Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Iraq Parliament Wants Timetable For Withdrawal

By Cernig

Bush may want a South Korean style of permanent presence in Iraq, but the Iraqi parliament doesn't and is building a wave of resolutions designed to force Maliki into either ending the UN mandate or be decisively shown up as a Bush administration puppet.
The parliament today passed a binding resolution that will guarantee lawmakers an opportunity to block the extension of the U.N. mandate under which coalition troops now remain in Iraq when it comes up for renewal in December. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose cabinet is dominated by Iraqi separatists, may veto the measure.

The law requires the parliament's approval of any future extensions of the mandate, which have previously been made by Iraq's prime minister. It is an enormous development; lawmakers reached in Baghdad today said that they do in fact plan on blocking the extension of the coalition's mandate when it comes up for renewal six months from now.

Reached today by phone in Baghdad, Nassar al Rubaie, the head of Al-Sadr bloc in Iraq's Council of Representatives, said, "This new binding resolution will prevent the government from renewing the U.N. mandate without the parliament's permission. They'll need to come back to us by the end of the year, and we will definitely refuse to extend the U.N. mandate without conditions." Rubaie added: "There will be no such a thing as a blank check for renewing the U.N. mandate anymore, any renewal will be attached to a timetable for a complete withdrawal."

Without the cover of the U.N. mandate, the continued presence of coalition troops in Iraq would become, in law as in fact, an armed occupation, at which point it would no longer be politically tenable to support it.
Now at this point there are some (I think) obvious things that need saying. First is that, barring further defections, the nationalists in parliament have enough oomph to pass this measure, but not enough at present to block a Maliki veto. Maliki would definitely veto - and he's already shown willing to go behind parliament's backs the last time he wanted the UN mandate extended and they wanted to add conditions for withdrawal, which infuriated many.

The second is that every time Maliki does an end-run around parliament and the wishes of some 80% of Iraqis, defections get more likely. Maybe not this time, but next time for sure in my opinion, he's going to run up against a veto-proof majority and the measure will pass. At that point, Bush will have a choice - accede to the will of the Iraqi people (as he has previously said he would and even many conservatives believe he should) by ordering a withdrawal or keep pushing for a permanent presence by extending the concept of executive power over the other branches of government he's touted for himself all along to the Iraqi prime minister and president. That would neatly redefine "if the Iraqis ask us to leave" down to the only Iraqis who wont ask. Two guesses which one I think he will go for, and the first doesn't count.

At that point, armed resistance to what would then be an illegal occupation would, literally, explode. (Although Bush could also try to bully the UNSC into going along with the gag - which would have a slim chance of working at best.) Either the South Korean experience would turn out to be more like 50 years of Vietnam, or the whole thing would go Vietnam-shaped in very short order, with Maliki and his cronies clinging to the skids of the last 'copters from the roofs of the Green Zone. Either way, not good.

So, to my mind, either Bush and Maliki can bow to the inevitable or they can dig their heels in and watch as the Iraqi quagmire is set aflame in very short order.

All of this, I admit, depends on the nationalist pressure on Maliki increasing rather than staying static - something I recognize some bloggers I greatly respect as commentators like Eric Martin and Swopa are sceptical about. In that respect, Kevin Drum yesterday pointed to an article by Robert Dreyfuss at American Prospect.
Earlier this year, Fadhila — a Sadrist movement strong in Basra and Iraq's south — pulled out of Maliki's ruling United Iraqi Alliance. Since then, both Fadhila and Sadr's own party have been discussing a new political alignment with the Sunnis called a "National Salvation Front."....Among Sadr's potential allies are Mutlaq's bloc, the larger Iraqi Accord Front (which includes Sunni religious parties, such as the Iraqi Islamic Party), and Allawi's secular Iraqi National List. Allawi, a secular Shia, has been actively seeking a leadership role in a coalition to replace Maliki, too.

....In the end, if and when the United States reconciles itself to a withdrawal from Iraq, the path to stability will be found in a nationalist government constituting most or all of the emerging "national salvation" coalition. It's possible that the team of so-called realists now in control of U.S. foreign policy can come to that understanding on their own. Or perhaps they'll need to be pushed, and hard, by the Democrats in Congress and on the '08 presidential campaign trail.

But with each passing day, as sectarian violence grows, it will be more and more difficult to make that happen. Americans need to begin understanding that the end of the Maliki government and the start of a U.S. withdrawal are one and the same thing.
As Kevin kindly notes, this is something I've been saying for a while now - and something it seems he now agrees with too - but he also correctly notes that the Maliki government has entrenched itself pretty well and won't fade quietly away in the face of nationalist pressure.

Eric presents the contrary argument well in comments to Kevin's post:
I don't see it. I can't imagine the point at which Sistani says:

"Sure Mookie, go ahead and bust up the UIA in order to ally with Allawi and the Sunnis. Good idea. Can't imagine how that could possibly back-fire. Not like there's any history of Sunnis carrying out coups from the inside or anything. Come to think of it, how did the Baath Party come to power in the first place...."

Likewise, it's highly unlikely Mookie moves on something this large without Sistani's blessing. That's a hell of a person to cross when you're trying to sell yourself as a Shiite cleric.

Not to mention the fact that Sadr himself must be a little wary of these new BFFs he'd be teaming up with. Does he really trust Allawi and some ex-Baathist Sunni groups? Who would have his back?

The only way he makes this break is if Dawa and SIIC get overly greedy and try to push him out of the money and power altogether.

More likely, Sadr is keeping his options open in order to compel good behavior on the part of Dawa and SIIC. Let them know that he can break out if they squeeze him too hard. He's done that before.
And Swopa calls any notion of a nationalist cross-sectarian colaition a "silly fantasy" and adds that Sadr "is all about his "Sunni brothers" when it comes to PR gestures, but his henchmen are still methodically cleansing Sunnis from Baghdad neighborhoods. His only interest in these flirtations is increasing his leverage within the Shiite political alliance."

The trouble with Eric's objection is that Sistani is just one cleric, one man, albeit currently the most important of Iraq's religious leaders. Sadr is a cleric too and undoubtedly has ambition. Reaching for a position of being political and religious leader isn't beyond him. Today's parliamentary resolution proves that Sadr is perfectly willing to bust up the Shiite ruling coalition in pursuit of power. Swopa's objection - that Sadr is only playing power games and will turn on the Sunnis again later if he consolidates power- is only relevant after the fact, if in fact it is true at all. There have been reports of Sadr's Mahdi Army fracturing somewhat, with hardline Sunni-haters deserting due to Sadr's policy of rapproachment, which would suggest strongly that it isn't. Personalities count in Iraqi politics as in all politics - but it would be dangerous to assume in analyzing Iraqi happenings that cults of personality are so strong as to be the only deciding factor of loyalties and policies.

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