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New Report Reveals Why We'll Be Paying for the Iraq Occupation for Years to Come, Withdrawal or Not

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See my full report at AlterNet.

With last week's announced escalation of the war in Afghanistan, including an Iraq-like "surge" replete with 4,000 more U.S. troops and a sizable increase in private contractors, President Barack Obama blew the lid off of any lingering perceptions that he somehow represents a significant change in how the U.S. conducts its foreign policy.

In the meantime, more reports have emerged that bolster suspicions that Obama's Iraq policy is but a downsized version of Bush's and that a total withdrawal of U.S. forces is not on the horizon.

In the latest episode of Occupation Rebranded, it was revealed that the administration intends to reclassify some combat forces as "advisory and assistance brigades." While Obama's administration is officially shunning the use of the term "global war on terror," the labels du jour, unfortunately, seem to be the biggest changes we will see for some time.

While Obama -- and public attention -- shifted foreign policy focus last week to Afghanistan, lost in the media blitz was an important report that examines how taxpayers will continue to pay for the Iraq occupation for years to come, withdrawal or not. This report, released in March by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, provides a sobering look at Obama's "massive and expensive" Iraq plan, identifying several crucial questions that have yet to be addressed.

Whether or not the Obama administration actually intends to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in numbers large enough to claim to be "ending the war" as many believe, this kind of official review of the U.S. reality in Iraq -- and the congressional oversight to which Obama will (or will not) be subjected in the coming months -- bears intense scrutiny.

Among the issues identified by the GAO:

-- What will Obama do with the 283 US bases in Iraq?

-- Who will provide security for the massive -- and likely expanding -- army of diplomats deployed in the country at the monstrous U.S. embassy in Baghdad?

-- What is the US responsibility to pay for the humanitarian destruction in Iraq caused by the US?

-- Will Obama comply if Iraqis vote in July 2009 to have all US forces out by 2010?

The Obama administration is likely to portray the costs of "withdrawing" from Iraq as a painful necessity made inevitable by the Bush administration. But there are already calls for Obama to not allocate any new funds for such an operation. Retired Army Col. Ann Wright, a veteran diplomat who reopened the U.S. embassy in Kabul after Sept. 11 (and, while in the military, worked on plans for an Iraq invasion), says, "Everyone in the Department of Defense -- military and civilian -- knows well the expense of going to war and the expense of bringing troops back to the United States.

"DOD has plenty of money to withdraw equipment and personnel and no doubt has had monies specifically for that purpose built into its budgets for years. The Congress should not provide additional funding for withdrawal, but instead require DOD to use existing allocations."

To read my full analysis of the new GAO report, check out my new story, "283 Bases, 170,000 Pieces of Equipment, 140,000 Troops, and an Army of Mercenaries: The Logistical Nightmare in Iraq," on AlterNet.