By Tom Bettag
Almost nine years ago, Ted Koppel joined the 3rd Infantry Division crossing into Iraq and invading Baghdad. For his debut appearance on “Rock Center with Brian Williams,” Koppel takes viewers back into Iraq as the U.S. military completes its withdrawal. But is America really leaving? Many people have the impression that the U.S. presence – and U.S. government spending - is finally ending in Iraq. Koppel makes it clear that this is far from the truth.
He tells the story of some 16,000 people who will be left behind. Koppel and his team obtained extraordinary access to the U.S. embassy, the largest embassy in the world, with a footprint the size of Vatican City. He also traveled to the U.S. consulate in Basra, which faces regular rocket attacks from Iranian-funded militia.
For them, it isn’t over; it’s just about to begin. Radicals within the Iranian Parliament have threatened that once the U.S. military has pulled out, American diplomats will be considered an occupying force and must be driven out. Koppel points out that many of the Americans staying in Iraq are contract security specialists - former Marines and Navy seals who do dangerous jobs but stay below the radar. In fact, an estimated 1,500 of these contractors have died in Iraq -more or less anonymously - since 2003.
The anguish at being left behind without military protection makes people at the new U.S. consulate in Basra, Iraq talk about being Fort Apache. Or as one security officer put it, “It’s like building a consulate on Omaha Beach.” This report is an effort to ensure that the Americans who are left behind are not forgotten.