LAT’s Parker on US influence collapse in Iraq

The L.A. Times‘s Ned Parker has a great piece of reporting from Baghdad in today’s paper, charting the main dimensions of the recent collapse of the US’s influence in Iraq.
He leads with this:

    Once dependent on American support to keep his job, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has consolidated power and is asserting his independence, sharply reducing Washington’s influence over the future of Iraq.
    Iraq’s police and army now operate virtually on their own, and with Washington’s mandate from the United Nations to provide security here expiring in less than four months, Maliki is insisting on imposing severe limits on the long-term U.S. military role, including the withdrawal of American forces from all cities by June.
    America’s eroded leverage has left Iran, with its burgeoning trade and political ties, in a better position to affect Iraqi government policies.
    It also means that whichever U.S. presidential candidate is elected … will have less ability to sway Baghdad than did the Bush administration.

I have been arguing since early June (e.g., here, here, and here) that the balance of real power between the Bush and Maliki governments, regarding developments in Iraq, has now shifted in the Iraqi’s favor. This, to the point that he now has more ability to influence the Americans’ behavior in Iraq than the other way round. I am glad that Ned Parker has now published this additional batch of evidence that further confirms that judgment.
Many in DC still talk about the ability of Washington to “place conditions on” the financial and security aid that it still gives to the Baghdad government.This, though Maliki has shrugged off and/or avoided meeting all of the stated conditions until now, including enacting an oil law, or holding provincial elections, or conducting the Kirkuk referendum, or… or… or..
Parker quotes one long-time DC-based “conditionalizer”, Colin Kahl of the Center for a New American Security. Kahl says the US still has some ability to influence the Malili government, but that “leverage” is now diminishing.
Parker quotes him as saying:

    “If the next president waits too long, our diminishing leverage will likely disappear altogether, leaving us with two strategic options: resign ourselves to ‘ride the tiger’ — that is, accept that we have to simply accept what the Iraqi government does and, at most, mitigate or help buffer the consequences — or jump off the tiger altogether.”

I guess this latter option would mean leaving Iraq altogether?
Note that Kahl, like the vast majority of other DC analysts, looks at the Iraq issue as either a strictly bilateral (US-Iraq) issue, or a trilateral (US-Iraqi-Iranian) issue. Most DC “insiders” pay far too little heed to the idea that there are numerous other actors who can and should be involved in the search for a durable political outcome in Iraq. These include the Arab League, the United Nations, China, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, at a bare minimum.
Remembering that these other stakeholders exist, have non-trivial powers, and can help Iraqis and Americans to extricate themselves from the fateful embrace of military occupation in a way that does not involve Iraq splintering into mutually conflicted fragments, is a really helpful thing to do. Involving all these other parties seriously in the diplomacy of the Iraqi end-game– or rather, having the UN involve all of them plus the US and Iraqi governments– is, as I have long argued, the best way to arrive at a “responsible”, that is, non-catastrophic, US pullout from Iraq. It will also very helpfully remind Americans that no, we are not the center of the universe any more.

Reidar Visser on the Democrats’ ‘Biden problem’ re Iraq

Thank goodness Reidar Visser has been paying some good close attention to what the senator and Veep candidate has been saying about Iraq since the Democratic convention, when suddenly all his Iraq-related writings suddenly disappeared from his website.
Since 2006,, Biden has been an ardent advocate of the radical decentralization of political power in Iraq. Most notably in his co-authorship along with Les Gelb for a plan that called for the “federalization” of the country. At the time of the Democratic convention, those were the writings that disappeared.
But now Visser reports that Biden’s “radio silence” on Iraq was only temporary, and that he has resumed his previous practice of talking about the country in a way that– like the US occupation authorities since 2003– stresses the sectarian or ethnic identities of Iraqis, de-emphasises their Iraqiness and the existence of many cross-cutting inter-ethnic and inter-sectarian alliances, and ignores almost.completely the many political schisms within each of the major demographic blocs.
Visser writes:

