Archive for Thursday, June 19, 2008

Iraqi government gaining confidence

June 19, 2008


A debate is heating up inside Iraq - and inside Washington - that will shape America's relationship with Iraq under the next president.

The debate is over a status of forces agreement (SOFA), a broad strategic framework that will define the long-term role of the U.S. military in Iraq. (The U.N. mandate authorizing the American presence expires at the end of 2008.)

Here's the big irony about this debate for the Bush administration: The security gains produced by the Petraeus-Crocker strategy in Iraq are leading Iraqis to rethink America's role.

The successes of the surge - which many Democrats still won't recognize - are creating an Iraqi political climate less friendly to Bush administration wishes. Iraqi politicians won't accept a Pentagon version of a SOFA seen as an insult to their sovereignty.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Friday that the first draft had "reached a dead end. Any agreement that infringes on Iraq's sovereignty will be dismissed."

On the surface, this debate is over the future of U.S. bases in Iraq, immunity for U.S. soldiers and contractors, and key technical questions such as control of Iraqi airspace. The United States has SOFAs - not considered treaties and traditionally signed under executive authority - with more than 80 countries.

But this SOFA involves issues not present elsewhere.

The White House - and Sen. John McCain - have been tone-deaf on unique aspects of an Iraq agreement. McCain made the comparison again this week with post-World War II treaty arrangements. "Americans are in South Korea," he said. "Americans are in Japan ... in Germany."

Someone needs to give the Arizona Republican an atlas - and a history of Iraq.

Japan and Germany have zero relevance to the Iraq situation. The Middle East has a bitter history of colonial occupation; a significant, long-term U.S. presence in a major Arab nation is not sustainable.

Ali Allawi, a former Iraqi finance minister and respected analyst, told me Iraqis are comparing a potential SOFA to the 1930 Anglo-Iraqi treaty that gave Britain military and economic privileges in exchange for Britain's ending its Iraq mandate.

"Iraqis remember revolts against those seen doing the bidding of the Brits," he said.

Iraqis also recall that huge demonstrations broke out in Iran after the Shah signed a 1964 SOFA with the United States, even though only a few hundred U.S. military advisers were involved.

"National sovereignty is the key issue," Allawi said. "If U.S. troops stay for a finite period, then leave, that's fine. But the Bush administration seems to have something else in mind. People are not sure how this will be wound down or if it will be wound down."

Allawi's comments reminded me of many conversations I've had with Iraqi officials and ordinary Iraqis. Shiite Iraqis - the majority, who hated Saddam and were our nominal allies - always gave me the same message: Please stabilize the country and then go home.

When al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni militias were attacking Shiites, the latter wanted U.S. protection. When Shiite militias took revenge on Sunni civilians, the Sunni community - which had been favored by Saddam - reversed its position and looked to U.S. troops for protection.

Now, as Iraqi security has improved, the Shiite majority feels freer to think about a U.S. troop exit. And Prime Minister Maliki, buoyed by his "success" in routing radical militias from Basra, feels readier to challenge his American backers.

Moreover, Maliki, looking ahead to provincial elections in several months, must pay attention to rising popular nationalist feelings. Most important, he must get a two-thirds vote in his parliament to get the SOFA enacted.

All this might give Democrats the impression that Maliki is giving them cover to demand a full U.S. withdrawal ASAP. After all, if Iraqis want us out, why should we stay?

But Barack Obama should pay attention to the context surrounding Maliki's pronouncements. The Iraqi prime minister knows his impulsive push into Basra would have met disaster had he not been rescued by U.S. air power. Iraqi forces are still not ready for prime time.

Maliki wants U.S. troops to remain for now, and he wants a SOFA. But he wants an accord that treats Iraq like a real country, where U.S. military and civilian officials don't have free reign - and can't stay forever.

In the end, there will probably be a deal that puts U.S. contractors under Iraqi law, Iraqi prisoners under Iraqi control, and gives Iraq far more control over what U.S. forces do, and for how long.

Ryan Crocker, the astute U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, acknowledged Iraqi sensitivities when he said last week: "There isn't going to be an agreement that infringes on Iraqi sovereignty." He added that the deal "isn't going to be forever."

So let's be glad that progress has been made and Iraqis feel confident enough to demand equality. The sooner they can take charge, the sooner U.S. troops will come home.

- Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Scott Drummond 9 years, 10 months ago

Profound military success?!! We are simply spending billions bribing the waring factions to maintain a peace. "There can be no clearer sign of our success than the Iraqi government's well-articulated concerns with regard to a long-term United States military presence there."Ha!! Hasn't this been the position of the so called "terrorists" who want us to go home? It is a sign of our success that this view has been adopted by bush's puppet regime? Ridiculous.

cato_the_elder 9 years, 10 months ago

An interesting column, especially the author's candor (unusual for her) in citing the fact that many Democrats still refuse to recognize our profound military successes in Iraq over the past year and a half. There can be no clearer sign of our success than the Iraqi government's well-articulated concerns with regard to a long-term United States military presence there.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 10 months ago

"any more than those congressional Democrats who supported the invasion"Those Democrats were wrong, and there were millions of us who told them so. I had the opportunity to personally tell Moore he was wrong, but he responded that he had information he couldn't divulge that required him to vote for an authorization of military action.While those who voted for authorization rightly deserve criticism, it was approved in the context of a fear-mongering campaign of lies, distortions and exaggerations by BushCo to Congress, the American people and the world to get the war that its prime movers had been wanting for at least a dozen years.There should be hauled in front of the court in the Hague for their war crimes just like Milosevic was.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 10 months ago

The surge was mostly just coincidental to the relative reduction in violence-- but it should be noted that the level of violence is still extremely high.As Scott rightly points out, the buying-off of one-time insurgent Sunni forces, along with the decision of the majority Shias and their various militias not to wage all-out civil war are the primary reasons for the reduction in violence, most likely because they see some chance of pushing American forces out through political means. But it has been a long-term goal of BushCo and the neocons (going back at least a dozen years) to have permanent bases and a permanent occupation of Iraq, and they won't give up on it easily.

cato_the_elder 9 years, 10 months ago

Have to chuckle to see how the knee-jerk Bush haters can't stomach our success in Iraq any more than those congressional Democrats who supported the invasion and then jumped ship when it became politically expedient for them and their party to do so.

sfjayhawk 9 years, 10 months ago

Cato - are you seriously calling Iraq a success? What are you smoking and where can I get some?

geekin_topekan 9 years, 10 months ago

What ever happened to Saddam's military forces?Yeah,I know "we defeated them" but where did they go?The men that is.Are they in prison?Were they executed?Or are they a part of the Iraqi forces we support now?It took 100 years for this country's "young democracy" to recognize blacks as humans with rights and even longer to recognize women's and native's voices.My point is,when do we decide that they are stable and who decides?Certainly we wouldn't place Iraq's safety and stability over our own?But I keep hearing that we will stay until the region is stable.Americans are losing jobs,homes,children are killing children and drunks are killing innocents right here in larryville.So it seems like a catch 22 to me.We can't declare another country safe and stable when we have so much work to do here.But we can't leave a job halfa$$ed either.

cato_the_elder 9 years, 10 months ago

Sfjayhawk, if "sf" stands for "San Francisco," then I'm sure you'll have no trouble at all finding something to smoke on your friendly neighborhood street corner.Bozo, if you really want to haul in front of the Hague all of the people who zealously advocated the invasion of Iraq, there will be a mighty large number of haulees from both political parties in this country and from many foreign countries too. As blind as you are, I certainly hope that you haven't been issued a driver's license ( a good bet, since it appears that all you do all day is sit in front of a computer vilifying the President of the United States).

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 10 months ago

"I believe that you and your other similarly situated weirdo friends could figure out a way to accuse President Bush of "war crimes" simply for getting out of bed every morning,"You mean his actual war crimes aren't enough?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 10 months ago

Cato, one day I truly hope that I can live a love-filled world like yours where happiness is derived from the invasion and occupation of other countries and the mass murder and destruction that comes with it.What a wonderful world that will be. Not.

Christine Pennewell Davis 9 years, 10 months ago

taking a poll. How many people on here have served in the milatary or ever been in a war zone for what ever reason?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 10 months ago

Even though many in Congress and elsewhere rightfully deserve criticism and to be held accountable for the unwise decision to authorize the use of force in Iraq, it was the Bush Administration who chose to abuse that authorization by ignoring international law and subsequently committing war crimes in utilizing that authority.BTW, Bush has quite ably vilified himself. He needs no help from a poster like me on an obscure internet forum.

cato_the_elder 9 years, 10 months ago

You know, Bozo, I believe that you and your other similarly situated weirdo friends could figure out a way to accuse President Bush of "war crimes" simply for getting out of bed every morning, and would do so without blinking an eye. Your ridiculous hatred of the president is, at least, occasionally entertaining.

jaythomp11 9 years, 10 months ago

Bozo, I think you just described the "new" American dream....that would be according to the 15-20% of Bush loyalists like Cato that still exist.

cato_the_elder 9 years, 10 months ago

Not "happiness," Bozo. It's called "duty." Pursuant to this duty, certain people are charged with the responsibility to undertake to protect Bozos like you who lack the ability to understand it, and certainly don't deserve it.

cato_the_elder 9 years, 10 months ago

Keep living in your dream-filled world of hatred, Bozo.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 10 months ago

"Not "happiness," Bozo. It's called "duty.""You're right-- automatons have no emotions-- or the ability to think critically.

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