Bases of futility: Keeping troops in Iraq would perpetuate the war

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The latest lame idea floated by the Bush administration and Pentagon for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, even after a withdrawal, is called "lily pads."

In reality, the military bases -- the larger ones known as Contingency Operating Bases and the smaller called Enduring Bases -- would be operated in Iraq after some or all of the 160,000 post-surge American forces are pulled out. The lily pads would be self-contained islands and the troops on them would not normally venture out. Their supplies would be flown in and they would be equipped with what are considered to be standard U.S. necessities, including fast-food restaurants.

Reasons put forward for leaving them behind in Iraq include protection of Iraq's oil. The country has the world's third-largest reserves, although it is now producing at about one-third of its capacity due to insecurity, corruption and lack of modernization. Troops on the lily pads would also be there to keep the forces of neighboring countries -- notably Iran, Syria and Turkey -- out of Iraq.

The Bush administration also is concerned about having to walk away, in the future, from assets such as the $600 million U.S. embassy built in the Green Zone and Balad Air Force Base, which could be sacked and looted after a U.S. departure. The White House definitely does not want the Iraq war to end as the Vietnam War did in Saigon in 1975, with the flag down and the last helicopter evacuating people from the roof of the embassy.

The "lily pad" idea, however, is both foolish and expensive. Iraqis who want U.S. forces out would simply circle the bases and lob in mortar shells. Depending on the number of lily pads left behind, tens of thousands of troops will be needed to secure them.

This is easily as bad an idea as the original invasion of Iraq more than four years ago. Congress and the American people need to concentrate on forcing President Bush to agree to a clear, firm timetable for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces. Leaving many thousands behind on an assortment of bases is dangerous and would serve only to perpetuate the war.


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