Even the New York Times, who did all it could to get us into the Iraq War, says it's high time to get the fuck out
1. The Road Home
New York Times Editorial
It is time for the United States to leave Iraq, without any more delay than the Pentagon needs to organize an orderly exit.
Like many Americans, we have put off that conclusion, waiting for a sign that President Bush was seriously trying to dig the United States out of the disaster he created by invading Iraq without sufficient cause, in the face of global opposition, and without a plan to stabilize the country afterward.
At first, we believed that after destroying Iraq's government, army, police and economic structures, the United States was obliged to try to accomplish some of the goals Mr. Bush claimed to be pursuing, chiefly building a stable, unified Iraq. When it became clear that the president had neither the vision nor the means to do that, we argued against setting a withdrawal date while there was still some chance to mitigate the chaos that would most likely follow.
While Mr. Bush scorns deadlines, he kept promising breakthroughs - after elections, after a constitution, after sending in thousands more troops. But those milestones came and went without any progress toward a stable, democratic Iraq or a path for withdrawal. It is frighteningly clear that Mr. Bush's plan is to stay the course as long as he is president and dump the mess on his successor. Whatever his cause was, it is lost.
The political leaders Washington has backed are incapable of putting national interests ahead of sectarian score settling. The security forces Washington has trained behave more like partisan militias. Additional military forces poured into the Baghdad region have failed to change anything.
Continuing to sacrifice the lives and limbs of American soldiers is wrong. The war is sapping the strength of the nation's alliances and its military forces. It is a dangerous diversion from the life-and-death struggle against terrorists. It is an increasing burden on American taxpayers, and it is a betrayal of a world that needs the wise application of American power and principles.
A majority of Americans reached these conclusions months ago. Even in politically polarized Washington, positions on the war no longer divide entirely on party lines. When Congress returns this week, extricating American troops from the war should be at the top of its agenda.
That conversation must be candid and focused. Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave. There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide. Potentially destabilizing refugee flows could hit Jordan and Syria. Iran and Turkey could be tempted to make power grabs. Perhaps most important, the invasion has created a new stronghold from which terrorist activity could proliferate.
The administration, the Democratic-controlled Congress, the United Nations and America's allies must try to mitigate those outcomes - and they may fail. But Americans must be equally honest about the fact that keeping troops in Iraq will only make things worse. The nation needs a serious discussion, now, about how to accomplish a withdrawal and meet some of the big challenges that will arise.
The Mechanics of Withdrawal
The United States has about 160,000 troops and millions of tons of military gear inside Iraq. Getting that force out safely will be a formidable challenge. The main road south to Kuwait is notoriously vulnerable to roadside bomb attacks. Soldiers, weapons and vehicles will need to be deployed to secure bases while airlift and sealift operations are organized. Withdrawal routes will have to be guarded. The exit must be everything the invasion was not: based on reality and backed by adequate resources.
The United States should explore using Kurdish territory in the north of Iraq as a secure staging area. Being able to use bases and ports in Turkey would also make withdrawal faster and safer. Turkey has been an inconsistent ally in this war, but like other nations, it should realize that shouldering part of the burden of the aftermath is in its own interest.
Accomplishing all of this in less than six months is probably unrealistic. The political decision should be made, and the target date set, now.
The Fight Against Terrorists
Despite President Bush's repeated claims, Al Qaeda had no significant foothold in Iraq before the invasion, which gave it new base camps, new recruits and new prestige.
This war diverted Pentagon resources from Afghanistan, where the military had a real chance to hunt down Al Qaeda's leaders. It alienated essential allies in the war against terrorism. It drained the strength and readiness of American troops.
And it created a new front where the United States will have to continue to battle terrorist forces and enlist local allies who reject the idea of an Iraq hijacked by international terrorists. The military will need resources and bases to stanch this self- inflicted wound for the foreseeable future.
The Question of Bases
The United States could strike an agreement with the Kurds to create those bases in northeastern Iraq. Or, the Pentagon could use its bases in countries like Kuwait and Qatar, and its large naval presence in the Persian Gulf, as staging points.
