New Internationalist

US drones invade Iraqi skies

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When is a US troop pullout not a pullout? asks Felicity Arbuthnot.

The US Army under a CC Licence
The sun is supposedly setting on US troop involvement in Iraq. The US Army under a CC Licence

First the world was sold imaginary weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, with General Colin Powell asserting at the United Nations in February 2003: ‘My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.’

Now it seems the world is sold a withdrawal from Iraq which was not quite what it seemed, as presented by the Panetta-Obama-fest in the Baghdad, Fort Bragg speeches of just six weeks ago. At Fort Bragg: ‘The war in Iraq will soon belong to history,‘ said the President.

Well, not quite.

In an interesting sleight of hand, the State Department, rather than the Pentagon, is operating a fleet of surveillance drones over Iraq, in ‘the latest example of the State Department’s efforts to take over the functions in Iraq that the military used to perform.’1

The Pentagon-operated drones, it seems, went out by the front door and returned through the State Department back door

Further, the near-Vatican-City-sized US Embassy in Baghdad is protected by 5,000 mercenaries and has a further staff of 11,000, a large number in a seemingly ‘military advice’ capacity, training Iraqi forces – a nation that, ironically, the US and Britain cited nine years ago as having a military capability which was a threat not just ‘to the entire region’, but to the West as well.

Joe Logon under a CC Licence
A Lockheed D-21 drone Joe Logon under a CC Licence

Little noticed is the fact that the State Department has been operating drones in Iraq since last year. Additionally, when ‘Embassy’ staff travel, they are escorted by helicopters, frequently with machine-gun-toting mercenaries ‘tethered to the outside’. Another Nisour Square massacre waiting to happen.

The Pentagon-operated drones, it seems, went out by the front door and returned through the State Department back door.

While it is asserted that the current ones are unarmed, President Obama’s response during an event hosted by Google and YouTube on 30 January seems ambiguous: ‘The truth of the matter is we’re not engaging in a bunch of drone attacks inside of Iraq. There’s some surveillance to make sure that our Embassy compound is protected.’ The US ‘protecting’ without decimating fire power, seems somewhat of a non-sequitur.

‘Our sky is our sky’

Moreover, bids are being sought for drone operations over Iraq for the next five years. Interestingly, ‘solicitations’ for ‘qualified contractors’ for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Support Services were released on 1 November 2011, less than two months before the US ‘pullout’ from Iraq.2 Specifications include: disseminating threat information for use in route planning (which reads pretty well like ‘attack mode’), and response to a security incident at locations remote from the core of operation (which presumably is: operator safe at console a few thousand miles away deciding who, and how many, to kill.) Suitable contracts would be signed within 30 days of tendering.

This ‘worldwide’ undertaking will embrace Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia; US drone bases are already in Ethiopia, the Seychelles and ‘a secret location in the Arabian Peninsula’.

Iraq’s lawmakers seem to have missed the fact (which the US has apparently ignored) that formal permission is needed to operate in sovereign air space

While Iraqis are enraged and Iraqi politicians say they have not been consulted – with acting Interior Minister Adnan Al-Assadi stating adamantly: ‘Our sky is our sky. Not the USA’s’, Iraq’s lawmakers seem to have missed the fact (which the US has apparently ignored) that formal permission is needed to operate in sovereign air space.

There are also strict criteria for flyover (or flying within) rights. The grantee must be on good terms with the grantor. The grantor must approve of the use of the air space and the grantor can deny them use of the air space if there is an attempt to make war. The potential for the guest to blow nationals of the host country to pieces sounds pretty well like a ‘no way’.

Further, large fees can be levied by the grantor – Russia, for example, charges Europe $400 million a year for flyover permission alone.

The deeply divisive, largely mistrusted, increasingly tyrannical US-installed puppet Prime Minister Maliki could win some much needed popularity if he took a firm stance on the matter – all the legal tools are there for him to use.

However, he looks to be between the proverbial rock and a very hard place. No breath holding.

  1. New York Times: US Drones patrolling its skies provoke outrage in Iraq
  2. Federal Business Opportunies website

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