSD, says he wants the public to understand that “war kills civilians first.” He says, “I think Americans…need to take responsibility. If you pay taxes, you pay for that soldier’s wage. You’re just as guilty as the soldier pulling the trigger.” […] “What was shown in the Wikileaks video only begins to depict the suffering we have created,” reads an open letter from McCord and Stieber to the Iraqis who were injured or lost loved ones in the July 2007 attack. “From our own experiences, and the experiences of other veterans we have talked to, we know that the acts depicted in this video are everyday occurrences of this war: this is the nature of how U.S.-led wars are carried out in this region.”

As you may recall the withdrawal is itself a bit of a shell game, with plans to leave 50,000 combat-ready “non-combat” troops in until the end of 2011. As Gareth Porter of IPS News pointed out yesterday:

Even the concept of “ending the U.S. combat mission” may be highly misleading, much like the concept of “withdrawing U.S. combat brigades” was in 2009.

Under the administration’s definition of the concept, combat operations will continue after August 2010, but will be defined as the secondary role of U.S. forces in Iraq. The primary role will be to “advise and assist” Iraqi forces.

An official who spoke with IPS on condition that his statements would be attributed to a “senior administration official” acknowledged that the 50,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq beyond the deadline will have the same combat capabilities as the combat brigades that have been withdrawn.

The official also acknowledged that the troops will engage in some combat but suggested that the combat would be “mostly” for defensive purposes. That language implied that there might be circumstances in which U.S. forces would carry out offensive operations as well.

Back in February 2009, Washington Post Pentagon reporter Thomas Ricks referred to Obama’s “combat” vs. “non-combat” designation as “false phrase-ology“.  “There is no pacifistic branch of the U.S. military. Newsflash for Obama, there is no such thing as non-combat troops…I think we are there for a long time.”

If anything, this underscores the need for Americans to keep an eye on this continuing war, and ensure that this will indeed be a real withdrawal.

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