Turkish FM mediating between Iraq and Syria

As long-time JWN readers are aware, I have always been worried about the prospect that as the US military decreases its presence in Iraq, many of the country’s neighbors would rush in to fill the resulting security vacuum and the contest between them could escalate in many unpredictable ways. That was why I strongly urged– from long before the Iraq Study Group endorsed this necessary recommendation– that as the US withdraws either Washington or, preferably, the UN should convene a high-level meeting of Iraq, the US, and all Iraq’s neighbors to work out a code of conduct for the behaviors of all parties with regard to Iraq; and preferably also establish a UN-based monitoring and incident-resolution mechanism to follow up on compliance with those agreements.
The US government hasn’t done that, though the troop withdrawal is already well underway and some serious tensions have already been emerging. And neither has the UN done much to put into place such a plan.
I guess for both the US and the UN, the ‘sensitivity’ of including Iran in any such arrangement seems like a real obstacle. (I wish, obviously that the UN had a lot more independence from US tutelage at this point.)
But now, Turkey seems to be stepping into the conflict-reduction role in a significant way. Today, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is scheduled to pay consecutive visits to Iraq and Syria to try to resolve the conflict that’s erupted since the Iraqi government accused Syria of harboring the opposition leaders who, Baghdad alleges, orchestrated the bombings of various Iraqi ministries on August 19 that killed 95 and wounded more than 600, many of them ministry employees.
Davutoğlu became foreign minister only a couple of months ago. But before that, as a much respected foreign-policy intellectual, he was a special adviser to Turkish PM Rejep Tayyip Erdoğan. In that role, he spearheaded a fascinating– though ultimately unsuccessful– series of “proximity talks” between Syria and Ehud Olmert’s government in Israel.
The idea that Turkey may be in a position to help Iraq and its six neighbors keep tensions among them to a minimum as US power recedes may seem counter-intuitive, since for a couple of generations many Iraqis, Syrians, and other Arabs retained a degree of remembered resentment against Turkey over the oppressive role the Ottoman Empire played against ethnic-Arab nationalists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, I was surprised during my last few visits to Syria to discover the degree to which Syrians in and close to government– and Syrians in general– seem to have “gotten over” those sensitivities.
Indeed, many Syrians I’ve spoken to in the past couple of years speak of Turkey as something of a current role model for them. Many Syrians look at the success that Turkey has had in dealing with challenges like economic development, finding an internal balance between the forces of secularism and Islamism, finding an external balance between ‘east’ and ‘west’, the challenges posed by Kurds and other national minorities– and they wish they could emulate them.
The same is true, I think, of many other Arabs.
This doesn’t mean that, among Iraq and all of its neighbors, there are NO remaining sensitivities regarding Turkey’s role in the region. But it does mean there is considerably more scope for a leading Turkish role in reducing the kinds of tensions I’m worried about in the whole peri-Iraq theater than many people (self included) would have thought possible even five or ten years ago.
By the way, the watchword of the academic work Davutoğlu has done on Turkey’s foreign policy is that it should be aimed not just at “zero problems with the neighbors”, but also at intense engagement with the neighbors. (And yes, that includes Armenia, where the Erdogan government has taken some notable steps towards reducing earlier tensions.)
You can read two of my recent evaluations of Turkey’s new regional role here and here.
Turkey now has good relations with Iraq and all of its neighbors– including Iran– as well as with the US, which will continue to be a power in the region even as it departs. Turkey is, of course, a full member of NATO and retains numerous other very good links with the west.
I do wish, though, the Ban Ki-Moon and the weight of UN legitimacy was also a lot more involved in this peri-Iraq tension reduction effort.

Syria-Iran tussle over Iraq?