    Over the past few weeks… [t]he Delaware senator has repeatedly sought to convince journalists that the reason the “surge” is working is the absence of Shiites from Sunni-dominated Anbar: “there are no Sunnis in Anbar province–I mean, Shia in Anbar province…” This belief in sectarian identity as something that creates internal sub-group unity and enmity towards others is at its most glaring in Biden’s comments on the situation in Basra: “Do you think the people down in Basra are going to vote for a government in Basra any different than an all-Shia government in Basra?” asks Biden. In fact, the power struggle in Basra is currently between different Shiite groups that have radically different visions for what kind of status their area should have in Iraq. Some want a small federal region for Basra only, but most appear to prefer remaining under the central government. And those who back in 2005 and 2006 for a while advocated a third solution kindred to that proposed by Biden – a big Shiite region – have remained almost silent on the issue since late 2007…
    All in all, on questions relating to state structure in Iraq, Biden has been mistaken on all counts: in terms of his interpretation of Iraqi politics (through continuing to deny the growing centralist trend and through continuing to focus on the exceptional 2006 situation); through his reading of the Iraqi constitution (by overlooking the asymmetrical and bottom-up character of Iraqi federalism); and through his failure to highlight the potentially grave regional consequences of his scheme (especially in terms of Iranian influence, which would probably be stronger in an ISCI-dominated federal entity than under any other arrangement). While the pro-Kurdish tendency inside the US Democratic Party is entirely understandable (and to some extent laudable) given all the suffering of the Kurds in the past, this should not be translated into an attempt to impose a Kurdish agenda on the rest of the country (as seemed evident for example in the recent US Democratic initiative to prevent oil deals with the central government). Most Iraqis are in fact perfectly prepared to accept the notion of complete Kurdish control in Kurdistan. It is the way Kurdish power is being used to push Iraq south of Kurdistan towards a decentralised system that many object to. On this issue, Biden is going against the prevailing wind in Iraq perhaps more than any other American politician.
    … Iraqi politicians already speak about Biden as the father of a second “Balfour declaration” because of his “plans”, and the Democratic Party would lose its credibility in the entire Arab world if these schemes were allowed to snowball. Rather than conniving in soft partition agitation in the name of party unity, Democrats should now make a firm and public stand against an imposed federalisation of Iraq. A more sustainable Iraq position would be to start focusing on cross-sectarian politics and the unitary state as the best way forward – with federalism as an option for areas where there is a real popular demand for it (like Kurdistan and perhaps Basra), but not as an imposition on the entire country through US “help” and sponsorship. That would also be in the true spirit of the “carefulness in getting out of Iraq” so rightly advocated by Barack Obama.

The attention Visser has paid to Biden’s recent utterances is valuable. (It would be a lot more valuable, Reidar, if you could give us hyperlinks to the originals of these reports, or at the very least more precise citations. I would have liked to read them in the original, but couldn’t find them after a quick, fairly cursory search. But can’t you learn to embed a few source-links into your web-published writings for the rest of us?)
But we need to keep a couple of other points in mind:

    1. Biden is only the vice presidential candidate. If Obama gets elected, he’ll be the boss, and he’ll have access to a lot of different sources for detailed advice on Iraq. The fact that Biden is a bit of an over-voluble blowhard doesn’t mean he will get to act as a Veep of Cheney-esque influence.
    2. As I’ve noted here since early June, the logic of the power balance inside Iraq has already tipped against the US being able to say or do anything very much to affect the way the Iraqis choose to run their affairs, especially their domestic political affairs. Except at the margins. So Biden’s present bloviations may be unhelpful, particularly in terms of misleading US voters about what is going on inside Iraq. But I don’t think they’re going to make nearly as much difference on the ground in Iraq as the Senator himself presumably hopes they will.

Text of the draft Iraq-US SOFA

On August 31, Al-Sharq al-Awsat published a leaked version of the nearly completed text US-Iraqi security (SOFA) agreement. That text was dated August 4. Raed Jarrar of the American Friends Service Committee worked over the weekend providing a full translation into English, which you can read on AFSC’s website, here.
Great work, Raed!
Yesterday, Raed also blogged a translation of an important interview with Iraqi parliament Speaker Dr. Mahmoud al-Mashhadani explaining that the Iraqi parliament must ratify any such agreement– but why, in fact, it is quite unable to do that at this time.
So there is a sort of unreal aspect to all the discussion of clauses and sub-clauses in the draft “text” of the treaty. (As I have been arguing here for a long time now. Most recently, here.)
Indeed, the Iraqis side has had the “upper hand” in the negotiations for at least the past 2-3 months. All the talk in the US political elite about the US being able to ram the US’s “conditions” down the throats of the Iraqis is just that– talk. It has zero basis in reality.
Still, there are a number of mildly interesting points in the August 6 negotiating draft. Most of them come toward the end. And most are the points where lack of agreement is still indicated, rather than agreement.
For example, this:

