A MID GROWING PRESSURE IN THE United States to pull troops out of Iraq, President George W Bush has requested hundreds of millions of dollars to build heavily fortified bases there and says that future presidents will have to determine when US forces are withdrawn, indicating a long-term deployment which will last far beyond the insurgency.
As the war enters its fourth year, the Americans are expanding four huge strategically located airbases in Iraq, turning them into massive strongpoints that presumably could provide launchpads for possible attacks on Iran if the current confrontation gets out of hand.
Although senior officers insist these superbases do not signal a permanent US presence in Iraq, the consolidation at the very least appears to reflect the belief that US forces will remain for several more years--a decade at least but probably longer--as part of a military master plan for the strategic region.
General John Abizaid, the head of the US Central Command (Centcom) who oversees military operations in Iraq and central Asia, told the US House of Representatives' Appropriations subcommittee in March that the US may want to maintain a long-term military presence in Iraq to support moderates in the region and to protect oil and gas supplies. Asked to "make an unequivocal commitment" that the US was not seeking permanent bases in Iraq, Abizaid said that these could not be ruled out.
"The policy of long-term presence in Iraq hasn't been formulated. Clearly our long-term vision for a military presence in the region requires a robust counterterrorist capability," he said. "No doubt there is a need for some presence in the region over time, primarily to help people help themselves through this period of extremists versus moderates."
Acknowledging the strategic interests the US and its allies have in the oil-rich region, Abizaid added: "Ultimately it comes down to the free flow of goods and resources on which the prosperity of our own nation and everybody else in the world depends."
Establishing military bases in the Middle East is something Washington's neoconservatives, including Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, the most powerful vice-president in American history, have sought for some time. It was a central element in their rationale for invading Iraq, to ensure control of energy sources and supply amid a changing global military posture.
Iraqi leaders are not happy about any long-term US military deployment in their...