As the US withdrawal from Iraq become an increasingly firm prospect, the tussle is now quite predictably intensifying among the war-shattered country’s neighbors for influence over what remains of it.
One intriguing example of this is the very serious spat that erupted yesterday between largely Iranian-backed Iraqi PM, Nuri al-Maliki, and the government of Syria.
At issue are Maliki’s allegations that the extremely deadly bombings of last Wednesday were the work of Baathist networks whose leaders have been sheltered by Syria, and his demand that Syria hand them over to Iraq for trial. The Syrians deny that the wanted men, Mohammad Younis al-Ahmed and Sattam Farhan, are in their country, and point out that they have roundly condemned the bombings.
This new conflict between Baghdad and Damascus is serious– and its timing seems very surprising. Just last week, Maliki undertook a seemingly very successful and lovey-dovey visit to Damascus. He and his Syrian counterpart agreed to set up a “strategic cooperation council”. They agreed to ” establish a mechanism for high-level military dialogue” and pursue many joint economic opportunities.
And in a joint statement, they said,

    “The fraternal relationship between Syria and Iraq is characterized by strong social and pan-Arab ties, as well as common history, culture and neighboring relations of both countries.”

Well, so much for that “fraternal relationship”, eh?
What seems to have happened is that Baghdad’s relationship with Syria has gotten tangled up in the internal power struggle now going on inside the Iraqi regime over how closely it should align with Iran.
When I was in Damascus in June, several of the close-to-power people we talked with there were at pains to note two significant things about Iraq: (a) that the Syrian government considers stabilizing the regime there to be a high priority for them, and (b) that despite Damascus’s long and close strategic relationship with Iran, Syrians see their goals for Iraq as very different from, and sometimes clearly at odds with, those of Iran.
Damascus’s goal for Iraq, they said, is that Iraq should be stable, Arab, and basically secular. Iran’s goal, they allege, is that Iraq should be Shiite-dominated and basically follow Tehran’s theocratic model of governance regardless of whether this threatened the unity and stability of Iraq as a whole.
Damascus’s policy on all this is also influenced by the degree to which the Syrian government, which is basically secular and depends a lot for its internal stability on its pan-Arab credentials, feels it is getting support from other significant Arab powers, principally Saudi Arabia. When Syrian-Saudi relations are tense– as they were from 2005 until about three months ago– then the Syrian government feels less confident about risking a rupture with Tehran.
Right now, both Syria and Saudi Arabia probably feel they have a shared interest in minimizing the amount of influence Tehran can exercise over the Baghdad government– though I doubt if policymakers in either of those governments feel they can eliminate Iran’s influence completely, in the same way that Saddam Hussein was able to do, through the exercise of great internal repression, so long as he was in power…
That there is a huge internal tussle going on right now in the heart of the Iraqi regime is quite evident– though the actual line-ups and interests at work there are still extremely murky.
Last Wednesday’s bomb blast came six years to the day after the fateful August 19 bomb blast of 2003 that killed UN envoy Sergio Vieira De Mello and inaugurated a new period of considerable post-invasion political instability within the country. This year’s August 19 blast killed more than 100 people and left the finance and foreign ministry buildings pertaining to the Maliki government substantially wrecked.
Shortly after the blasts, the ethnically Kurdish Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, voiced the serious allegation that they were the work of senior security officers within (other parts of) the regime. I find Juan Cole’s logic in claiming that the bombings were aimed at the blocs/parties in control of the targeted ministries to most likely be valid.
The education ministry was also targeted, though not I think as badly hit. It is controlled by a branch of Maliki’s own Daawa Party. The finance ministry has been in the hands of ISCI (whose leader Abdel-Aziz Hakim died in Iran earlier today.) Foreign affairs has, obviously, been largely run and staffed by ethnic Kurds.
I disagree, however, with Juan’s other main conclusion: that the bombings were likely the work of former Baathists, rather than Qaeda-related networks. I also think his allegation “Iraqi Sunni Arab resistance in exile in Syria… are running terrorist cells inside Iraq”, and that these networks were connected withe August 19 bombings, is a serious one that he does nothing whatsoever to authenticate or provide a source for.
But it is, certainly, murky. And all the more so because of the political developments that have been erupting within the coalition that’s been more or less “running” Iraq since 2007, under the different forms of tutelage provided by both the US military and the Iranian theocrats.
On Monday, Raed Jarrar had this fascinating analysis of what’s been going on.
In his view, it was Maliki who took the initiative in breaking his links with what Raed calls the “gang of four”: that is, the two Kurdish parties, ISCI, and the (Sunni) Islamic Accord Party. In his view, Maliki was doing this for these reasons:

