Thursday, August 04, 2011

Withdrawal or not and what's Nouri really up to?

Ed O'Keefe and Alice Fordham (Washington Post) report, "Iraqi and U.S. officials cautioned Wednesday that Iraq’s precarious political and security situation could yet derail efforts to resolve the issue before the roughly 46,000 U.S. troops in Iraq leave as scheduled by Dec. 31." And as the Post has noted before, the administration doesn't think it's at all unlikely that this issue could still be unresolved on December 31st. That's not at all unlikely when you consider that the March 7, 2010 elections were supposed to result in office holders but instead were followed by Political Stalemate I for nine long months.

The end of Political Stalemate I in November of 2010 was supposed to result, by the end of 2010, in a full Cabinet; however, Iraq is now in Political Stalemate II and no one has been appointed Minister of Defense, no one has been appointed Minister of National Security, no one has been appointed Minister of Interior. Eight months after these posts were supposed to have been filled, they remain empty. So who knows how long the issue of an extension or not could drag out? Micah Zenko (Council on Foreign Relations) feels there are three things that need to be remembered as the clock ticks down:

First, an agreement by the Iraqi government to begin negotiating a role for U.S. military forces in the coming years is just that, the start of talks. Discussions could be further delayed or bogged down over highly-sensitive issues, such as an assurance of legal immunity from prosecution for U.S. soldiers and the eventual ratification of any future SOFA by the Iraqi Parliament. As Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari noted yesterday evening, “There aren’t any foregone conclusions.”

Second, while U.S. military officials have hinted that Iraq could serve as a launching pad for special operations raids against Iranian-backed Shia militias, Iraq’s leaders envision that if U.S. troops remain they will be permitted to engage only in training and advising missions. An important question to be resolved is whether U.S. troops will partner with their Iraqi counterparts for joint missions, like the Iraqi-U.S. night raid in Al Rufait last weekend, which reportedly failed to capture the targeted Al Qaeda in Iraq suspect but accidentally killed three men and wounded five, among them two young girls.

Third, it is apparent that any U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011 will not be tasked with trying to limit the flow of Iranian-supplied rockets or improvised explosive devices. This mission is best suited for the Ministry of Interior’s police and border forces. Furthermore, trying to stop cross-border smuggling was never a mission that the U.S. military welcomed or accomplished. As Lt. Gen. Mike Oates (ret.), the former commander of U.S. forces in southern Iraq stated last week: “There have been no reported incidents in which American forces have actually interdicted Iranian munitions while in transit. That should tell you something about just how hard this is to stop.”

Leave something to the Ministry or Interior? Which still has no head? CFR sure is optimistic.

Dar Addustour notes names being considered for Ministry of the Defense. Might the post finall be filled? It's possible. However, it needs to be remembered that this 'move' comes following the agreement reached Tuesda at the meet-up at Jalal Talabani's home. The meet-up of political blocs is not all that different from the meet-up in November in Erbil. That resulted in the Erbil Agreement which outlines a variety of things including the creation of national security council which would be headed by Ayad Allawi. These and other agreements allowed Nouri to remain prime minister even though his political slate came in second in the elections. Once he was named prime-minister designate, the agreement fell apart. (And that's once he was 'unofifically' named it.) Nouri got what he wanted and then tossed aside the agreement.

How does that apply to the current situation?

Nouri al-Maliki well knows it is very likely that he cannot maintain his position without the US military presence. He wants the US military to remain in Iraq. Tuesday's meet-up outlined how that could happen (participants stress that immunity for US troops wasn't discussed, only how to keep them in Iraq) and Nouri offered to create that security council. In doing so and making other concessions, he got the support of Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya. Should he get what he wants (US troops remaining in Iraq) before the security council is created, would he still pursue the creation? Or is this a repeat of the Erbil Agreement where Nouri promises everthing, gets his side of the bargain and then walks out on the agreement?

Barack Obama's walking out on agreement with his supporters to end the Iraq War. Jessica Rettig (US News and World Report) observes, "The Obama administration seems to be singing two different tunes when it comes to Iraq. It applauds the end of combat efforts and the imminent full withdrawal, not to mention the baseline savings that will come from decreasing the number of troops there. But on the other hand, there seems to be some desire, and even some persuasive efforts on behalf of the Pentagon, for some U.S. soldiers to stay put." Michael S. Schmidt (New York Times) adds, "A United States Embassy official said the Iraqi government’s announcement was an important political step, because nearly all the blocs in Parliament supported it. A significant exception was the Sadrists, led by Moktada al-Sadr, an anti-American Shiite cleric who has called on his followers to attack American forces if they remain after the deadline." Schmidt's reporting for Behind The Times apparently. Moqtada's already stated that he will not be recalling his Mahdi militia. Not only has he stated it, but the New York times has reported on that. He's also given indications that he won't block the motion to keep US troops in Iraq -- that includes comments by his officials this week.

There are many stories in Iraq especially with Nouri the new Little Saddam. We've noted his war on the independent Electoral Commission. Last Thursday, he took the battle to Parliament and lost. Nizar Latif (The National) offers an analysis:

A bitter row over Iraq's election watchdog has strained the ruling coalition government of the prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, underlining an acrimonious struggle to control the country.
In the aftermath of a parliamentary vote last week over dissolving the Independent High Electoral Commission (Ihec), critics and supporters of Mr Al Maliki have rounded on each other with allegations of deceit, corruption and sectarianism.
The argument centres on a proposal by the State of Law alliance, the group headed by the prime minister, to pass a vote of no confidence in Ihec over fraud claims. If approved, the measure would have effectively sacked the United Nations supported watchdog - the body in charge of ensuring fair and transparent elections in the country.
In the run up to the vote, which took place last week, various blocs from across the political spectrum had indicated they would support the motion.

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