    Article Twenty Seven
    Contract Validity
    1- This agreement is valid for (…) years unless it is terminated earlier based on a request from either sides or extended with the approval of both sides.

Oops. Is that the John McCain “100 year” agreement– or maybe just a three-month agreement? They haven’t figured that one out yet!
Or this:

    Article Twenty Six
    Targeted times to handover complete security responsibilities to the Iraqi security forces, and withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq
    Iraqi Suggestion: the Iraqi delegation has suggested the following title to this article:
    Transferring security responsibilities to Iraqi authorities, and the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Iraq
    U.S. Suggestion: the U.S. delegation has suggested combining paragraphs 1 and 2 as follows:
    1- Both sides have agreed on the following time targets to handover complete security responsibilities to the Iraqi security forces and the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Iraq:
    A- U.S. combat troops will withdraw from Iraq completely at the latest on (…)
    B- U.S. forces will withdraw from all cities, towns, and villages at latest by June 30, 2009 unless the Iraqi authorities request otherwise.
    Note: the head of the U.S. delegation offered to accept the new title only if their combined paragraph is accepted, and he linked the two as one deal

Plenty of work for the lawyers there, eh? But then, later in Article 26 comes this:

    6- U.S. forces may withdraw from Iraq before the dates indicated in this article if either of the two sides should so request. Both sides recognize the Iraqi government’s sovereign right to request a withdrawal of U.S. forces at anytime.

Article 23 is interesting:

    Article Twenty three
    Extending this agreement to other countries
    1- Iraq may reach an agreement with any other country participating in the Multi-National forces to ask for their help in achieving security and stability in Iraq.
    2- Iraq is permitted to reach an agreement that includes any of the articles mentioned in this agreement with any country or international organization to ask for help in achieving security and stability in Iraq.

I wonder, in the second clause there, if the agreement would allow Iraq to reach a similar kind of agreement with its friendly large neighbor Iran?
… Well, as I note above, there is an unreal air to this whole exercise. I quite agree with Raed when he writes in his blog:

    Politically, the majority of Iraq’s MPs are against signing any agreements with the US as long as the US is occupying Iraq. It’s impossible for the Maliki government to get the approval of a simple majority of MPs, let alone 2/3 majority.
    I think the US government should consider a different type of agreement with Iraq: an agreement for a complete withdrawal that leaves no troops, no mercenaries, and no permanent bases (and no 5,000 employees embassy either.)

Quite right. And just what I’ve been arguing consistently for, for many years now… And devising semi-detailed plans for, too.
One final point. Most Iraqi parliamentarians have been quite forthright in pursuing their rights, as an elected legislative body, to have rights of ratification before any international agreement of such great impact for the country goes into effect. Back in October 2002, the members of the US legislature faced imminent legislative elections and in those circumstances proved themselves easily cowed by a bellicose and overbearing administration… And they simply rolled over and gave the president the widest possible authorization to conduct any kind of operations against Iraq up to and including a full-blown war of invasion and occupation.
Which is how we got to where we are in Iraq, in the first place.
This fall, in the lead-up to yet another momentous round of US elections, let’s hope the members of the US Congress keep their heads and don’t allow themselves to be cowed into giving the president any permissions for either war-making or occupation-prolongation, such as would later turn out to be dangerous traps for our country.