    1- Demographic cleansing: Al-Maliki is against partitioning Iraq now. The gang of 4 have been following and promoting a separatist agenda aimed at creating sectarian/ethnic/religious regions that are self governed instead of having a strong central government in Baghdad running the country. The gang of 4 have been supporting the cleansing campaigns directly and indirectly for years. Al-Maliki’s recent attempts to reverse ethnic and sectarian cleansing and remove all walls in Baghdad were faced by fierce criticism by the gang of four. Following last week’s organized attacks in Baghdad, Hoshyar Zibari (a kurdish separatist who happened to be Iraq’s minister of foreign affairs) claimed the reason behind the attacks is Al-Maliki’s plan to remove the partitioning walls!
    2- Central government vs. regional powers: Al-Maliki is now for keeping and even increasing the powers of the central government. Mainly because he’s fighting for his own position’s authorities, and because he’s catering to the Iraqi public opinion that, according to numerous polls, favors a model where the central government runs a united and sovereign nation.
    3- Ending foreign intervention(s): Al-Maliki’s support for a plan where ALL U.S. troops must leave Iraq has been against the gang of four’s interests. They realize that the U.S. is there protecting them and supporting their weak and unpopular regime, and more importantly, the US is fighting their fight against other Iraqis.

(Raed also expressed this important conclusion: “There is a lot of violence coming ahead, but this does not mean in anyway the US occupation should last for an extra day… There is nothing that the US can do to fix the situation other than leaving Iraq completely and stopping all forms of intervention in Iraq’s domestic issues.”)
The WaPo and NYT accounts of the political split inside the Baghdad regime both seem to attribute much more of the momentum for the split to the non-Maliki side than to him… But I tend to respect Raed Jarrar’s feel for intra-Iraqi politics more than I do that of any of those western journos.
And meanwhile, from Syria, came this analysis piece today from the always well-informed Sami Moubayed.
First of all, Moubayed lays out a very well argued refutation of the accusations of Syrian complicity in last week’s bombings. Then he asks,

    why blame Syria? Clearly, from the contradicting remarks of Iraqi ministers, Black Wednesday puts many top officials in very difficult positions. It proves just how weak and divided they are – exposing them before ordinary Iraqis who are furious at the rising death toll and want answers from their elected representatives.
    … Nobody in Iraq wants to know who carried out the Wednesday attacks, because reality would expose dramatic mismanagement of government office. That in turn would drown many parliamentary hopefuls in January’s elections. It therefore suits all officials to cover up for their shortcomings by blaming Syria.
    Nobody in the Iraqi government would dare blame Iran or Saudi Arabia, because of the financial and military clout these countries have in Iraq, along with their respective army of followers. Left standing is Syria, which happens to be Ba’athist and still has Iraqi fugitives on its territory.
    In recalling their ambassador from Damascus, the Iraqis will have to deal with the aftershocks in their relationship with Syria. Iraq needs the Syrians much more than Damascus needs Baghdad. Iraq needs it for economic issues related to the pumping of oil and rebuilding of the war-torn country. It needs it to mediate explosive conflicts between Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds, whose leaders were all one-time residents of Damascus and still have excellent relations with the Syrians.
    Iraq needs it to police the Syrian-Iraqi border, and to continue playing host to over 1 million Iraqi refugees based in Syria since 2003. Iraq needs Damascus to mediate talks between Maliki and both Ba’athists and Sunni tribes. It also needs the Syrians to legitimize the Maliki regime, or whatever succeeds it in January, in the eyes of ordinary Iraqi Sunnis who have historically looked towards Syria for shelter and support.
    When Syria decided to open an embassy in Baghdad in late 2008, this greatly legitimized Maliki in the eyes of ordinary Iraqis, who until then saw him as nothing but a sectarian clown who had nothing but animosity for the Sunni community and wanted to punish it collectively for having produced Saddam Hussein.
    It is one thing when countries like Jordan or Egypt recognize Maliki and legitimize his administration, but a completely different matter when this is done by Syria, a country that remains dominated by a strong brand of Arab nationalism that is appealing to the Iraqi street.
    In as much as the sending of an ambassador was symbolic for the Syrians, recalling him is equally symbolic, and will cause plenty of damage for the prime minister, who needs a broad constituency among Sunnis and Shi’ites in preparation for the elections.

