Originally Published: 2/14/2007
IRAQ’S ENDURING BASES
By The Issue Wonk
The Prince Sultan Airbase. During Operation Desert Storm, which ran from August 1990 to February 1991 (U.S. involvement ran from January 16th to April 6th 1991), the United States needed an air base, one closer to the fighting than our bases in Turkey. An agreement was reached with the Saudis to construct Al Kharj Air Base.1 By January 1991 Al Kharj was home to 4,900 Air Force personnel. After the attacks on the Office of the Program Manager/Saudi National Guard in November 1995 and on the Khobar Towers living compound in June 1996, air activities were moved to a compound inside the Royal Saudi Air Force Prince Sultan Air Base just south of Riyadh, a much more secure facility.
U.S. Presence in Saudi Arabia and bin Laden. The U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia is “one of the main reasons given by [Osama bin Laden] for the 11 September attacks . . .”2 In a May 2003 interview with Sam Tananhaus of Vanity Fair,3 Paul Wolfowitz said:
There are a lot of things that are different now, and one that has gone by almost unnoticed—but it’s huge—is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia. Their presence there over the last 12 years has been a source of enormous difficulty for a friendly government. It’s been a huge recruiting device for al Qaeda. In fact if you look at bin Laden, one of his principle grievances was the presence of so-called crusader forces in the holy land, Mecca and Medina. I think just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to other positive things.
Why Invade Iraq? Bookman4 predicted, in September 2002, “Having conquered Iraq, the United States will create permanent military bases in that country from which to dominate the Middle East, including neighboring Iran.” He was right. In a March 2004 Chicago Tribune article, Spolar5 reported that Army Brigadier General Robert Pollman, chief engineer for base construction in Iraq, wondered, “Is this a swap for the Saudi bases?” Joost Hiltermen of the International Crisis Group later surmised that yes, it was. “[W]e can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia.” By January 2005 it was reported that the Pentagon had established “enduring bases” in Iraq.6
Enduring Bases. Was the goal of invading Iraq to establish a permanent military presence in the Middle East since we needed to evacuate Prince Sultan Air Base? Consider the following:
1. In 2000 the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) published “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” which called for the establishment of permanent military bases in the Middle East. In 2005 former Senator Gary Hart began asking if PNAC’s base dreams were coming true:7
Are we, or are we not, building permanent military bases in Iraq? . . . If the goal of the Project for a New American Century, as it thereafter became the Bush administration, was to overthrow Saddam Hussein, install a friendly government in Baghdad, set up a permanent political and military presence in Iraq, and dominate the behavior of the region (including securing oil supplies), then you build permanent bases for some kind of permanent American military presence. If the goal was to spread democracy and freedom, then you don’t.
2. In 2002 President Bush’s “National Security Strategy of the United States” said that “The United States will require bases and stations within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia, as well as temporary access arrangements for the long-distance deployment of U.S. troops.” Joseph Gerson, an historian, said that “The Bush administration sees Iraq as an unsinkable aircraft carrier for its troops and bases for years to come.”6
3. In January 2005 it was reported that the Pentagon is building a permanent military communications system, connecting Camp Victory to other coalition bases. Thomas Donnelly, a senior defense policy expert for the American Enterprise Institute, said, “This is the kind of investment that is reflective of the strategic commitment and intention to continue a military presence in Iraq.”8
Former Pentagon insider Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski explained that she believes that the Pentagon had long been interested in “shifting and reshaping our global military footprint” into strategically advantageous Iraq. She said: 9
We’ve built very massive mega-bases, permanent. These are permanent military bases in Iraq. We’ve done that in other places, as well, in the Middle East, but certainly these – this construction project in Iraq, in fact most of the money has been for military construction . . . for our use. I think that’s a big part of it, shifting our footprint. . . [W]e’ve built the bases, and we’re not leaving Iraq . . .
