Iraq: US prepares permanent bases

From The Independent, April 3:

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has revealed that coalition forces are spending millions of dollars establishing at least six “enduring” bases in Iraq.

Major Joseph Breasseale, a senior spokesman for the coalition forces’ headquarters in Iraq, said: “The current plan is to reduce the coalition footprint into six consolidation bases – four of which are US.”

The Pentagon says it has already reduced the number of US bases from 110 a year ago to around 75. But at the same time it is expanding a number of vast, highly defended bases, some in the desert away from large population areas.

More than US$280 million has already been spent on building up Al Asad air base, Balad air base, Camp Taji and Tallil air base, and the Bush Administration has this year requested another US$175 million to enlarge them.

These bases, which currently house more than 55,000 troops, have their own bus routes, pizza restaurants and supermarkets.

Some analysts believe the desire to establish a long-term US military presence in Iraq was always one of the reasons behind the 2003 invasion.

And this one is pretty funny. From AFP:

BLACKBURN, England: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday acknowledged the United States had made “thousands” of tactical errors in Iraq but said history would vindicate the strategic goal of ousting Saddam Hussain.

Spending the day in Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s home constituency in northwest England, Rice was dogged at every turn by small but noisy protests by dissident locals in Washington’s staunchest wartime ally.

But the chief US diplomat gave new ammunition to critics who contend that the US-led forces botched the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq after invading in March 2003 and quickly capturing Baghdad.

“I know we’ve made tactical errors, thousands of them, I’m sure,” Rice told some 200 scholars, officials and journalists at a forum organised by Britain’s prestigious Chatham House foreign policy institute.

“This could have gone that way, or that could have gone that way. But when you look back in history, what will be judged is, ‘Did you make the right strategic decision?’ If you spend all of your time trying to judge this tactical issue or that tactical issue, I think you miss the larger sweep.”

And toppling Saddam was the correct move, Rice said, he “wasn’t going anywhere without military intervention” and “we were not going to have a different kind of Middle East with Saddam at the centre of it”.

Rice, one of the architects of the war that has become highly unpopular in the United States, upheld Washington’s quest to introduce “liberal democracy” in a region long defined by its dictatorships.

“Who today would honestly defend Arab authoritarianism which has created a sense of despair and hopelessness so desperate that it feeds an ideology of hatred that leads people to strap bombs to their bodies and fly airplanes into buildings?” she asked.

Citing Iraq as an example, Rice told the forum, “With time, with painstaking efforts, and with our steadfast support, Iraqis will build up their fragile democratic culture.”

“Eventually, many decades from now, people will take it for granted,” she predicted. “That democratic culture was always to be – just as we, in America and in Britain now take for granted our democratic cultures.”

Several hundred critics of US and British policy in Iraq took to the streets of Blackburn – where one in five residents are Muslims, mainly of South Asian origin – throughout the day yesterday to denounce Rice’s visit.

They forced her to use a side entrance when she went to tour a high school in the former Industrial Revolution mill town, where she also visited the Blackburn Rovers soccer team and a plant where next-generation fighter jets are built.

Their placards were equally poignant: ‘Stop the war’ and ‘How many lives per gallon?’

See our last post on Iraq.