Monday, November 26, 2007

The Last Mandate For Iraq (Updated)

By Cernig

Updated below

Shiite politicians are making it clear they have set a timetable for withdrawal of occupation forces from Iraq. At a joint news conference with SCIRI (Badr Brigade) leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi was clear that the next extension of the UN mandate will be the last.
The Shiite vice president, meanwhile, said the government will link discussions on the next extension of the U.N. mandate of the U.S.-led multinational force to an agreement that Iraq will gain full sovereignty and "full control over all of its resources and issues."

He also demanded an "equal footing" with the U.S. on security issues as a sovereign country so Iraqi could "have relations with other states with sovereignty and interests."

He said the government would announce within days a "declaration of intent" that would not involve military bases but would raise "issues on organizing the presence of the multinational forces and ending their presence on Iraqi land."

Iraqi officials have said the extension of the mandate through the end of 2008 will be the last.
KUNA has more, reporting that the Shiite VP said:
such a declaration would envision an agreement that could set a schedule for the presence of multinational forces on Iraq's soil.

He added that the Iraqi government would extend the mandate of multinational forces in Iraq at the advent of next month, making it clear that this "would be the final extension that would be followed by an agreement that could restore Iraq's full sovereignty." The Iraqi vice president reiterated support for putting a federal system in place and enacting a law of regions.

"The federal system is neither a luxurious matter nor an ideological stance. Rather, it is a fact and a constitutional demand that should be put in place. The Iraqi people voted for that, and the parliament adopted a draft law on the formation of regions. We have a few months ahead to arrive at a final formula," Abdel-Mahdi said.
The only argument he's likely to get from Sunnis and the more nationalist Sadrists (Mahdi Army) on withdrawal will be on whether the current mandate, which expires in December, should be the last instead. So, at latest, 2008 is when the occupation ends. Basing agreements might yet be reached for post December 2008 but that's a very different kettle of fish from having responsibility for the rule of law and thus permission to conduct widespread operations.

Federalism, that's a different story. The Sunnis have a legitimate beef that their oft-promised and never delivered constitutional amendments ("wait until after the elections. It'll be OK, we promise") should have something to say about that.

But, oddly enough, I was looking in the Newshoggers archives for another post yesterday and came across this from December 2004.
According to The Scotsman newspaper, senior military sources in the British Army have said they have been told that the entire British contingent will be staying for 2 years with around 7,000 soldiers, a brigade-sized force, staying until late 2008.

...You can bet your bottom euro (or dollar if you want a cheaper bet) that if the British Army will be in Iraq until 2008, there is no realistic chance of getting U.S. troops out any sooner than that - and it will probably be later. President Bush will preside over a full four year term with an Iraq War in progress, come what may.
This was written at a time, mind you, when pro-occupation rightwing cheerleaders had been talking up about the chances of being able to pull the bulk of the US troop presence out of Iraq after the January 2005 election.

The British military, and thus obviously the US military too, knew as long ago as December 2004 they would be committed in force until December 2008. Is it possible that Shiite leaders knew it too and that a deal had been done, with those Shiite leaders now saying what they knew to be agreed all along? Has every word about possible substantial withdrawals ("we will stand down as they stand up") since then been simple kabuki?

Update As soon as I posted this, AP put out a report quoting two anonymous senior iraqi officials on the probable future of the US troop presence in Iraq.
Iraq's government is prepared to offer the U.S. a long-term troop presence in Iraq and preferential treatment for American investments in return for an American guarantee of long-term security including defense against internal coups...

...The two senior Iraqi officials said Iraqi authorities had discussed the broad outlines of the proposal with U.S. military and diplomatic representatives. The Americans appeared generally favorable subject to negotiations on the details.

The two Iraqi officials, who are from two different political parties, spoke on condition of anonymity because the subject is sensitive. Members of parliament were briefed on the plan during a three-hour closed-door meeting Sunday, during which lawmakers loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr objected to the formula. [Duh! - C]

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo noted that Iraqi officials had expressed a desire for a strategic partnership with the U.S. in a political declaration last August and an end to the U.N.-mandated force.

"Thereafter then the question becomes one of bilateral relationships between Iraq and the countries of the multinational forces," she said. "At that point we need to be considering long-term bilateral relationships and we're following the Iraqi thinking on this one and we agree with their thinking on this and we'll be looking at setting up a long-term partnership with different aspects to it, political, economic, security and so forth."

She said any detailed discussion of bases and investment preferences was "way, way, way ahead of where we are at the moment."

The Iraqi officials said that under the proposed formula, Iraq would get full responsibility for internal security and American troops would relocate to bases outside the cities. Iraqi officials foresee a long-term presence of about 50,000 U.S. troops, down from the current figure of over 160,000.
That magic number of 50,000 troops. How many US politicians have already mentioned it over the past few years? It's useless as a COIN force (and any authority for such would have to stem from the Iraqi government) but serves as a tripwire to stop Kuwait (or Turkey or Iran) invading - or all those Sunnis armed by the Awakening mounting a new coup, which won't please said Sunni militias.

How will the neighbours feel?
One official said the Iraqis expect objections from Iraq's neighbors. Iran and Syria will object because they oppose a U.S. presence in the region.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia will not like the idea of any reduction in their roles as Washington's most important Arab partners.
Or, most likely, another Shia-controlled nation, this time with long-term US protection, on their doorsteps.

Update 2 Well, the leaks and statements I mentioned above were obviously co-ordinated to set the scene for today's announcement by Bush and Maliki of a joint statement of "principles" for a permanent US presence in Iraq. Spencer Ackerman writes:
"democratic Iraq" here means the Shiite-led Iraqi government. The current political arrangement will receive U.S. military protection against coups or any other internal subversion. That's something the Iraqi government wants desperately: not only is it massively unpopular, even among Iraqi Shiites, but the increasing U.S.-Sunni security cooperation strikes the Shiite government -- with some justification -- as a recipe for a future coup.

Notice also the timetable. The U.S. and Iraq will negotiate another year-long United Nations mandate for foreign troops in Iraq, which will expire (I think) in late December 2008. According to today's declaration, following the forthcoming renewal at the U.N., "we will begin negotiation of a framework that will govern the future of our bilateral relationship." That means that during Bush's last year in office, the administration will work out the terms of the U.S.'s stay in Iraq in order to, at the very least, seriously constrain the next administration's options for ending the U.S. presence. Even if Bush doesn't take the audacious step of signing a so-called Status of Forces Agreement -- the basic document for garrisoning U.S. forces on foreign soil -- while he's a lame duck, the simple fact of negotiations will create a diplomatic expectation that his successor will find difficult to reverse.
Spencer's assuming any of the most likely next incumbents would want to reverse such an agreement. of course - a highly improbable occurence. Even if such an arrangement would be highly unpopular with the majority of both Iraqis and Americans. The new "national security" argument for the nanny state, pioneered by Bush conservatives and taken up gladly by Clinton Dems, is that they know best which foreign fields America should be fighting in and you voters should just shut up and fear Osamas under the bed.

The actual statement has this to say about the US military's role:
To support the Iraqi government in training, equipping, and arming the Iraqi Security Forces so they can provide security and stability to all Iraqis; support the Iraqi government in contributing to the international fight against terrorism by confronting terrorists such as Al-Qaeda, its affiliates, other terrorist groups, as well as all other outlaw groups, such as criminal remnants of the former regime; and to provide security assurances to the Iraqi Government to deter any external aggression and to ensure the integrity of Iraq's territory.
In other words, as Spencer puts it, "we're staying in Iraq to defend Nouri al-Maliki against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

And staying was the plan all along.

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