Well, let’s see how this plays out.
I just wish we had some kind of leading body in the international community who could get the leaders of Iraq and all its neighbors into one room together and get them to agree on strict codes for non-intervention, nonviolence, and de-escalation of tensions among them.
But alas, we have no such body. After many years of systematic US downgrading of the role and efficacy of the UN, the UN is just a shadow of what it should be today. And the US itself is clearly incapable of playing a neutral, calming role like this.

Visser: Obama gets Iraqis out of boxes; US MSM still don’t

Reidar Visser has an encouraging short report noting on the way that Pres. Obama referred to Iraq’s people(s) yesterday:

    At one point he mentioned “all of Iraq’s ethnic and religious” groups, but in another instance he referred to the “people of all parts of Iraq” and there was no reference to the specific tripartite formula of “Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds” which was prominent only weeks ago during Vice-President Joe Biden’s visit. All in all, his remarks are likely to be seen as unobjectionable by a majority of Iraqis, quire regardless of what they may think of the current Iraqi government.

(Hey, perhaps Obama’s people have been reading Reidar’s and my writings on this topic earlier this month? Here and here.)
But, as Reidar notes, the western MSM still

    remain stuck in their own clichés. Here, reconciliation “between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds” is the only ticket in town, even if this means having to struggle with quotation marks and sometimes even cheat.

I do know as a longtime journo that frequently, when you’re writing under the pressure of deadlines, you need to have handy “labels” that you slap onto various groups, especially in situations of fluid and often fast-moving conflicts. But a reporter and her editors need constantly to be re-examining the helpfulness as well as the effects of those labels. And since the Iraqi story is not particularly “fast-moving” at this time, there’s no excuse at all for the MSM journos not to be doing this.

How occupations end

We here in Washington DC currently have a front-seat view of how a country undertakes the ending of the military occupation by its ground forces of another country’s territory.
Today, Iraq’s elected PM Nuri al-Maliki will be meeting with Pres. Obama in the White House. Top on the agenda of their talks will doubtless be continuing disagreements over the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement (SOFA) that the two governments concluded last November, which mandates a complete withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.
Yes, there have been some disagreements between the two governments over how the WA will be implemented. But seeing how the US is now in the process of pulling its troops out of Iraq over the next 30 months can inform us a lot about some of the issues involved in ending Israel’s continuing military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan.
Over the past 20 years, we’ve actually seen a lot of military occupations being brought to an end. This is not rocket science. Here’s what we now know:
1. An occupation can end as a result of an agreement negotiated between the occupying power and a “sufficiently legitimate” governing authority representing the occupied area’s indigenous residents; or the occupying power can attempt a unilateral, essentially un-negotiated withdrawal. A third alternative: Of course, occupations can also be ended– as the German occupations of European countries, the Japanese occupations of Asian countries, and Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait all were– by the direct application of military force.
2. Examples of the second (unilateral) kind of withdrawal include the US’s withdrawal from the portions of southern Iraq it occupied in the course of the 1991 Gulf War, and Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from just about all of southern Lebanon. The Us withdrawal from Iraq occurred in the context of a ceasefire agreement the two governments hastily concluded; but that agreement did not end the overall state of hostilities between Saddam’s government and the US.
3. Unilateral withdrawals, because they do not end the state of hostilities between the parties, merely rearrange the furniture for the continued pursuit of those hostilities.
4. The “withdrawal” from Gaza that the Israeli government claims it undertook in 2005 did not, actually, end Israel’s formal status under international as the occupying power in Gaza, since Israel retained its control over all Gaza’s contact points with the outside world and over Gaza’s air-space; it also retained the “right” under international law to send its troops back into Gaza whenever it wished.
If Israel had not still been seen, under international law, as the occupying power in Gaza, last December’s massive Israeli assault against the Strip including the large-scale incursion of Israeli troops into it would of course have been seen as an international aggression, triggering the intervention of the UN Security Council under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. That did not happen, because Gaza is still under the same Israeli military occupation that it has been continuously since 1967. What happened in 2005 was not the ending of Gaza’s occupation, but a rearranging of the way Israel organized it.

