Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Regrettably, it appears the whole excitement about a demand for a "fixed-date schedule for troop-withdrawal" has been the product of weasel-words intended to create a strong image for the Maliki administration, the actual position being that the troops should withdraw when conditions on the ground, and/or the capabilities of the Iraqi forces, permit it.

AlHayat quotes Jalaladeen Al-Saghir, a SupremeCouncil leader, who explained that the demand for a "withdrawal schedule" was put to the Americans months ago, but has become more realistic only since the recent Iraqi-forces operations in Basra, Mosul and so on. American withdrawal should be based on the continuing improvement in Iraqi-forces capabilities, he said, adding: "Consequently, the Iraqi demand is for a withdrawal schedule that is not established on a fixed basis...We have told Washington that an agreement has to include a time-schedule for the withdrawal of the American troops, or at least a defined mechanism for arranging the withdrawal and its date, to be linked to the development of the Iraqi security capabilities".

Following the outline of Saghir's remarks the journalist quotes the Sadrist leader Salah Al-Obeidi, as follows:
[Obeidi] accused the government of trying to escape from the [popular Iraqi] pressure being put on it with respect to signing this agreement with Washington. He said: "There is growing popular pressure rejecting the agreement, in addition to the determination of the marja'iya and other religious figures, Sunni and Shiite, to reject it." He added: "The government is trying to lighten this pressure by means of these declarations" [about fixed-date withdrawal and so on], and he stressed: "There are very major doubts about the ability of the government to follow through on these declarations".
Next, the AlHayat reporter quotes Daawa party leader Ali Al-Adeeb, with an explanation of the Iraqi position that goes like this: The withdrawal schedule should be
...linked to the turnover of security portfolio for all of the provinces of Iraq, and he added: "the operation will begin with the withdrawal of the American forces from Iraqi cities following the turnover of the security portfolio for all 18 of the Iraqi provinces, and following that there will be an assessment of the security situation every six months, to last between three and five years, and finally the definition of the final date for the American withdrawal."
And the AlHayat reporter then turns to the inevitable "senior government official who preferred not to be named" [it's just like Washington!], and that official said it is still the case that an agreement with Washington is very unlikely "in the current round", because of the distance between the two sides on a number of issues, so the solution will likely be a Memorandum of Understanding to include the immediately necessary legalities including "finding legal cover for the presence of the foreign troops in the country" once the UN mandate runs out the end of this year.

The unnamed government official didn't say what particular issues continue to divide the two sides. But given this apparent backtracking on the tough-sounding Maliki-Rubaie statements on the issue of fixed dates for withdrawal, the Sadrist Obeidi's remarks (above) about the government trying to dodge popular pressure seem particularly well-taken.