International tensions and the US election

Many parts of the world stand on the brink of major new escalations that could erupt before the day of the US elections, November 4. I would include in that list Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Georgia, and Ukraine. Doubtless there are more, too.
I’ve been trying to think through what the effects of such escalations might be on the US elections. I reckon almost any of them– with the important exception of Iraq— would tend to strengthen the electoral appeal of John McCain, who “promises” the US voters that he’ll be tough, will stand up to aggressors, has military experience, etc.
Iraq is an exception to that rule because McCain has been running very strongly on the argument that he was “right” about the Surge, and that Obama was quite wrong to oppose it.
If there are escalations or problems inside Iraq that are of a scale to become relevant in the US elections, then that could damage McCain, given how tightly he has lashed himself to the mantra of that the Surge has “succeeded.” It would also raise for US voters the even bigger question that McCain has tried to distract them from, which was the question of the advisability of the US having invaded Iraq at all.
But what if there is a major new outbreak of violence in Iraq and also in some other global trouble spot? Then, things could get really complicated…
At one level, the result of the US election will make a difference to the prospects of world peace that is less than many Obama supporters might hope. There are serious structural limitations on the ability of any US president to even maintain the present levels of overseas deployment of US forces– let alone, his ability to launch new wars or aggressions. Whoever is president will most likely have to find a way to withdraw in some sort of good order from Iraq within the next three years– and also, to find a way to “internationalize” the challenge of governing in Afghanistan. John McCain is not totally incapable of summoning the requisite diplomatic skills. Indeed, I can see a scenario in which he could be the “De Gaulle” or “Nixon” figure who is aboe to sell significant a significant pullback of global power to the US citizenry precisely because of his previous image as a tough guy.
Nonetheless, I think Obama shows more of the “reframing” and rethinking skills that are needed in global affairs, at this prtesent po0nt. And at the level of domestic policies I strongly prefer his approach over John McCain’s.
Anyway, the two months ahead will be a sensitive time in world affairs. Let’s see what happens.

Iraq: Another Quaker in the ‘Red Zone’

The best-known U.S. Quaker to have undertaken a peace-witnessing mission inside post-invasion Iraq was Tom Fox, the widely loved member of Christian Peacemaker Teams who was killed there in early 2006. From my own personal experience, I know there are many Quakers, all around the world, who are working in different ways to help restore the rights of the Iraqi people, to provide humanitarian assistance to them, and/or to end the US occupation of their country.
Now, I can reveal to you that Bob Fonow, whose ‘End of Assignment report’ from his work as the US Embassy’s chief telecoms adviser I shared with you here recently, is also a Quaker. What’s more, shortly after Bob finished his 18-month term working with the Embassy inside the heavily fortified ‘Green Zone’, he returned to Iraq as a private individual, with the aim of trying to mediate an apparently complex set of disputes among shareholders of the country’s largest mobile phone company.
He went on that mission in April. And that time, he was working in what many people call the ‘Red Zone’– that is, the area outside the Green Zone.
Tom Fox and his CPT colleagues made a point of working in the Red Zone.
Bob is a member of the Herndon, Virginia ‘Meeting’ –that is, congregation– of the Religious Society Friends. (The RSF is the official name of the church, though we’ve been called ‘Quakers’ since almost the beginning of the RSF’s emergence as a pacifist Protestant church, back in 17th century England.) He first got in touch with me back in, I think, December, to challenge the assertion I’d made that I thought I was the only Quaker who’s also a member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies. Not so, he said, since he is one, too.
And unlike a number of other Quakers– oh, for some reason Richard Nixon comes to mind– who have strayed pretty far from their connection with their home meeting, Bob has stayed in good touch with, and well grounded by, his meeting.
Bob has now been kind enough to say I can publish here a couple of the short reports that he sent back from the ‘Red Zone’ to members of his home meeting during and right after his late-April stay in the Red Zone. His descriptions of life there, and of the attitudes of the people he met and worked with, are certainly valuable for all of us to read and to reflect on. When he was there was when the US military was trying– using massive amounts of violence and force– to fight its way deep into Sadr City…
In his second letter to the Herndon friends, Bob wrote:

