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“I think we’ll be here forever”


luckydevil

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http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11928227/

highlights

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq - The concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that’s now the home of up to 120 U.S. helicopters, a “heli-park” as good as any back in the States.

At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq’s western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.

At a third hub down south, Tallil, they’re planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldiers for chow.

Are the Americans here to stay? Air Force mechanic Josh Remy is sure of it as he looks around Balad.

“I think we’ll be here forever,” the 19-year-old airman from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., told a visitor to his base.

Less formally, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked about “permanent duty stations” by a Marine during an Iraq visit in December, allowed that it was “an interesting question.” He said it would have to be raised by the incoming Baghdad government, if “they have an interest in our assisting them for some period over time.”

In Washington, Iraq scholar Phebe Marr finds the language intriguing. “If they aren’t planning for bases, they ought to say so,” she said. “I would expect to hear ’No bases.”’

Overall, however, this retired Army colonel says American troops are unwanted in the Middle East. With long-term bases in Iraq, “We’d be inviting trouble,” Hughes said.

“It’s a stupid idea and clearly politically unacceptable,” Zinni, a former Central Command chief, said in a Washington interview. “It would damage our image in the region, where people would decide that this” — seizing bases — “was our original intent.”

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