There are arguments for, and against, both options. Leaving troops in Iraq might make it too easy - and too tempting - to get drawn back into the civil war and confirm suspicions that Washington's real goal was to secure permanent bases in Iraq. Mounting attacks from other countries could endanger those nations' governments.
The White House should make this choice after consultation with Congress and the other countries in the region, whose opinions the Bush administration has essentially ignored. The bottom line: the Pentagon needs enough force to stage effective raids and airstrikes against terrorist forces in Iraq, but not enough to resume large-scale combat.
The Civil War
One of Mr. Bush's arguments against withdrawal is that it would lead to civil war. That war is raging, right now, and it may take years to burn out. Iraq may fragment into separate Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite republics, and American troops are not going to stop that from happening.
It is possible, we suppose, that announcing a firm withdrawal date might finally focus Iraq's political leaders and neighboring governments on reality. Ideally, it could spur Iraqi politicians to take the steps toward national reconciliation that they have endlessly discussed but refused to act on.
But it is foolish to count on that, as some Democratic proponents of withdrawal have done. The administration should use whatever leverage it gains from withdrawing to press its allies and Iraq's neighbors to help achieve a negotiated solution.
Iraq's leaders - knowing that they can no longer rely on the Americans to guarantee their survival - might be more open to compromise, perhaps to a Bosnian-style partition, with economic resources fairly shared but with millions of Iraqis forced to relocate. That would be better than the slow-motion ethnic and religious cleansing that has contributed to driving one in seven Iraqis from their homes.
The United States military cannot solve the problem. Congress and the White House must lead an international attempt at a negotiated outcome. To start, Washington must turn to the United Nations, which Mr. Bush spurned and ridiculed as a preface to war.
The Human Crisis
There are already nearly two million Iraqi refugees, mostly in Syria and Jordan, and nearly two million more Iraqis who have been displaced within their country. Without the active cooperation of all six countries bordering Iraq - Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria - and the help of other nations, this disaster could get worse. Beyond the suffering, massive flows of refugees - some with ethnic and political resentments - could spread Iraq's conflict far beyond Iraq's borders.
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia must share the burden of hosting refugees. Jordan and Syria, now nearly overwhelmed with refugees, need more international help. That, of course, means money. The nations of Europe and Asia have a stake and should contribute. The United States will have to pay a large share of the costs, but should also lead international efforts, perhaps a donors' conference, to raise money for the refugee crisis.
Washington also has to mend fences with allies. There are new governments in Britain, France and Germany that did not participate in the fight over starting this war and are eager to get beyond it. But that will still require a measure of humility and a commitment to multilateral action that this administration has never shown. And, however angry they were with President Bush for creating this mess, those nations should see that they cannot walk away from the consequences. To put it baldly, terrorism and oil make it impossible to ignore.
The United States has the greatest responsibilities, including the admission of many more refugees for permanent resettlement. The most compelling obligation is to the tens of thousands of Iraqis of courage and good will - translators, embassy employees, reconstruction workers - whose lives will be in danger because they believed the promises and cooperated with the Americans.
One of the trickiest tasks will be avoiding excessive meddling in Iraq by its neighbors - America's friends as well as its adversaries.
Just as Iran should come under international pressure to allow Shiites in southern Iraq to develop their own independent future, Washington must help persuade Sunni powers like Syria not to intervene on behalf of Sunni Iraqis. Turkey must be kept from sending troops into Kurdish territories.
For this effort to have any remote chance, Mr. Bush must drop his resistance to talking with both Iran and Syria. Britain, France, Russia, China and other nations with influence have a responsibility to help. Civil war in Iraq is a threat to everyone, especially if it spills across Iraq's borders.
President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have used demagoguery and fear to quell Americans' demands for an end to this war. They say withdrawing will create bloodshed and chaos and encourage terrorists. Actually, all of that has already happened - the result of this unnecessary invasion and the incompetent management of this war.
This country faces a choice. We can go on allowing Mr. Bush to drag out this war without end or purpose. Or we can insist that American troops are withdrawn as quickly and safely as we can manage - with as much effort as possible to stop the chaos from spreading.
2. IRAQ'S CURSE
The thirst for a final, crushing victory is firmly woven into the country's history
By EDWARD WONG/NY Times
BAGHDAD – Perhaps no fact is more revealing about Iraq's history than this: The Iraqis have a word that means to utterly defeat and humiliate someone by dragging his corpse through the streets.