And in March 2004 she wrote:10
War is generally crafted and pursued for political reasons, but the reasons given to the Congress and to the American people for this one were inaccurate and so misleading as to be false. Moreover, they were false by design. Certainly, the neoconservatives never bothered to sell the rest of the country on the real reasons for occupation of Iraq – more bases from which to flex U.S. muscle with Syria and Iran, and better positioning for the inevitable fall of the regional ruling sheikdoms. Maintaining OPEC on a dollar track and not a euro and fulfilling a half-baked imperial vision also played a role.
Additionally, in April 2006 Francis reported:11
[The Pentagon] has already spent $1 billion or more on [its bases], outfitting some with underground bunkers and other characteristics of long-term bases. The $67.6 billion emergency bill to cover Iraq and Afghanistan military costs includes $348 million for further base construction.
When President Bush told the press in March 21  that it will be decided by ‘future presidents and future governments of Iraq’ when there will be no American forces in Iraq, his words intensified speculation that several of the approximately 75 bases in Iraq will remain occupied by U.S. forces for an extended period.
What are these bases like? Do you picture temporary, tent-filled areas in the middle of the Iraqi deserts? “Some U.S. bases are huge. Camp Anaconda, near Balad, for example, encompasses 15 square miles, and features a miniature golf course, two swimming pools, and a first-run movie theater.”11 The base at al-Asad also boasts a movie theater and swimming pool, as well as a Subway restaurant, a coffee shop, and a Hertz rent-a-care facility.12
The Embassy. Meanwhile the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, which is currently under construction, reportedly will have 21 buildings, including a food court, swimming pool, and gym, and covers 104 acres, as opposed to the usual 10 acres. “The fortress-like compound rising beside the Tigris River here will be the largest of its kind in the world, the size of Vatican City, with a population of a small town, its own defense force, self-contained power and water, and a precarious perch at the heart of Iraq’s turbulent future.”13
Summary. The U.S. had to remove its presence from Saudi Arabia, but it needed a presence in the Middle East. Invading Iraq offered many opportunities, one of which was the ability to establish permanent military bases. President Bush stated that “As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.”14 Don’t believe it. We’re never leaving.
1 Prince Sultan Air Base Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia. Global Security.
2 BBC, April 29, 2003. U.S. Pulls Out of Saudi Arabia.
3 U.S. Department of Defense, May 9, 2003. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Sam Tannenhause, Vanity Fair.
4 Bookman, Jay. “The President’s Real Goal in Iraq.” Information Clearing House, September 29, 2002.
5 Spolar, Christine. “14 ‘Enduring Bases’ Set in Iraq: Long-Term Military Presence Planned.” Chicago Tribune, March 23, 2004. (Publication preserved by Global Security.)
6 Buncombe, Andrew. “US and UK Forces Establish ‘Enduring Bases’ in Iraq.” The Independent, April 2, 2006.
7 Hart, Gary. “Exit or Empire?” The Huffington Post, May 10, 2005.
8 Lake, Ely. “Amid Talk of Withdrawal, Pentagon is Taking Steps For Longer Stay in Iraq.” The New York Sun, January 14, 2005.
9 Kwiatkowski, Karne. Transcript of C-Span Q&A April 2, 2006.
10 Kwiatkowski, Karen. “The New Pentagon Papers. Salon, March 10, 2004.
11 Francis, David R. “US Bases in Iraq: A Costly Legacy. The Christian Science Monitor, April 3, 2006.
12 Poole, Oliver. “Football and Pizza Point to U.S. Staying for Long Haul. The Telegraph, November 2, 2006.
13 Hanley, Charles J. “U.S. Building Massive Embassy in Baghdad.” The Associated Press, April 14, 2006. (Publication preserved by TruthOut Issues.)
14 Banusiewicz, John D. “’As Iraqis Stand Up, We Will Stand Down,’ Bush Tells Nation.” American Forces Press Service, June 28, 2005.
© The Issue Wonk, 2006