Barack Obama has announced that all American troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year. This was presented as America honorably adhering to the agreement signed years ago by the Bush Administration. At the same time, White House and Pentagon spinners were planting stories to make clear that the United States had fully intended to continue its military presence in Iraq past the deadline, but was thwarted by the Iraqis' unconscionable refusal to allow American forces to commit crimes with impunity -- and immunity -- on Iraqi soil.
These backroom "process" stories -- filled, as always, with unnamed insiders providing savvy "nuance" -- were detailed, laying out a long series of negotiations, ending in what was clearly the Americans' chief goal: a military presence of 3,000-5,000 troops, placed strategically around the country, with a main focus in Baghdad. These negotiations failed; hence Obama's announcement that he was being forced to honor the existing agreement on withdrawal.
At the same time, however, we are also told that the State Department will maintain "at least" 5,000 armed "security personnel" -- mercenaries of various stripes. These 5,000 militarized (if not officially military) troops will be stationed in strategic locations around the country, where the United States will establish mini-fortress "consulates" in Iraqi cities, with a main focus in Baghdad.
So the Americans had a baseline goal of 3,000 armed personnel remaining in Iraq; they will now have a minimum of 5,000 armed personnel remaining in Iraq.
It could be argued that the original intent was to have the 3,000-5,000 uniformed troops in addition to the 5,000 mercenaries, and thus the Americans have taken a bit of a haircut in the occupation department: 5,000 instead of combined total of 8,000 (or a top end of 10,000.) Maybe so. But the fact remains that whatever else happens, the American government will have a minimum of 5,000 men under arms, stationed all across the conquered land. What's more, there is apparently no limit on the number of such mercenaries the Americans can employ to provide "security" for the thousands of other American government operatives who will remain. Any number of pretexts could provide excuses for a "surge" in "security contractors": 8,000, 10,000, 20,000 -- who's to say how many will ultimately be "needed" to combat "terrorists"?
So we have a baseline of 5,000 militarized forces remaining indefinitely in Iraq, with no immediate limit on an expansion in their numbers. And of course, all the stories make it abundantly clear that the Americans will quickly negotiate a new "security agreement" with Iraq, which will include -- or even be in addition to -- thousands of military "advisers" to help "train" the Iraqi forces, especially with the multitude of new weapons that Washington's war profiteers are lining up to sell to the "sovereign" government in Baghdad. How many troops will be involved in these "agreements"? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Again, we don't know.
And as Glenn Greenwald and others have pointed out, none of these numbers include the "Special Forces" and CIA paramilitaries that will inevitably be ranging across Iraq, no doubt in large numbers. Iraq is hardly going to receive less attention from the American black ops and death squads than Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and the dozens of other countries where Washington is waging secret war.
Thus it is almost a certainty that by the end of 2012, there will be, at the barest minimum, at least 8,000 to 10,000 heavily armed personnel under the direct control of the United States government stationed at strategic points throughout Iraq; the actual figure will doubtless be higher, perhaps much higher. But this is a bare minimum -- numbers which tally almost exactly with the final goals of the American war machine in the "failed" negotiations on extending the present form of the occupation.
Obama's announcement was yet another bitter sham. We are not ringing down the curtain on the Iraq War; we are simply beginning the second act, with new scenery in the backdrop, some new plotlines and characters -- but the same old dirty, bloody business of aggression.