The word is sahel , and it helps explain much of what I have seen in 3 _ years of covering the war.
It is a word unique to Iraq, a friend explained. Throughout Iraq's history, he said, power has changed hands only through extreme violence, when a leader was vanquished absolutely, and his destruction was put on display for all to see.
But in this war, the moment of sahel has been elusive. No faction has been able to secure absolute power; that has only sharpened the hunger for it.
Listen to Iraqis engaged in the fight, and you realize they are far from exhausted by the war. Many say this is only the beginning. President Bush, on the other hand, has escalated the U.S. military involvement on the assumption that the Iraqi factions have tired of armed conflict and are ready to reach a grand accord.
"We've changed nothing," said Fakhri al-Qaisi, a Sunni Arab dentist turned hard-line politician. "It's dark. There will be more blood."
I first met Mr. Qaisi in 2003 at a Salafi mosque in western Baghdad, when the Sunni Arab insurgency was gaining momentum. He articulated the Sunnis' simmering anger at being ousted from power. That fury has blossomed and is likely only to grow, as religious Shiite leaders and their militias become more entrenched in the government and as Kurds in the north push to expand their region and secede in all but name.
Caught in the middle of the civil war are the Americans. To Iraq's factions, they are the weakest of all the armed groups in one crucial respect: Their will is ebbing, and their time here is limited.
"Everyone – the Sunni, the Shia – is playing the waiting game," an Iraqi leader told me over dinner at his home in the Green Zone. "They're waiting out the Americans. Everyone is using time against you."
Four years into this war, Sunni and Shiite attacks against the Americans are expanding. There is little love among Iraqi civilians for the troops, though many fear the anarchy that could follow an American withdrawal.
"I'm still sticking by my principle, which is against the occupation," Mr. Qaisi said. "I'm Iraqi, and I think the Iraqi people should have this principle. We have the right to defend our country as George Washington did."
As long as I have known him, Mr. Qaisi has rejected the idea that Sunni Arabs are the minority in this country. To him and many other Sunnis, the borders of Iraq do not delineate the boundaries of the war. The conflict is set, instead, against the backdrop of the entire Islamic world, in which demography and history have always favored the Sunnis.
For the Shiites, who make up 60 percent of Iraqis, the unalloyed hostility of the Sunni Arabs only reinforces a centuries-old sense of victimhood. So the Shiite militias grow, stoking vengeance.
The Shiites have waited centuries for their moment on the throne, and the war is something they are willing to tolerate as the price for taking power, said the Iraqi leader who had invited me to dinner. "The Shia say this is not exceptional for them; this is normal," he said.
The belief of the Shiites that they must consolidate power through force of arms is tethered to ever-present suspicions of an impending betrayal by the Americans. Though the Americans have helped institute the representative system of government that the Shiites now dominate, they have failed to eliminate memories of how President George H.W. Bush allowed Mr. Hussein to slaughter rebelling Shiites in 1991. Shiite leaders are all too aware, as well, of America's hostility toward Iran, the seat of Shiite power, and of its close alliances with Sunni Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia.
"In the history of Iraq, more than 7,000 years, there have always been strong leaders," said Sheik Muhammad Bakr Khamis al-Suhail, a respected Shiite neighborhood leader in Baghdad who supports democracy. "We need strong rulers or dictators like Franco, Hitler, even Mubarak. We need a strong dictator, and a fair one at the same time, to kill all extremists, Sunni and Shiite."
I was surprised to hear those words. But perhaps I was being naive. Looking back on all I have seen of this war, it now seems that the Iraqis have been driving all along for the decisive victory, the act of sahel , the day the bodies will be dragged through the streets.
3. Private contractors outnumber U.S. troops in Iraq
New U.S. data show how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of the war-torn nation.
By T. Christian Miller/LA Times
The number of U.S.-paid private contractors in Iraq now exceeds that of American combat troops, newly released figures show, raising fresh questions about the privatization of the war effort and the government's capacity to carry out military and rebuilding campaigns.
