Wednesday, July 09, 2008


AlHayat this morning sums up this way:
The negotiations between Iraq and the US have reached a ticklish stage with the disagreement having been made public: Baghdad is insisting on a schedule for the withdrawal of the forces, and rejects immunity from Iraqi law [for the US forces]; while Washington says it is not opposed to a temporal framework [probably "timeframe" is the Washingtonese] for the operation (of withdrawal) and it links the operation to circumstances on the ground.
To illustrate the Baghdad position, they quote Mowaffaq Rubaie following his meeting with Sistani in Najaf where he said: "We are not now talking about a schedule for the presence of the forces; rather, we are talking about the evacuation of the foreign forces from the country." He said in effect, we have our dates, and they have their dates, so there isn't an agreement yet. Rubaie added: "We cannot talk about fixed [or permanent] bases in Iraq", but the reporter notes he also mentioned the "possibility of camps subject to Iraqi sovereignty."

On the Washington side, the reporter refers to a statement by the White House that said the negotiations with Iraq are not aimed at a "deadline" [or "firm date"] for withdrawal, however this does not rule out the possibility of an agreement about a timeframe". And he reviews the Pentagon statement about any agreement being linked to conditions on the ground.

But setting aside the question of "firm date" versus "time-frame", I think there is an important point raised in yesterday's AlHayat story that hasn't been noticed. What that source said was that Washington had agreed to a transitional or bridge agreement (by way of a memo of understanding) for, among other reasons, a specific Washington-centered reason: namely that there is a desire to avoid the risk of any "dramatic change" in US policy in Iraq and the region with the change of administration. And at about the same time, there has been this highly-publicized Obama "move to the center" in the form of a new focus on the idea of conditioning troop-withdrawal to conditions on the ground. If you put those two developments together--switching the negotiations to a bridge agreement, and Obama's switch to the kind of "conditionality" that isn't in principle any different from that of the Bush administration--then the conclusion seems to be that the negotiations have become "bipartisan" on the Washington side. So that he only partisan differences are in the rhetoric: Yes to speedy withdrawal on the Democratic side; Yes to taking into account conditions on the ground on the Bush-administration side.

The candidates' reactions to the Maliki and Rubaie statements illustrate this nicely: AlHayat quotes McCain telling MSNBC that "the Iraqis have told me very clearly" that they think withdrawal should depend on conditions on the ground... "We will withdraw...but the withdrawal must be dictated by events on the ground". And Obama, for his part, is quoted by AFP as having said on Monday:
"I think it's encouraging ... that the prime minister himself now acknowledges that in cooperation with Iraq, it's time for American forces to start sending out a timeframe for the withdrawal."
In other words, Washington position is "timeframe, with links to conditions on the ground", and this is shared by the two parties, with only rhetorical differences in emphasis. And the agreement to switch the negotiations to a bridge or Memorandum of Understanding format is the mechanism for handing this bipartisan position off to the new administration.

And you thought there were two parties in Washington involved in a struggle over this.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

there has been this highly-publicized Obama "move to the center"

yes, this has been a major media blitz , i hear a difference and hope it means something media matters documents this media ploy rejected by the obama camp. i recommend.

obama never said anything implying he would withdraw all the troops, his rhetoric has always spoke of a phased withdrawl over 16 months and i haven't heard anything to contradict this, including his response to the latest assertions, the obama camp says his position has always been the same.

"After this redeployment, we will leave enough troops in Iraq to guard our embassy and our diplomats, and a counterterrorism force to strike Al Qaeda if it forms a base that the Iraqis cannot destroy. "

how many troops he is talking about, i have no idea.

Rubaie "We will not accept any memorandum of understanding if it does not give a specific date for a complete withdrawal of foreign troops," source

when obama talks about speaking to commanders on the ground to 'refine his policies' (which has always been his position as media matters documents), i hope he is referring to his policy of withdrawl and how to do it, not when to do it for he already stated his timeline. what i see as the sticking point likely being hammered out now is what rubaie calls "possibility of camps subject to Iraqi sovereignty."

fully 'protecting' the green zone and all the bases would take 1/2 the force we have there. so if this is obama's plan i agree there is no difference. and nobodies mentioning the 100thousand plus private militias we employ. are they withdrawing too?

btw, according to wiki
A memorandum of understanding is a document describing a bilateral or multilateral agreement between parties. It expresses a convergence of will between the parties, indicating an intended common line of action. It most often is used in cases where parties do not intend to imply a legal commitment.


9:11 AM  
Anonymous Shirin said...

Annie, last year Obama spelled out his non-withdrawal "withdrawal" plan in some detail. It was virtually identical to Hillary's, and constitutes not a withdrawal, and certainly not an end to the occupation by any meansm, but a continuation of the occupation with a lower profile. Military analysts estimate that 50,000-75,000 troops, including significant numbers of combat troops, would be required for the "missions" listed by Obama (and Clinton too).

As for "Protecting the green zone", why would there be a need for the green zone at all if the occupation were ended?

Oh yes, and the mercenaries - aka "contractors". Well, Obama was very clear at one point at least that he fully intended to keep using mercenaries.

It's all a shell game as far as I can see, and Obama's (and Clinton's) plan is some sort of "occupation lite" that might make continuing the occupation less noticeable and therefore more tolerable to Americans. I doubt it will help very much as far as Iraqis are concerned, though.

2:40 PM  
Blogger DAVID said...

annie, i appreciate your remarks, as well as shirin's, in trying to assess what obama will do if/when elected re: iraq. my sense of it is that he has put himself in jepardy in that decision in the last few weeks with his seeking counsel from the so-called "wise men" of former democratic administrations. this may be a courtesy to nunn, chrisopher and all, but their advice will surely lead to a "bush-lite" policy vis-a-vis iraq and iran. if obama is to have any hope of solving this ME - iraq/iran/israel/SA puzzle he will have to have a new paradigm, which his very apparent intelligence tells us is possible. but politics, being what it is in US, does not guarantee it. i hear your fears.


8:37 PM  
Blogger Juan Moment said...

And you thought there were two parties in Washington involved in a struggle over this.

I am in no doubt BO is just another head on the Hydra ruling the castle, and there ain't no Heracles to cut them off.

Since his early remarks concerning Pakistan and how he would without hesitation bomb their territory, have I marked him in my book as yet another tooth springing up in the shark's jaws, new and razor sharp.

You can put McCain, Obama, Bush & Hillary in a bag and whack it, you won't hit the wrong one. The issue of Iraq and withdrawing troops is no exception. The best Iraqis can hope for is a temporary relocation of troop segments to Afghanistan, but they'd be back in no time should the booty be at stake.

Cronyism and wads of cash is what makes the world go round, a fact well understood by the Democrats aka Republicans. BO and McCain, one and the same.

4:51 AM  

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