Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Getting out of Iraq - reality vs. sloganeering

Some U.S. anti-Iraq-war people are starting to zero in on all the flaws and weak points of the proposed Iraq-U.S. agreement, but I'd say they are pretty much missing the forest for the trees.

What are they offering as a concrete and realizable alternative? "Out now"? Let's get serious. The nub of the issue right now is that the UN authorization for the U.S. occupation expires Dec. 31. What should happen Jan. 1? Do we, like the Iraqis judging from most reports, want to see Iraq get out from under the UN mandate and start taking over from the U.S.? And do we, like the Iraqis, want some restrictions on the U.S. military during this process -- Or are we just going to sit back and talk in slogans?

This report from Leila Fadel at McClatchy Newspapers, which has done a pretty good job reporting from Iraq, spells out some of the huge changes this agreement represents, for example:

If Iraq's parliament endorses the agreement, in six weeks American forces would have to change the way they operate in Iraq, and all U.S. combat troops, police trainers and military advisers would have to leave the country by Dec. 31, 2011. President-elect Barack Obama's campaign plan to leave a residual force of some 30,000 American troops in Iraq would be impossible under the pact. ...

The American military now can come and go as it pleases in Iraq. It raids homes without judicial approval, controls Iraq's airspace, detains civilians without warrants for as long as it wants and conducts unilateral operations against high-value targets, including a recent cross-border attack on an al Qaida in Iraq member in Syria that was condemned by Iraq, the Arab League and Syria.

The agreement forbids attacks on other countries from inside Iraq, and if it were approved, beginning Jan. 1 all U.S. operations would have to be conducted in cooperation with the Iraqi government.

"It is not permitted to use Iraqi land, water and airspace as a route or launching pad for attacks against other countries," the pact says, according to an Arabic copy that McClatchy obtained.

The military also would have to get arrest warrants from the Iraqi government, judicial orders for raids on homes and to consult in advance on every operation, including the attacks on high-value targets that American forces now routinely conduct on their own. ...

The Green Zone, where American contractors, some military personnel and officials live and work, would come under Iraqi control on the first day of next year. U.S. soldiers currently protect the area in central Baghdad, and checkpoints are manned by Peruvian mercenaries. State and Defense department officials breeze through the checkpoints, while most Iraqis are subjected to long searches.

Control of Iraqi airspace would be transferred to the Iraqis the day the agreement took effect, and after that the Iraqi government would issue annual permits to all U.S. military aircraft. Currently, the U.S. controls all air traffic over Iraq, including civilian flights, and it could shut down Iraq's airspace.

In provinces that have been turned over to Iraqi control, U.S. troops couldn't remain in cities, villages or towns after the agreement took effect, and as of June 30, all American combat troops would have to be in agreed-on locations outside populated areas.

They'd have no right, beginning next year, to venture off their bases and outposts without Iraqi authorities' approval and cooperation.

The Bush administration refused to meet Iraqi demands for legal jurisdiction over American military personnel, but the agreement does give Iraqi authorities the right to prosecute private contractors ...

It's also important for Americans to recognize that there is a political struggle going on in Iraq over the direction of their country. It remains to be seen if the Iraqi Parliament will ok the agreement, but don't get fooled by the political posturing and maneuvering going on there - a lot of it is geared toward the upcoming provincial elections and efforts by various parties to strengthen their hands in that contest. When push comes to shove, most seem prepared to support this agreement as a better alternative than keeping Iraq completely subjugated to the U.S.

Clearly, too, this agreement is in line with Obama's approach on getting out of Iraq.

A recent New York Times article sheds light on the dynamics:

“Before, the Iraqis were thinking that if they sign the pact, there will be no respect for the schedule of troop withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2011,” said Hadi al-Ameri, a powerful member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a major Shiite party. “If Republicans were still there, there would be no respect for this timetable. This is a positive step to have the same theory about the timetable as Mr. Obama.” ...

Many Shiite politicians had been under intense pressure from Iranian leaders not to sign a security agreement. Iran, which has close ties to Shiite politicians, has feared the agreement would lay the groundwork for a permanent American troop presence in Iraq that would threaten Iran.

But now, the Iraqis appear to be feeling less pressure from Iran, perhaps because the Iranians are less worried that an Obama government will try to force a regime change in their country. ...

with Iraqis believing that Mr. Obama, as president, would move faster to withdraw American troops, Iraqi and American officials said obstacles to a security agreement appeared to be fading.

Jabeer Habeeb, an independent Shiite lawmaker and a political scientist at Baghdad University, put it simply: “Obama’s election shifts Iraq into a new position.”

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