Yesterday’s Irish Times featured two reports on Iraq. The first of which declared: “US combat troops to leave Iraq by end of month“. The second claimed that “Violence [in Iraq] has fallen sharply in the last three years.”
The second report states that “nearly 400 civilians were killed in bombings and other attacks in July.” Iraqi government officials however put the figure at 535, with a further 1,000 injured, in what they describe as “the deadliest month in Iraq since May 2008.”
Yet the Irish Times goes on to say “violence has fallen sharply in the last three years.” What this doesn’t tell you is that a) civilian deaths are roughly back to where they were in the two years following the invasion and b) any which way you look at it, 400 deaths or 535 deaths, even using conservative estimates this is the most deadly month in Iraq of 2010.
But, Irish Times, let’s stick to the good news.
The first report looks like the kind you or I might write, if we chose to limit our research to whatever we can find in US government press releases. While they’d be basically accurate, albeit within the strict limits we’d set out, inevitably, what we would have left out would have been of far more interest.
For example, we wouldn’t have discussed whether the reduction in troops signifies any change in terms of policy, we wouldn’t have asked whether the situation that necessitated the troops presence yesterday no longer applies today (which relates neatly back to the second report) and most importantly we wouldn’t have asked the leaders of the country being (partially un)occupied what they thought of the whole charade.
In late 2008 Obama pledged that he “would remove combat troops from Iraq in 16 months.” It’s now about 16 months on, so that explains why we have an Irish Times report declaring the “US would meet its deadline of ending combat operations in Iraq at the end of this month.” However, as you’d imagine that’s not the whole story, a few paragraphs later we are told: “US forces in Iraq are scheduled to be cut to just 50,000.” So actually what the writer is trying to tell us, in a roundabout way, is that troop numbers are to be reduced from “a peak of more than 140,000” to about a third that number.
That’s not really the whole story either though, the peak in troop numbers over the last few years was more like 170,000, but that’s back in October 2007. Troops numbers prior to this news were neither 140,000 nor 170,000, they were more like 98,000. So the troop numbers are only planned to be halved.
But again, that’s not even half the story. Actually, its almost exactly half the story.
As of May 2010 there were approximately 250,000 contractors (or mercenaries to you and me) working in Afghanistan, Iraq and the U.S. Central Command, with almost 100,000 of them active in Iraq (and at least 11,000 of these armed). Which is exactly the same as the number of US troops deployed there.
So, in total the US has approximately 200,000 military or contracted military personnel in Iraq at present. With Obama’s ‘withdrawal’ the US has reduced numbers by about one quarter. Which hardly warrants a headline like “US combat troops to leave Iraq by end of month”.
This headline is essentially justified by Obama’s rhetorical trick of calling this particular quarter of the US occupying force “combat troops” and the work they were undertaking the “combat mission”.
In reality though, where rhetorical gadgets like the one above are dismissed, the US is not withdrawing from Iraq, it is simply switching from what is referred to as a “military” force to a “security” force. According to Jeremy Scahill, writing in The Nation, “The [US] State Department is asking Congress to approve funds to more than double the number of private security contractors in Iraq,” apparently submitting a request to the Wartime Contracting Commission for up to 7,000 further hired guns. Which may just signal another rebranding, from the Department of War, to the Department of Defense, to the Department of Security.
[Update: A response to this post from the writer of the second report can be found here]