    At an Iraqi government meeting I was asked to attend on Tuesday I heard that several hundred thousand people in Sadr City have no clean water. They are drinking sewage, or water from filthy canals. The city is rat infested from garbage piling up. Electricity is limited to a couple hours a day. Medical services are holding up but US and Iraqi Army units are stopping ambulances. So far in the two weeks since Coalition forces started their attacks 925 Sadr City people have been killed and 2695 wounded. Earlier in the day I was told by one official that US Army snipers are playing games with killing. For a couple hours they are shooting men in the testicles, then a couple hours to the foreheads, and then a couple hours aiming at the heart. I hope this isn’t true, but I hope someone investigates.
    Several Mahdi Army officers visited my host in Baghdad on Tuesday to tell him that they can’t take much more. They are being attacked after calling a truce. They will have to declare all out war in a few days if the attacks don’t stop.
    … How is any more violence going to lead to peace, unless you kill every potential militant in Sadr City – which means hundreds of thousands of men and women? I haven’t yet met any Iraqis or Americans prepared to suggest that alternative. So there has to be a political and diplomatic solution.
    It’s time to stand down the military attack on Sadr City. It’s a useless operation with no strategic utility. There must be a better way.

He concluded like this:

    I’d like to go back to Baghdad, and I don’t want to go back. I want to help but I don’t want to get killed. I don’t know how to reconcile these competing feelings or how to determine the right level of my commitment to Iraq and the people I have learned to understand and like. Time for a clearance committee.

A clearness committee is a mechanism we Quakers use when we face difficult decisions or dilemmas. I hope that in the four months since he wrote about his conflicted feelings in that intimate way, Bob found the clearness he needed.
And now, the whole US citizenry and our government need to look much more seriously for the clearness we all need, at the broader level, regarding Iraq. As Bob wrote, “there has to be a political and diplomatic solution.” It so happens that– as longtime JWN readers are doubtless aware– I have done quite a lot of thinking about what that solution might look like, stretching back more than three years now.
… But now, I am just very happy to let you read the full text of Bob’s two reports from the Red Zone. To read them, just keep on reading or click on the link below. Thanks, Bob– and here’s praying for your safety in your continuing world travels.

Continue reading “Iraq: Another Quaker in the ‘Red Zone’”

Conway does a Dannatt (sort of)

At the Pentagon yesterday, the Commandant of the US Marine Corps established an unequivocal link in a meeting with journalists between the need to draw down quickly in (at least some parts of) Iraq and the manpower needs of the US military in Afghanistan.
Here’s how the WaPo’s Ann Scott Tyson reported it:

    The Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. James T. Conway, said [Iraq’s Anbar province] no longer requires such a large number of Marines, who would be better employed fighting in Afghanistan, where he said the Taliban insurgency is “growing bolder.”
    … While pointing to security gains in Iraq, Conway voiced concern over increased violence in Afghanistan, where he said insurgent attacks and U.S. troop casualties have increased since 2004.
    “The Taliban are growing bolder in their tactics and clearly doing their best to exploit security gaps where they exist,” he said…
    Conway made a strong pitch to send thousands of additional Marines or other U.S. troops to Afghanistan, voicing agreement with U.S. commanders there who have said for years that they have too small a force and have called for as many as 10,000 more troops. “The economy of force is not necessarily working,” Conway said.

Conway– and also, we have to assume, the chiefs of staff of the other US armed services, and indeed, the political echelon that sits above them– thus seems to have arrived at the same judgment that former British Chief of the General Staff Sir Mark Dannatt arrived at expressed publicly in October 2006, when he said (a) that the “war” in Iraq was not winnable by the western military occupiers and (b) that the situation in Afghanistan needed western troops much more urgently than that in Afghanistan.
To be sure, Conway is not saying flat-out, as Dannatt did, that the US-led western coalition forces can’t win in Iraq… But he was saying very clearly that US military resources need to be significantly shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan.
For some time now, I have been arguing that that is the main dynamic behind the shifting balance between the US and Iraqi leaderships in Iraq. The Iraqis still have an internal political system marked by a lot of incoherence and internal disagreement. But they are all (except the Kurds) fairly strongly united around a fundamentally Iraqi-nationalist and anti-occupation stand, and since– ahem, did anyone in Washington notice this?– it is actually the Iraqis’ country there, their willpower to fight for it and the cost they are prepared to pay to regain control over it is far, far higher than the willpower of the US to maintain its control, and the cost the US citizenry is prepared to pay to do that.
So the US drawdown/exit from Iraq is not (yet) on the order of the humiliating rush of the last US people off the roof of the Saigon Embassy… but it is sliding some distance toward that. For their part, many Iraqis– even among those strongly opposed to the US– might continue for quite some time yet to be content to allow the US’s drawdown/exit to be non-humiliating… And I am sure that right through November 4, the Bush administration will continue to be happy to pay out large amounts of money to a wide variety of different forces in Iraq to ensure that no big humiliation of the US occurs before that day.
Of course, a formal negotiation of the exit would be far preferable to this approach of sort of slithering out while claiming that everything’s going really well there… as Gen. Conway was. And at a certain point in the slithering out, negotiating the remainder of the process with all relevant parties inside and outside Iraq will become absolutely necessary if the whole Gulf region is not to go up in flames.
Baker-Hamilton report, anyone?
Meanwhile, it is evident that the situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating very seriously indeed in recent weeks and months. Key dimensions of the governance crisis there, nearly seven years after the US invaded and started occupying the country, are that