Continue reading “How occupations end”

US military chafes under Iraq Withdrawal Agreement

Oh, pity the retreating hegemon– just for a fleeting second– as it starts to realize the implications of the drawdown of ts forces from Iraq, in compliance with the Withdrawal Agreement (PDF) concluded last November.
The WaPo’s Ernesto Londono and Karen De Young reported from Baghdad today that on July 2, two days after the deadline for the withdrawal of US forces from all the cities of Iraq,

    Iraq’s top commanders told their U.S. counterparts to “stop all joint patrols” in Baghdad. It said U.S. resupply convoys could travel only at night and ordered the Americans to “notify us immediately of any violations of the agreement.”
    … U.S. commanders have described the pullout from cities as a transition from combat to stability operations. But they have kept several combat battalions assigned to urban areas and hoped those troops would remain deeply engaged in training Iraqi security forces, meeting with paid informants, attending local council meetings and supervising U.S.-funded civic and reconstruction projects.
    … The Americans have been taken aback by the new restrictions on their activities. The Iraqi order runs “contrary to the spirit and practice of our last several months of operations,” Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, commander of the Baghdad division, wrote in an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post.
    “Maybe something was ‘lost in translation,’ ” Bolger wrote. “We are not going to hide our support role in the city. I’m sorry the Iraqi politicians lied/dissembled/spun, but we are not invisible nor should we be.” He said U.S. troops intend to engage in combat operations in urban areas to avert or respond to threats, with or without help from the Iraqis.

Hullo?! Earth to Gen. Bolger! Why did he think it would somehow be “okay” to keep “several combat battalions assigned to urban areas”?
Maybe he should go and read the text of the Withdrawal Agreement, as duly concluded between his (and my) government and the Government of Iraq last November.
The WA states, Article 24, clauses 1 and 2:

    1. All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.
    2. All United States combat forces shall withdraw from Iraqi cities, villages, and localities no later than the time at which Iraqi Security Forces assume full responsibility for security in an Iraqi province, provided that such withdrawal is completed no later than June 30, 2009.

And in Article 4, clauses 1, 2, and 3:

    1. The Government of Iraq requests the temporary assistance of the United States Forces for the purposes of supporting Iraq in its efforts to maintain security and stability in Iraq, including cooperation in the conduct of operations against Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, outlaw groups, and remnants of the former regime.
    2. All such military operations that are carried out pursuant to this Agreement shall be conducted with the agreement of the Government of Iraq. Such operations shall be fully coordinated with the Iraqi authorities
    3. All such operations shall be conducted with full respect for the Iraqi Constitution and the laws of Iraq. Execution of such operations shall not infringe upon the sovereignty of Iraq and its nation interests, as defined by the Government of Iraq. It is the duty of the United States Forces to respect the laws, customs, and traditions of Iraq and applicable international law.

So it really is small wonder that the combat battalions Bolger had kept deployed– and also quite frequently employed– inside Baghdad and other cities since June 30 have been running into a lot of opposition from the Iraqi forces, and perhaps also from some para-military formations operating with the knowledge of the Baghdad government.
For example, as the waPo writers note, on Thursday night there was a mysteriously sourced “rocket strike on a U.S. base in Basra on Thursday night that killed three soldiers. ”
But why were those US soldiers still inside Basra at all?
Bolger says that the US forces inside urban areas have been engaging in operations to “to avert or respond to threats, with or without help from the Iraqis”?
Threats to whom? Threats to themselves and their own– at this point illegal– presence inside the cities, it seems.
Just get the heck out of the cities, Gen. Bolger! That is what our government agreed with the Iraqi government would happen.
But thus far, it apparently hasn’t. So it is the US forces that have been contravening the terms of the WA. And no amount of “spinning/lying/dissembling” on Gen. Bolger’s behalf can change that.
It is not clear to whom Bolger sent the reported email. But evidently he was venting some of his frustrations there:

    “Our [Iraqi] partners burn our fuel, drive roads cleared by our Engineers, live in bases built with our money, operate vehicles fixed with our parts, eat food paid for by our contracts, watch our [surveillance] video feeds, serve citizens with our [funds], and benefit from our air cover,” Bolger noted in the e-mail.

