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    Middle East
     Apr 27, 2007
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A US recipe for endless war in Iraq
By Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - The language on a timetable for US withdrawal from Iraq voted out of the House and Senate conference committee this week contains large loopholes that would apparently allow US troops to continue carrying out military operations in Iraq's Sunni heartland indefinitely.

The plan, coming from the Democratic majority in Congress, makes an exemption from a 180-day timetable for completion of "redeployment" of US troops from Iraq to allow "targeted special

actions limited in duration and scope to killing or capturing members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations of global reach".

The al-Qaeda exemption, along with a second exemption allowing US forces to re-enter Iraq to protect those remaining behind to train and equip Iraqi security forces and to protect other US military forces, appears to approve the presence in Iraq of tens of thousands of US occupation troops for many years to come.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed, by 218 to 208 votes, the US$124 billion House and Senate supplemental appropriations bill that requires US troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq by October 1. President George W Bush has said he will veto it. The Senate is expected to approve identical legislation, setting the stage for the first veto fight between Bush and the majority Democrats.

The large loopholes in the Democratic withdrawal plan come against the background of the failure of the US war against the insurgency - including al-Qaeda - in al-Anbar and other Sunni provinces and the emergence of a major war within the Sunni insurgency between non-jihadist resistance groups and al-Qaeda.

The Sunni resistance organizations represent a clear alternative to an endless US occupation of hostile Sunni provinces that has driven many activists into the arms of al-Qaeda.

Although the wording in the House and Senate appropriations bill appears to suggest a very limited mandate for operations against al-Qaeda, at least one influential Democratic figure, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joe Biden, intends to interpret it broadly enough to allow the administration to continue at roughly the present level of US military operations in Anbar province, even after the US has withdrawn its troops from the Baghdad area.

Biden is said have been responsible, in large part, for the al-Qaeda exception being included in the Democratic withdrawal plan. Last October, he said any withdrawal plans should provide for "a small residual force - perhaps 20,000 troops - to strike any concentration of terrorists, help keep Iraq's neighbors honest and train its security forces".

The senator apparently accepts the assumption that US forces must remain in Iraq indefinitely to prevent al-Qaeda from becoming a permanent presence in Anbar and adjoining Sunni provinces. During most of 2006, the US military command in Iraq encouraged that assumption by portraying the situation in Anbar as a two-sided struggle between the US counterinsurgency war and al-Qaeda.

A five-page US Marine Corps intelligence report on Anbar last September reflected that view. It said Anbar province was a "vacuum that has been filled by the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq". Media reporting on the province largely conformed to that interpretation. The notion of a two-sided war in the Sunni heartland bolsters the Bush administration's political position that any talk of a timetable for withdrawal is defeatist.

In fact, however, it is far removed from reality. The majority of the important Sunni insurgent organizations represent a second anti-al-Qaeda force that has far greater potential for defeating al-Qaeda than the US military does.

The "non-jihadist" resistance to foreign occupation has political interests that are fundamentally at odds with those of al-Qaeda. During the run-up to the constitutional referendum of October 2005, and again during the campaign for the December 2005 parliamentary election, significant elements of the Sunni armed resistance in Anbar and elsewhere in the Sunni provinces 

Continued 1 2 

Shi'ite power struggle escalates (Apr 26, '07)

Basra splits between warring Shi'ites (Apr 25, '07)

The revenge of the Ba'athists (Apr 24, '07)


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