More than 180,000 civilians — including Americans, foreigners and Iraqis — are working in Iraq under U.S. contracts, according to State and Defense department figures obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Including the recent troop buildup, 160,000 soldiers and a few thousand civilian government employees are stationed in Iraq.
The total number of private contractors, far higher than previously reported, shows how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of Iraq — a mission criticized as being undermanned.
"These numbers are big," said Peter Singer, a Brookings Institution scholar who has written on military contracting. "They illustrate better than anything that we went in without enough troops. This is not the coalition of the willing. It's the coalition of the billing."
The numbers include at least 21,000 Americans, 43,000 foreign contractors and about 118,000 Iraqis — all employed in Iraq by U.S. tax dollars, according to the most recent government data.
The array of private workers promises to be a factor in debates on a range of policy issues, including the privatization of military jobs and the number of Iraqi refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S.
But there are also signs that even those mounting numbers may not capture the full picture. Private security contractors, who are hired to protect government officials and buildings, were not fully counted in the survey, according to industry and government officials.
Continuing uncertainty over the numbers of armed contractors drew special criticism from military experts.
"We don't have control of all the coalition guns in Iraq. That's dangerous for our country," said William Nash, a retired Army general and reconstruction expert. The Pentagon "is hiring guns. You can rationalize it all you want, but that's obscene."
Although private companies have played a role in conflicts since the American Revolution, the U.S. has relied more on contractors in Iraq than in any other war, according to military experts.
Contractors perform functions including construction, security and weapons system maintenance.
Military officials say contractors cut costs while allowing troops to focus on fighting rather than on other tasks.
"The only reason we have contractors is to support the war fighter," said Gary Motsek, the assistant deputy undersecretary of Defense who oversees contractors. "Fundamentally, they're supporting the mission as required."
But critics worry that troops and their missions could be jeopardized if contractors, functioning outside the military's command and control, refuse to make deliveries of vital supplies under fire.
At one point in 2004, for example, U.S. forces were put on food rations when drivers balked at taking supplies into a combat zone.
Adding an element of potential confusion, no single agency keeps track of the number or location of contractors.
In response to demands from Congress, the U.S. Central Command began a census last year of the number of contractors working on U.S. and Iraqi bases to determine how much food, water and shelter was needed.
That census, provided to The Times under the Freedom of Information Act, shows about 130,000 contractors and subcontractors of different nationalities working at U.S. and Iraqi military bases.
However, U.S. military officials acknowledged that the census did not include other government agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department.
Last month, USAID reported about 53,000 Iraqis employed under U.S. reconstruction contracts, doing jobs such as garbage pickup and helping to teach democracy. In interviews, agency officials said an additional 300 Americans and foreigners worked as contractors for the agency.
State Department officials said they could not provide the department's number of contractors. Of about 5,000 people affiliated with the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, about 300 are State Department employees. The rest are a mix of other government agency workers and contractors, many of whom are building the new embassy.
"There are very few of us, and we're way undermanned," said one State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We have significant shortages of people. It's been that way since before [the war], and it's still that way."
The companies with the largest number of employees are foreign firms in the Middle East that subcontract to KBR, the Houston-based oil services company, according to the Central Command database. KBR, once a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., provides logistics support to troops, the single largest contract in Iraq.
Middle Eastern companies, including Kulak Construction Co. of Turkey and Projects International of Dubai, supply labor from Third World countries to KBR and other U.S. companies for menial work on U.S. bases and rebuilding projects. Foreigners are used instead of Iraqis because of fears that insurgents could infiltrate projects.
KBR is by far the largest employer of Americans, with nearly 14,000 U.S. workers. Other large employers of Americans in Iraq include New York-based L-3 Communications, which holds a contract to provide translators to troops, and ITT Corp., a New York engineering and technology firm.
The most controversial contractors are those working for private security companies, including Blackwater, Triple Canopy and Erinys. They guard sensitive sites and provide protection to U.S. and Iraqi government officials and businessmen.
Security contractors draw some of the sharpest criticism, much of it from military policy experts who say their jobs should be done by the military. On several occasions, heavily armed private contractors have engaged in firefights when attacked by Iraqi insurgents.
Others worry that the private security contractors lack accountability. Although scores of troops have been prosecuted for serious crimes, only a handful of private security contractors have faced legal charges.