Poor cry-baby. He imagines the Iraqi people should be grateful that the US military marched in and smashed up their country?
Here’s another reading assignment for him:
Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement, “Property Ownership”:

    1. Iraq owns all buildings, non-relocatable structures, and assemblies connected to the soil that exist on agreed facilities and areas, including those that are used, constructed, atered, or improved by the United States Forces.
    2. Upon their withdrawal, the United States Forces shall return to the Government of Iraq all the facilities and areas provided fro the use of the combat forces of the United States…

Just get out, Gen. Bolger. Stop chasing phantoms and your own tail there. I am sure that once the Iraqi people and their government see you exiting the cities fully as per the WA, and complying with all its other terms, they will be happy to leave you alone.
The WA and international law demand that you withdraw from the cities, and only come back in with the explicit agreement of the Iraqi government. And guess what, the US public and Congress are in strong support of the WA.
(I’ll just note parenthetically here that the WaPo piece is also larded with allegations from un-named US officials that, under Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki’s rapidly expanding sovereignty, all kinds of Iranian-backed splinter groups– with pathetically mis-transliterated names– are now active in Iraq and striking at US targets. That’s what I mean by chasing phantoms… )

IPS post on Nabucco project and the Middle East

My piece on this is here. Also archived here.
This piece was a quick out-take, if you like, from some of the research I dd for my presentation at the MEPC mini-conference Thursday.
Actually, I had wanted to write for IPS this week either on Hamas or on some of the broad regional implications of the US troop drawdown in Iraq. But my friend Jim Lobe, the editor who decides these things, said he had news stories coming in on both those topics so I should do my analysis on something else.
Ah well, I try to be flexible. (And as longtime JWN readers know, I have a long-lived interest in matters of logistics and their effect on geopolitics.)
More Hamas for them later, I’m sure. Also, more Iraq. I don’t think either of those stories is going to go away any time soon.

Recalling the importance of the Iraqi-US Withdrawal Agreement

At yesterday’s panel discussion on the regional implications of the US withdrawal from Iraq, former assistant secretary of defense Larry Korb started off his presentation by saying,

    We need to remember how just plain lucky we are that the Bush administration did sign the Withdrawal Agreement/SOFA last November. This has been a really good thing– for us Americans, for the Iraqis, for everyone. And we need to remember that it wouldn’t have happened at all if the Iraqis hadn’t insisted on it.
    So now, we don’t have to have any endless debate in this country over “who lost Iraq”, as we did over “who lost Vietnam.”

Korb is a very pleasant guy, whose specialty is really force planning. He mentioned some of the extreme stresses that the Iraq war inflicted on the US military. Including, he cited a recent study from the Rand Corp. that says that some 350,000 US troops who have been subjected to the stresses of repeated deployment now have mental-health problems.
Well, from Korb’s perspective it might look as if it was just “luck” that motivated the Iraqi government to insist on getting Washington to sign a Withdrawal Agreement that includes a date certain for the exit of all US forces from Iraq.
The PDF of the Agreement’s text can now be found here. It stipulates, Article 24 (1) that:

    All United States forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.

