Washington, April 21: The US is planning to establish up to four long-term military bases in Iraq.
The proposal would transform America’s ability to project its power in West Asia.
Future arrangements depend largely on who takes over as leader of Iraq.
However, Baghdad International Airport, Tallil in southern Iraq, the H-1 airstrip in the west and Bashur airfield in Kurdistan have been identified as potential bases. “There will be some kind of a long -term defence relationship with a new Iraq, similar to Afghanistan,” a senior Bush administration official said.
“The scope of that has yet to be defined — whether it will be ‘full-up’ operational bases, smaller forward operating bases or plain access.” One of the reasons that senior officials in the Pentagon favour Ahmad Chalabi, of the exile group the Iraqi National Congress, as the new leader is that he would be pro-American and happy to facilitate US bases.
Chalabi told ABC television yesterday: “It is up to the Iraqi parliament and the Iraqi people to decide whether they will want a military association of the US. But it is my view that a strategic alliance between Iraq and the US is a very good thing for both.”
The plan for bases does not mean US troops would remain as an occupying force indefinitely. The bases would be used primarily to help with reconstructing Iraq. But their proximity to Syria and Iran could help the US to apply added pressure on those countries.
With US troops also stationed in Afghanistan, Iran is now almost surrounded by American forces. One senior official said US bases in Iraq would “make Syria and Iran nervous”.
Colin Powell, the secretary of state, said last week: “We have been successful in Iraq. There is a new dynamic in that part of the world.” The new bases would also enable America to scale back its presence in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Permanent US bases in Iraq would be just one element of a dramatic change in America’s strategic posture since the September 11 attacks. The bulk of American troops in Germany are likely to be withdrawn in favour of “lilypad” bases used as short-notice stopping-off points.
The bodies of two British soldiers, who their government says may have been executed, have been found in a shallow grave in Iraq, a spokeswoman for Britain’s ministry of defence said on Monday. The bodies of 36-year-old Simon Cullingworth and 24-year-old Luke Allsopp were found near Al Zubayr, outside Basra in the south of the country. “The circumstances of the soldiers’ deaths remain unclear,” the spokeswoman said.
Last month, the Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera showed pictures of two dead Britons in uniform surrounded by an exultant mob. The British government said the two soldiers “may well have been executed”.