Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Iraq Protocols

It is interesting to observe the unfolding dynamics around the US-Iraqi 'Status of Forces Agreement' that is currently teetering between success and defeat. First of all, the SOFA agreement - being negotiated in considerable secrecy by the Bush executive with little consultation and no thought of seeking Congressional approval - makes some interesting concessions. If the reports are accurate, it does effectively put a time limit on the occupation (2011), prevents the US from using Iraq as a base to attack another country, and does not allow permanent bases. Moreover, quite unusually for such agreements, it says that US soldiers who commit crimes outside American bases are liable to be prosecuted under Iraqi law.

Of course, the UN mandate expires on 31st December so this gives the US an extra couple of years. It is a face-saving move for the US. Moreover, any limitations on the ability of occupation forces to act are strictly conditional on the willingness of the US to adhere to its agreement, which in turn depends on American perceptions of likely resistance to its actions. Finally, it does allow US troops to remain militarily active to hunt down 'terrorists' and 'Al Qaeda' and so on - which basically means that America's immense firepower will probably be trained on Sadrist forces and Sunni insurgent groups. And even when US troops are being drawn down there are no provisions, so far as I have seen, to get Blackwater mercenaries out of there. Their contract with the State Department runs out in April, and given the number of criminal investigations going on into the organisation, a large number of Democratic legislators want their executives in cuffs. Obama is typically bland: he says he wants to gradually withdraw the contractors, but certainly not ban them or anything bold like that. And, of course, the draw-down is tactically linked to the plans to increase the troop commitment in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, if the provisions are as reported, then the pact already expresses a substantial defeat for the occupiers. It would be preferrable to see the last soldiers and diplomats chased out of the country, a la 22 Gia Long Street, Saigon. But the occupiers would never have proposed the exit terms they have without years of armed struggle and political resistance. The US, despite the self-congratulatory language of the 'surge' preferred by the Bush administration, had to cut a series of ignominious deals with armed resistance forces that basically demonstrated the complete inability of the occupiers to remain without the acquiescence of leading resistance forces.

The Sadrists, quite rightly, reject the agreement, and have been threatening a return to full-scale armed resistance. That would mean 'Iraqi security forces' being chucked out of Sadr City and other 'strongholds' for a start, which would be a serious setback for both the Maliki government and the occupiers. Maliki was humiliated last April when a combined Iraqi and US assault failed to take Sadr City or conquer Basra. They had to negotiate a ceasefire with Moqtada on both occasions. The Sadrists probably surmise that the US is in a panic, anxious to get some sort of accord before transition to the Clinton Obama executive, and before the UN mandate expires. So, either the US can run out the clock trying to obtain an agreement and thus be force to leave in an awful hurry, or it can stay on in perpetual limbo and risk an uprising, or it can make further concessions in the hope of winning over the Sadrists and Sunni opposition groups. At any rate, the only losing position for Iraqis at the moment is a quick agreement. The more the anti-occupation parliamentarians disrupt any quiet transition to SOFA, and the more Iraqis stage mass protests against the occupation, the more the US will be forced to concede. Why give them an inch when the occupiers' presence in Iraq is a clear and present danger to Iraqis? Present them with a breathing space now, and they will regroup, find ways to violate the agreement, expand their scope of activities, and stretch out the occupation even longer.

It is no surprise, obviously, that the Kurdistan Alliance, Maliki's Da'wa Party, and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council support the agreement and want it to be endorsed as quickly as possible. They two want an extra couple of years to build up their forces and more thoroughly dominate the repressive apparatus of the state. Maliki has reportedly been developing new militias to support his position in the 'new new Iraq'. The Kurdish peshmerga are advancing into non-Kurdish areas of Iraq and set up checkpoints. This expansionism is usually accompanied by ethnic cleansing, the better to consolidate their hold over the territory. So, they are also playing for time. Moreover, the upcoming January elections may substantially weaken some of the currently dominant parties, and they will want to assure their stake by guaranteeing a US presence before then. And there will be infighting between the different parties and militias over the future settlement. The ISCI wants to create a federal region of 9 provinces in the south, which it believes it could dominate. The Da'wa Party is opposed to this. The Basra-based Fadhila wants Basra itself to be given a referendum on autonomy, which both the ISCI and the Da'wa oppose. And the Sadrists, consistent with their Iraqi nationalism, insist on a strong central authority. That is a battle that is likely to be violent, and it is one in which Maliki and his cohorts will want US backing for crackdowns on opposition movements. So, all power to the rejectionists, I say. If the Americans don't like it, let them eat lead.