But of course it wasn’t just “luck” that motivated the Iraqi government to insist on the agreement. It was the determined organizing and activity of nationalist-minded members of Iraq’s parliament that pushed the Maliki government to do so.
You may recall that in the weeks leading up to the late-November signing of the final text, the official spin from the Bush administration side was that no, of course there wouldn’t be any complete withdrawal, and nor would there be any defined deadlines.
But there were. Both of them. And it was the Bush administration that signed off on it. Which means the Republicans are now in no position at all to blame Obama for “cutting and running”, or even, really, to blame him for many of the things that might yet go wrong with the withdrawal as it proceeds towards its end-of-2011 deadline.
Yesterday, I finally caught up again with Raed Jarrar, the tireless organizer in DC for a US withdrawal from Iraq. He was the key person, last summer, who coordinated a visit to DC by an Iraqi parliamentary delegation that helped people in this country start to understand more about the dynamics within the Iraqi parliament.
Raed is currently working with the American Friends Service Committee. Last month he and two colleagues from the Friends Committee on National Legislation had another good victory– this time working with the US legislature: They got the House of Representatives to include in the military budget authorization bill crystal-clear language that:

    1. Affirms the United States legal agreement with Iraq to withdraw all U.S. military troops from that country by December 31, 2011; and
    2. Requires the Defense Department to submit detailed quarterly reports to six congressional committees on their progress in meeting various parameters of that withdrawal.

This has been a tremendous initiative! It is the first explicit acknowledgment and support coming from the US Congress for the Withdrawal Agreement.
Raed said yesterday that they are pretty confident the same language will be included in the bill adopted by the Senate.
Now, he’s working on helping parliamentarians from Iraq and Kuwait win support for an initiative to end Kuwait’s longstanding financial and other claims against Iraq, so that Iraq can be brought out of the “Chapter Seven” position it is still in, under the terms of the UN Charter.
… Bottom line: No, Larry Korb, it is not just dumb luck that gives the US and Iraq a Withdrawal Agreement that turns out to be good for everyone. It is the dedicated organizing of sometimes small groups of people, working for just ends. As Margaret Mead said (paraphrasing here): “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. It’s the only thing that ever has.”
(More from the conference, later.)
Apologies for the horrid typos that I’d left in here this morning. I was rushing to catch a train. And succeeded, so that was good. ~HC.

This Thursday: Speaking on implications of withdrawal from Iraq

If you’re in the Washington DC area on Thursday morning, note that I’ll be participating in what looks like (PDF) a pretty informative event. It’s brought to you by the Middle East Policy Council, former home of my esteemed friend, Amb. Chas Freeman:

    You and your colleagues are invited to the 57th in the MEPC’s Capitol Hill Conference Series on U.S. Middle East policy:
    U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq:
    What are the Regional Implications?

    James F. Dobbins
    Director, International Security and Defense Policy Center, RAND Corporation;
    Former assistant secretary of state and special envoy to Afghanistan
    Ellen Laipson
    President and CEO, Stimson Center; former vice-chair, National Intelligence Council
    Helena Cobban
    Publisher, JustWorldNews.org; author, Re-engage! America and the World After Bush
    Lawrence J. Korb
    Senior fellow, Center for American Progress; former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration
    Thomas R. Mattair
    Consultant; book review editor, MEPC; author, Global Security Watch – Iran: A Reference Handbook
    Thursday, July 16, 2009, 9:30 – Noon
    Capitol Visitor Center, HVC-215
    R.S.V.P. Acceptances Only: (202) 296-6767 or E-mail: info@mepc.org

IPS piece on Biden and Iraq

… You can find it here, and archived here.
I know I haven’t written much about Iraq recently. So I really welcomed the opportunity to do so today.
I also think I need to write more about the US’s disastrous war in Afghanistan– though I don’t think that will fit into the arrangement I have with IPS, which is limited to the Middle East.
For this one, given that I was up against a deadline that turned out to be more brutal than I’d expected, I was really glad to be able to quote some from our longtime JWN friend Reidar Visser’s very relevant and timely analysis of Iraqis’ fears of muhasasa. I translated that (after a quick consultation with Hans Wehr) as “apportionment”– and in the IPS piece I said it seemed very similar to the “confessional” system (ta’ifiyyeh) in Lebanon.
Of course, in the IPS piece there were many aspects of the Iraq story that I had no room to include. I should probably come back and write more about it in the months ahead than I have done recently.