    (1) the US and its NATO allies have been unable to hand security duties in most of the country over to the US-installed administration of Hamid Karzai;
    (2) large portions of the country, including portions very close to the capital, Kabul, and major portions of the country’s national highway system, are quite hospitable to the Taliban and other anti-US forces;
    (3) the US is has continued to strive to single-handedly dominate all important aspects of Afghanistan’s domestic and foreign policies, and has refused to allow Karzai to pursue his preferences in either internal political reconciliation policies or anti-drug policies;
    (4) US and NATO forces are trapped in Afghanistan at the end of extremely vulnerable supply lines that run through either Russia or Pakistan;
    (5) the US and NATO forces are so understaffed and overstretched there that they often feel they have no alternative but to use airpower to try to control complex situations on the ground– and as a result, casualties among Afghan civilians have been rising horrendously; and
    (6) the Afghan crisis has seeped seriously over the border into Pakistan since the get-go; but right now Pakistan is in its own, quite paralyzing crisis of governance, which poses a serious threat to the US/NATO position in Afghanistan.

Paul Rogers, who has watched the Afghan/Pakistani situation very carefully for many years now, has a good description of the current situation in Afghanistan, here. It’s titled Afghanistan: on the cliff-edge.
Back in early August I wrote a column in the The Christian Science Monitor arguing that, to win a decent outcome in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the US would need to involve the UN Security Council, at the highest levels, in the decisionmaking and thorny peace diplomacy both countries require. So far, the Bush administration has shown few signs of doing that. Conway and some others in the decisionmaking echelons may have started to favor a troop-drawdown in Iraq, but regarding Afghanistan, just about everyone in the policy elite in Washington still continues to act as though simply throwing more US troops into the mix there will do the trick.
In good part, that point of view is buttressed by the argument that it was the “surge” in troop numbers that “succeeded” in Iraq, so therefore a similar approach should be used in Afghanistan. But in Iraq, the surge in US troop numbers made only a small contribution (if any) to the reduction in violence witnessed over recent months. It has been political developments among the Iraqis themselves, and the cautious, wily policy pursued by big neighbor Iran that have made the bigger difference.
A “surge” in the numbers of US and NATO troops is even less likely to do any good in Afghanistan. Indeed, if the additional troops sent there continue to act in the same gung-ho, shoot-from-the-air way the existing troops have acted, then the situation can only be expected to become a lot worse.
Nevertheless, the increasing recognition among US policymakers that in Iraq, at least, more US troops are not going to solve the problem is a good first step.

China gets Iraq oil deal

The WaPo’s Amit Paley has just reported that the Iraqi government has signed a $3 billion oil deal with the state-owned China National Petroleum Corp. that’s described as “much more lucrative”– I’m assuming for China?– than the “technical contracts” it has been negotiating with western countries for a long time, but thus far unsuccessfully.
Paley quoted Asim Jihad, a spokesman for the Iraqi Oil Ministry as saying that the deal with the Chinese oil company was concluded before the other deals both because it built on a slightly different kind of contract that Iraq had been negotiating with CNPC prior to the US invasion and “to rebut concerns that the U.S. government was manipulating the process to benefit American corporations.”
Interesting. I wonder if that means the deals with the US companies will be finalized soon? Maybe– or maybe not. Let’s wait and see.
But either way, China’s entry into this economic relationship with Iraq– which parallels its recent conclusion of a large mining agreement with Afghanistan– indicates that some significant things are happening in the balance among the world’s big powers.
I mean, really. Given that China holds, now, more than $500 billion worth of US T-bills, if Beijing decides it wants access to oil in Iraq or other mineral resources in Afghanistan, do you think the US is in much position to keep them locked out?
Paley adds that the deal with China “still requires the approval of the Iraqi cabinet, which the Oil Ministry hopes will come as early as next week.”

