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R.I.P. Camp Victory: An Obituary for a Military Base in Iraq

It was built for... well, not to put too fine a point on it, victory.  I’m talking, of course, about the ill-named Camp Victory, the massive military complex, a set of bases really, constructed around an old hunting lodge and nine of former dictator Saddam Hussein’s opulent palaces near Baghdad International Airport.

Within months of American troops entering Baghdad in April 2003, it was already “the largest overseas American combat base since the Vietnam War.” It would become the grand visiting place for American politicians -- back when the U.S. was still being called the global “hyperpower” -- arriving in what was almost imagined as our 51st state.  It was the headquarters for the American military effort and later “surge” strategy in Iraq.  It was also the stomping grounds for at least 46,000 U.S. troops stationed there and who knows how many spooks, contractors, hire-a-guns, Defense Department civilians, and third-world workers.  It had its own Cinnabon and Burger King, its massive PXs, and it’s 27-mile perimeter of “blast walls and concertina wire,” as well as its own hospital and water-bottling plant.  It was a “city,” a world, unto itself.

American reporters passed through it regularly and yet for most Americans who didn’t set foot in it, our massive outpost in the heart of the oil heartlands of the planet (the place we were supposed to garrison for decades, if not generations) might as well not have existed.  For all the news about Iraq that, once upon a time, was delivered to Americans, the humongous Camp Victory itself never struck journalists as particularly newsworthy, nor generally did the billions of dollars that went into building the more than 500 U.S. bases, mega to micro, that we now know were constructed in that country at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.  

All this was true until Camp Victory was at the edge of what can only be called ultimate defeat and finally found, if not its chronicler, then its obituary writer in Annie Gowan of the Washington Post.  Perhaps it’s often true that only at a funeral do any of us get our due.  But with the last American slated to leave Camp Victory (though not Iraq) in early December, with the gates to be locked and the keys turned over to the Iraqi government, she quotes Lt. Col. Sean Wilson, an Army public affairs officer, on the emptying of the base this way: “This whole place is becoming a ghost town.  You get the feeling you’re the last person on Earth.”  (Of course, Iraqis might have a different impression.)

The U.S. military will evidently conduct no final interment ceremonies in which the base is renamed Camp Defeat before being abandoned.  Nonetheless, even as Washington hangs on grimly to its remaining militarized toeholds in Iraq, that should be the one-line summary obit on America’s great Iraq adventure. 

In his latest piece of reportage for TomDispatch, “Obama’s Arc of Instability,” Nick Turse offers an eye-opening reminder that, while the U.S. is drawing down to bare bones in Iraq, it has actually been building up its forces, operations, and infrastructure in the Greater Middle East.  Still, somewhere in the Camp Victory story, isn’t there a modest lesson that Washington could draw? (Though, as Turse makes clear, it won't...)

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