Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bilateral talks: "The fix is in"

Mashraq Abbas, Baghdad bureau chief for AlHayat, having talked to many Iraqi participants and observers of the bilateral negotiations, believes the final outcome will finesse the issue of "withdrawal schedule" by something like the following timetable:

(a) By the end of 2008: Turnover of security in all provinces to the Iraqi security forces, and withdrawal of the American forces to their camps.

(b) By the end of 2009: Completion of the withdrawal from Iraq of around half of the American troops currently in the country.

(c) By the end of 2010, start of talks respecting a permanent treaty, and defined schedules (of withdrawal) but which will guarantee the presence of American forces in a group of bases for an additional three years, renewable (the American negotiators want this guaranteed period to be five years).

For the Bush administration and its neo-conservative backers, the advantage of signing this kind of document before the end of the Bush administration will be a way of snatching "victory" from the jaws of "failure", by setting up a new theme: Establishment of a "new Iraq", friendly to the United States, in the heart of the Middle East, and next door to Iran. In this way they hope to neutralize the Obama withdrawal proposal as a campaign issue. Moreover, by calling it a memorandum of understanding instead of an agreement or a treaty, they plan to circumvent any legislative scrutiny, in either country.

The writer suggests circumventing the Iraqi legislature, along with other key issues, aren't going to be problems for the GreenZone political elite. He writes:
With the formula "memorandum", this will not, according to the Iraqi government have to be presented to the people in a referendum, as demanded by the biggest political sect (referring to the Sadr current). In fact the talk within the Political Council for National Security, which represents the major political leadership, is toward the idea that there isn't any practical or constitutional need to present the memorandum to the parliament for a vote there either.

The use of the formula "memorandum" also weakens the whole debate about Iraqi sovereignty, even if in reality it is no different from an agreement or a treaty... The crisis scenarios over "withdrawal" that raged following the statements of Maliki (starting with his famous statement in Abu Dhabi), and then afterwards settled down again, indicate clearly that the escalations in attitudes have been built on pre-established positions and the retreat by the Iraqi government from a demand for "evacuation" to acceptance of a non-binding "temporal horizon" is also connected to that pre-established position.

The outline appears to have ended up as the signing of a memorandum of agreement on the status of forces that will involve setting up joint committees to administer operations [that's all he says about that], the turnover of security in the provinces to Iraqi security forces before the end of this year, and the conversion of the American forces' role to that of support and training...

The journalist concludes:
Clearly this discussion, which has been referred to by a number of sources, is not so much about an objective schedule for withdrawal, as it is about a future mechanism for negotiations on withdrawal, [the negotiations] to begin in 2010 and end in 2013.

Still, the sure thing in all of this is that the Iraqi political view of a complete American withdrawal differs from the American view, which is held by Republicans and Democrats alike.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Pitirre said...

Via As'ad AbuKhalil:

"President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are poised to conclude a bilateral "memorandum of understanding" that would authorize U.S. troops to continue military operations in Iraq. There is only one problemthe memo won't be binding U.S. law."

6:45 PM  
Anonymous Lysander said...

Not sure a 'memorandum' will give the U.S. presence the legal stature it needs. It is, after all, not binding on the Iraqis as a SOFA would have been.

Assuming this memorandum is signed as is by Maliki, what is to stop him from turning it into a demand for withdrawal come January? This is especially true if regional elections are put off till next year. I can't imagine that this is what the Bush admin was hoping for.

And as of now, even that memorandum has yet to be agreed to. Maliki and his cabinet could easily be pretending to be reasonable with the intent of stalling and avoiding an outright confrontation. With the election coming up here, Bush has little incentive for a confrontation also.

Finally I would add that, due to the influence of Iran and the semi organized nature of Shiism, America needs a huge military presence to have influence. Cutting troop presence down to half, just makes it easier for the Iraqis to invite the other half to leave as well

6:49 PM  
Blogger badger said...

but what strikes me is that the two law-profs in the LATimes (linked to above) seem to have come to the same conclusion as the AlHayat person, namely that this is the route they have decided to go. Nobody said Bush or Maliki is a statesman. For Bush this would represent a veneer of "victory"; and for Maliki and the GreenZone groupies the chance to try and appear tough without actually risking the loss of their security blanket. A couple of political desperadoes making a deal is maybe the way to look at it, more than a reasoned solution.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Shirin said...

I feel sick.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Cugel said...

This does nothing to Obama of course. He can simply say "this is a nice beginning. I'll start negotiating a permanent Status of Forces Agreement next January in the context of my commitment to end the war in Iraq."

This agreement is binding on neither country and will last only as long as Bush and Maliki both do. Neither is a permanent fixture.

Anything Bush does will last 6 months. and Maliki will have trouble selling anything, no matter what he calls it, unless it has real timetables.

This doesn't and the various players in Iraq know it doesn't so the pressure will continue. Iran and Sistani won't be happy.

As for Maliki losing his "security blanket" of U.S. troops, why do you keep mentioning that?

He's NEVER going to lose that! No American candidate other than Kuchinich ever advocated a full U.S. withdrawal of all forces, including the hundreds of thousands of "security guards" to "guard our bases and embassy", military and civilian "advisers" of all different types, CIA agents and other spooks, investment counselors, 10%ers and hangers on, with the usual riff-raff.

Just like in Vietnam they will all stay until they are throw kicking and screaming out the door. Obama has NO plans to leave poor Maliki "without his security blanket."

9:38 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Of course, we mustn't forget that the format could change; this might not be the last word. For instance they might decide instead to embody this in an exchange of Christmas cards, we can't be sure.

10:06 AM  
Anonymous Erdla said...

Only slightly on-topic for which apologies Badger. I've only just noticed that Aswat Al Iraq are now doing in English a daily news round-up similar to those they do in Arabic worth bookmarking for those of us who like good reporting. Following link is to the relevant section of their site:

Politics and Security

12:30 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Yes, good idea to call people's attention to that. They're very reliable and it's an easy way to keep up. They're at www.aswataliraq.info where you can click on English at the upper left, but they're promising some kind of a website refurbishment soon...

6:34 AM  
Anonymous Alex said...

Although I'm late to this thread, I would like to point out that the tenor of this al-Hayat story is remarkably similar to the NYT story published a day later (yesterday? today?)

The NYT story I think you can say is White House originated (we'll discuss the points if you like).

Therefore this one should be also. The citations of Iraqis (who were they in the al-Hayat version?) have been added to make the story more convincing. But in fact it is the standard story again coming out of the White House: Maliki is just playing to gain some small face-saving concessions, we've had to make a few concessions, but he's ready to sign.

I am not surprised Shirin felt sick. But it may be that a little scepticism is in order.

Sorry I'm rushing and haven't had time to read all the Arabic text. (So you can tell me I'm wrong)

2:44 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I don't know what NYT story you're referring to, but M Abbas' points about how the "withdrawal schedule" issue will be finessed; about MoU avoiding any public approval process in Iraq; and so on--don't seem to me to have any of the flavor of Washington info-ops, but more the flavor of a "how the trick will likely be done" type of thing. You could be right about your overall argument, but I don't agree with you about the Hayat story.

We'll see soon enough.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/31/world/middleeast/31iraq.html?_r=1&em&oref=slogin

2:29 AM  

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