Still no US-Iraq security agreement (yawn)

Alert readers of JWN will have noticed that I haven’t posted much recently. A number of reasons for that, among them the desire to sit around with the spouse watching the Olympics many evenings. But also, heck, I so much called it on the US’s waning ability to impose its terms on Iraq in the all-important ‘security’ sphere– ever since back in early June, and most recently here— that the subsequent development of the story kind of lost its interest for me.
Apart from the still-horrendous living conditions being endured by Iraq’s remarkably hardy people. Suicide bomber story here. Nearly 3,000 cases of measles story here. Nearly a billion litres of raw sewage still– 65 months after the US invasion– being pumped into Iraq’s waterways: lengthy and well reported story here.
That degree of human misery is only to be expected in a river-system country in which the central mechanisms of regulation and public order have broken down– or, as in Iraq’s case, been wilfully destroyed by a foreign occupying power. In this respect, Iraq is very different from a mountain-dominated country like, say, Lebanon or Georgia. In those countries, people can get along more or less okay without a functioning central government, since they have many more of the inputs for basic self-sufficiency and are not reliant on orderly administration of vulnerable central water systems.
Anyway, in Iraq, it looks as if the national population is already adjusting itself to a very imminent (or, actually, already underway) retraction of US power.
Which, as I’ve noted elsewhere, is being fueled primarily by Washington’s own very urgent force-planning considerations.
I’ve been trying to ponder why it is has proved to be the case in Iraq that the standard kinds of US blandishments and bribes seem not to have “worked” by persuading PM Maliki and his coterie of close advisers to sign off on the US-proposed security agreements. I’ve come up with a number of possible hypotheses. One is that the stand blandishments and bribes– such as promises of large amounts of money deposited in foreign banks, sweetheart business deals for close relatives, or “scholarships” for numerous children and relatives at nice US universities– may somehow not have the appeal for these people that they would have for, say, an Ahmed Chalabi or a Mohamed Dahlan. Another might be that the Iranians could actually outbid the Americans in terms of blandishments and bribes that would actually be valued by Maliki and his circle. Another might be that these men are true Iraqi patriots. These three explanations are not mutually exclusive, at all.
Also, though I’ve written about “bribes and blandishments”, obviously these are part of a broader spectrum of activities that outside powers might engage in, which could be broadly described as “structuring the incentives” for these men. That would include threats as well as bribes. The US, at an earlier point in the negotiations was “threatening” to hold onto a large chunk of Iraq’s oil revenue unless it could get the security agreement it wanted out of Maliki. But even that threat appeared not to work.
An interesting world we live in.

Iraq-US: More disagreement than ‘Agreement’