The number of private security contractors in Iraq remains unclear, despite Central Command's latest census. The Times identified 21 security companies in the Central Command database, deploying 10,800 men.
However, the Defense Department's Motsek, who monitors contractors, said the Pentagon estimated the total was 6,000.
Both figures are far below the private security industry's own estimate of about 30,000 private security contractors working for government agencies, nonprofit organizations, media outlets and businesses.
Industry officials said that private security companies helped reduce the number of troops needed in Iraq and provided jobs to Iraqis — a benefit in a country with high unemployment.
"A guy who is working for a [private security company] is not out on the street doing something inimical to our interests," said Lawrence Peter, director of the Private Security Company Assn. of Iraq.
Not surprisingly, Iraqis make up the largest number of civilian employees under U.S. contracts. Typically, the government contracts with an American firm, which then subcontracts with an Iraqi firm to do the job.
Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, a contractors' trade group, said the number of Iraqis reflected the importance of the reconstruction and economic development efforts to the overall U.S. mission in Iraq.
"That's not work that the government does or has ever done…. That's work that is going to be done by companies and to some extent by" nongovernmental organizations, Soloway said. "People tend to think that these are contractors on the battlefield, and they're not."
The Iraqis have been the most difficult to track. As recently as May, the Pentagon told Congress that 22,000 Iraqis were employed by its contractors. But the Pentagon number recently jumped to 65,000 — a result of closer inspection of contracts, an official said.
The total number of Iraqis employed under U.S. contracts is important, in part because it may influence debate in Congress regarding how many Iraqis will be allowed to come to the U.S. to escape violence in their homeland.
This year, the U.S. planned to cap that number at 7,000 a year. To date, however, only a few dozen Iraqis have been admitted, according to State Department figures.
Kirk Johnson, head of the List Project, which seeks to increase the admission of Iraqis, said that the U.S. needed to provide a haven to those who worked most closely with American officials.
"We all say we are grateful to these Iraqis," Johnson said. "How can we be the only superpower in the world that can't implement what we recognize as a moral imperative?"
The back story
Information in this article is based in part on a database of contractors in Iraq obtained by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act, which allows the public access to government records.
The database is the result of a census conducted earlier this year by the U.S. Central Command.
The census found about 130,000 contractors working for 632 companies holding contracts in Iraq with the Defense Department and a handful of other federal agencies.
The Times received the database last month, four months after first requesting it. Because the Freedom of Information Act law requires an agency to provide only information as of the date of the request, the census is based on figures as of February. During interviews, Pentagon officials said the census had since been updated, and they provided additional figures based on the update.
Contractors in Iraq:
There are more U.S.-paid private contractors than there are American combat troops in Iraq.
U.S. troops: 160,000
Nationality of contractors*
43,000 non-U.S. foreigners
Company: Kulak Construction Co.
Description: Based in Turkey, supplies construction workers to U.S. bases
Total employees: 30,301
Description: Based in Houston, supplies logistics support to U.S. troops
Total employees: 15,336
Company: Prime Projects International
Description: Based in Dubai, supplies labor for logistics support
Total employees: 10,560
Company: L-3 Communications
Description: Based in New York, provides translators and other services
Total employees: 5,886
Company: Gulf Catering Co.
Description: Based in Saudi Arabia, provides kitchen services to U.S. troops
Total employees: 4,002
Company: 77 Construction
Description: Based in Irbil, Iraq, provides logistics support to troops
Total employees: 3,219
Description: Based in Burlingame, Calif, works on reconstruction projects
Total employees: 2,390
Company: Serka Group
Description: Based in Turkey, supplies logistics support to U.S. bases
Total employees: 2,250
Company: IPBD Ltd.
Description: Based in England, supplies labor, laundry services and other support
Total employees: 2,164
Company: Daoud & Partners Co.
Description: Based in Amman, Jordan, supplies labor for logistics support
Total employees: 2,092
Company: EOD Technology Inc
Description: Based in Lenoir City, Tenn., supplies security, explosives demolition and other services
Total employees: 1,913
Note: Data are as of February, which is most current available.
*Approximate - numbers rounded
Sources: U.S. Central Command, Times reporting
Labels: Iraq War