Report: Massive U.S. 'Footprint' In Iraq Conveys 'Permanence,' 'Opposite Impression Is Needed'

A report released [last week] by a 20-member commission, headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, reported it will be at least 12 to 18 months before Iraq's army and police can take charge.

The New York Times reports that "allies of the White House are likely to point to the report as evidence of the dangers inherent in any rapid withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, and a Pentagon spokesman said today that the administration remained committed "to stay as long as it takes to get the Iraqi Army back on its feet.'"

But a closer inspection of the report reveals that the Jones commission is hardly in favor of maintaining the escalation in Iraq. On page 128, the report explicitly warns that the "massive" U.S. military occupation of Iraq is conveying the impression of "permanence." The report goes on to recommend "significant reductions" in the "size of our national footprint in Iraq":

Perceptions and reality are frequently at odds with each other when trying to understand Iraq's problems and progress. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the impressions drawn from seeing our massive logistics "footprint," our many installations, and the number of personnel (military and civilian), especially in and around the Baghdad region. The unintended message conveyed is one of "permanence", an occupying force, as it were.

What is needed is the opposite impression, one that is lighter, less massive, and more expeditionary. The decision to occupy Saddam Hussein's former palace complex with our military headquarters, while expedient in 2003, has most likely given the wrong impression to the Iraqi population. We recommend that careful consideration of the size of our national footprint in Iraq be reconsidered with regard to its efficiency, necessity, and its cost. Significant reductions, consolidations, and realignments would appear to be possible and prudent. [p. 128]

The recommendations of Gen. Jones echo the comments made by White House "war czar" Gen. Doug Lute prior to his appointment, when he said: "You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq. It's very difficult to do that when you have 150,000-plus, largely western, foreign troops occupying the country."

Disregarding the advice and concerns of these generals, Bush has said he plans to largely maintain troop levels, and the White House has aggressively pursued the construction of an "embassy-fortress" in Baghdad. Constructed with slave labor, it is of the "largest and costliest" embassies in the world. "The 65-acre compound will be largely a world unto itself, insulated as much as possible from problems that plague the rest of Baghdad." Photos of the $592 million embassy can be found here .

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