Yesterday, the news from Baghdad was that the visiting Condi Rice was very close to nailing the longer-term security agreement with the ‘government’ of Iraq that the Bush administration has been aiming for for a long while now. But the longer term news looks much more like that of mounting disagreements between the governments in Washington and Baghdad, than increasing levels of agreement.
Disagreement is clear over two key issues: the status of the negotiations over the US-Iraqi security pact, and government policy toward the mainly-Sunni ‘Awakening’ councils that have been a main pillar of the US political strategy since early fall 2006.
Regarding the security pact negotiations, the transcript of the press conference Rice held with Iraq ‘Foreign Minister’ Hoshyar Zebari yesterday shows that, while neither Rice nor Zebari claimed that they had finished the negotiations, Rice was actually more guarded than Zebari in claiming they were getting close to finalization.
Regarding the content of what they were discussing, Rice made clear that she was still talking only about timetables– in the plural– for troop withdrawal that were both conditions-based, and “aspirational.”
For his part, Zebari could not even bring himself to say the word “timetable.” (Perhaps the prospect gives his ardently Kurdish heart some palpitations?) All he managed to talk about was “time horizon.”
That is so much last month’s meme-of-choice.
Today, the evidence of disagreement over the security ‘agreement’ continued. AFP reported that Mohammed al-Haj Mahmoud, described as “the top official in the Iraqi [SOFA-negotiating] team, told them that negotiators had, “finalised a deal which will see the complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by 2011, ending an eight-year occupation…”
So he was claiming the negotiation had been finished. But even he made clear that what was being referred to was a considerably less-than-total withdrawal, since he specified it would only be from the cities.
AFP also added that White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe “said the deal was yet to be finalised.… ‘It’s not done until it’s done.'”
It strikes me there is an air of unreality to this whole story of “negotiations” over the terms of a longterm bilateral security pact. Urgent troop planning considerations that have nothing to do with the situation in Iraq are going to be forcing the Pentagon to implement a pretty deep and rapid drawdown of the US troop presence from there over the next 12 months, regardless of whether there is a “SOFA”, an “oil agreement”, “provincial elections”, or any of those other things the US has set as its current political goals in Iraq. The “best” scenario they can hope to achieve at this point is something far more modest than any of those ambitious political goals. It is a drawdown/pullout of US troops that is less rather then more chaotic for the troops involved and that leaves the country and the region in a less rather than more unstable state.
A cynic might ask, “What do the Bush administration folks care about whether the region goes up in flames behind them as they leave?” My answer is that if the region is going up in flames it is certainly not good for the US– either for the oil companies or the citizenry. Plus, this conflagration would not happening only “behind” the departing troops but might also, with a high degree of probability, catch many of the departing troops in its fires, too… As I’ve argued for many years now, the possibility of implementing an “orderly”– i.e. not fired-upon– troop withdrawal is directly linked to ensuring in some way that the Iraqis have a decent chance of reaching their own internal entente as the US troops pull out.
And right now, things don’t seem to be heading in that direction (to say the very least.) The US-installed and -supported Iraqi “government” seems to be seriously feeling its oats these days, doing a number of things that Washington isn’t happy about at all. Notable among these is the campaign it is now mounting directly against the US-incubated “Awakening Councils”
Patrick Cockburn reports from Baghdad today that,

    Already the government has started moving against al-Sahwa, the Awakening Movement, fostered and paid by the US to eliminate al Qa’ida in Iraq. It has drawn up a list of 650 al-Sahwa members to be arrested. The US military opposes the move but may not be able to defend its Sunni allies from a largely Shia government and army.

He also writes,

    for the first time since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi government is confident that it can survive without US military support.

Richard Oppel of the NYT has a longer version of the same story about the government turning strongly against the Sahwa (Awakening Councils.). It is all unbelievably tragic; yet another twist in the ghastly tale of how the US occupation authorities have aggressively pursued a divide and rule policy throughout the country, in a way that has involved inflaming sectarian and ethnic tensions while pumping additional quantities of armies into beleaguered Iraqi communities.
Washington’s Iraq policy looks poised on the brink of a serious disaster. The Bushites will doubtless do everything they can to prevent it going over the cliff before the U.S. election, November 4. But if Barack Obama wins the election, there may be some in the outgoing administration who wouldn’t be too concerned about the prospect of a disaster occurring in Iraq, say, some time after next January.
I just hope we can rely on Defense Secretary Gates and the leaders of Centcom to act with wisdom and statesmanship during those crucial transition weeks…

Condi in Baghdad: YES on a timetable (aspirational)

AP tells us that at a joint appearance with Iraqi “Foreign Minister” Hoshyar Zebari in Baghdad today, Condi Rice agreed that, regarding a troop withdrawal plan,

    We have agreed that some goals, some aspirational timetables for how that might unfold, are well worth having…

You can bet that with the US/NATO deployment in Afghanistan now in serious trouble and NATO itself in the most severe crisis it’s seen in its 59 years of existence, there will be “timetables” for a US pullout from Iraq.
A linguistic note: An “aspirational timetable” is still not the same as a fixed timetable. But I would say it signals something noticeably more definitive than the “aspirational time horizon” that was the administration’s previous position on this. (With a horizon, the more you try to get close to it the more fades further away from you… )