Iraq: An occupation recedes

Congratulations to my Iraqi friends on the occasion of the significant (if not quite total) withdrawal of US military occupation rule from your cities and towns that has been taking place today according to the November 2008 Withdrawal Agreement between our two governments.
I wish you all the very best as you continue working to reconstruct lives, communities, and a nation that have been harmed very severely indeed by the actions and decisions of my government and its military (as well as by others.)
I am so sorry that we in the peace movement were unable to prevent the disastrous (and lie-based) decision our government took to invade your country in 2003. We tried, but we were not strong enough.
I hope that the rest of the US withdrawal, as mandated in the Withdrawal Agreement, goes ahead smoothly.
The PDF of the Agreement’s text can now be found here.) It stipulates, Article 24 (1) that:

    All United States forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.

I hope, additionally, that we in the US peace movement can work effectively with our fellow citizens here to persuade our government to pay due reparations to your country for the harm we have caused you– though of course many of these harms can never be adequately “repaired.” The 600,000-plus Iraqi citizens killed by and as a result of the US invasion and occupation cannot be brought back to life. I mourn the loss of their lives and send compassion and love to the family members and friends they left behind.
But our government is now, even if with painful slowness, doing the right thing in withdrawing the troops and ending their occupation of your country. We shall try to make sure the rest of the withdrawal occurs according to, or in advance of, the agreed timetable.
Foreign military occupation is always, in itself, a major infringement of the rights of the residents of the area occupied. How could it be otherwise when military rule is established over an entire civilian population– and this military is, furthermore, in no way directly accountable to or connected by ties of common nationality to the residents of the occupied area?
As we Americans withdraw our military occupation regime from Iraq, we must equally work to ensure that Israel, a state to which we have given– and continue to give– an extraordinary level of all kinds of support, likewise speedily ends the military occupation regime that it has maintained for 42 years over the residents of the non-Israeli territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan; and that it withdraws its troops from those areas back inside its own borders.
The US has committed many bad–indeed, under international law, illegal– acts during its six years of occupation so far in Iraq. These included the mass detentions and the major abuses in the detention facilities; the complete (and quite illegal) transformation of the political and economic order in the country; use of excessive force in numerous military engagements; and so on.
However, one violation of international law it did not commit was to seek to implant its own citizens as settlers inside Iraq.
During Israel’s 42-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza it has committed all or nearly all of the same abuses the US committed in Iraq. (Including, after the free and fair Palestinian election of January 2006, it decided to work to overthrow the results of that election; and outrageously, it received full backing from Washington in that endeavor.) But in addition to all those violations of international law, successive Israeli governments since 1967 have also worked systematically to implant large numbers of their own citizens into the occupied areas.
This has constituted a major and ongoing infraction of the natural rights of the Palestinians and the Golani Syrians to the free use of their own land’s resources. It has also made the act of withdrawing from the occupied areas, as international law stipulates must happen, that much harder for any Israeli government to contemplate. But that is the fault of all those Israeli citizens who for 42 years now have participated in, profited from, supported, or condoned the settlers’ project. Now, Israelis need to take the settlers back into their own country.
When I was growing up in England in the 1950s and 1960s our country was also facing the demographic consequences of seeing an empire retract. English settlers had gone to many countries under British rule, in good faith and with the full backing of the British government. Many had lived in those other countries for some generations. Now, they had to face the choice of either living under the newly independent national governments of those countries, or of returning “home” to an England that many of them had never even seen before.
For the Israeli settlers, returning “home” to Israel will be, by comparison, an easy matter. They all know Israel well. They will not have to move far. Those who want to stay in their current settlement homes may be offered the chance to do so– but they would have to live peaceably as foreigners under the government of an independent Palestine and would have no special privileges at all over their Palestinian neighbors. It is also possible that the PLO/PA may negotiate a land swap arrangement that would transfer some portion of the settlement areas to Israeli rule; but many of the current settlers would not be covered by it.
Anyway, that is the Palestinian issue– though we Americans can understand what occupation rule means a lot better now that we have had six disturbing years of our own foreign-occupation rule in Iraq to look back on. So let’s wish the Palestinians and Israelis well in their pursuit of a fair and durable agreement that mandates not only peace but also the end of foreign military occupation and the complete withdrawal of the troops that have maintained it.
Today, though, is primarily a day for congratulating Iraqis (and Americans) on their progress towards this goal.