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How Alone It is in Iraq

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    The U.S. Doesn t Know How Alone It is in Iraq Friends Like These By PATRICK COCKBURN http://www.counterpunch.org/ Over the past five years, America and its
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 4, 2008
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      The U.S. Doesn't Know How Alone It is in Iraq
      Friends Like These
      By PATRICK COCKBURN
      http://www.counterpunch.org/


      Over the past five years, America and its Iraqi allies have pointed
      triumphantly at a series of spurious milestones meant to mark turning
      points on the road to stability and security. But the ongoing
      stalemate over a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which the
      Iraqi government refuses to sign despite intense American pressure,
      marks a true turning point in the conflict: it is a clear sign that
      American political influence in Iraq is weaker than ever.

      It is the first time that an Iraqi government has rebuffed the US on
      a crucial issue since the invasion of 2003. The agreement, the
      subject of prolonged and divisive negotiations since March, was
      rejected by the Iraqi cabinet and is unlikely to be submitted to
      parliament in its present form. The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al
      Maliki, who could not have obtained nor held his job without American
      backing, says he will not sign it as it is.

      Meanwhile the US is increasingly desperate to conclude the status
      agreement before the UN mandate that legalises the US occupation runs
      out at the end of the year. The US ambassador Ryan Crocker petulantly
      threatened that without an agreement "we do nothing – no security
      training, no logistical support, no border protection, no training,
      equipping, manning checkpoints, no nothing." President Bush has
      himself pushed hard for the accord over the last eight months without
      success. His failure to secure the pact shows that the US is unable
      to get its way despite exaggerated claims of military success by the
      White House and the Pentagon.

      The accord that has been rejected is markedly less favourable to the
      US than the original draft that was first discussed in March. The
      Americans, who could have presented the agreement to the Iraqis as a
      means of bringing the occupation to an end or eliminating its most
      objectionable aspects, instead produced a blank cheque that suggested
      no limit to the number of American troops in the country and no date
      for eventual withdrawal.



      The March draft was a typical example of the US tendency to overplay
      its hand in Iraq, where the agreement was denounced as a successor to
      the 1930 Anglo-Iraqi treaty that gave Britain de facto control over a
      nominally independent Iraq. The draft provoked a nationalist
      backlash, and many Iraqi politicians who supported the agreement did
      so covertly for fear of being labelled American pawns.

      The final draft of the accord agreed by negotiators on October 13 was
      very different. By then the Bush administration had been forced to
      concede a timetable for an American military withdrawal: combat
      troops were to leave Iraqi cities, towns and villages by the end of
      June 2009, and all American forces were to depart by the end of 2011.
      Contractors lost their immunity from Iraqi law. The US tried to make
      the military retreat from Iraq conditional on the security situation
      at the time, but by the end of the negotiations even this had been
      conceded.

      Nothing better illuminates the real political landscape in Iraq – and
      the absurdity of the fantasies pumped out in Washington and broadly
      accepted in the US – than the concessions forced on the Americans.
      The American problem in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein
      has always been political rather than military. Simply put, the
      Americans have had too few friends in Iraq, and their allies have
      sided with the US for tactical reasons alone. The majority Shia
      community initially co-operated with the US in order to achieve
      political domination, and it needed American military force to crush
      the Sunni Arab uprising of 2004-7. But the Shia leaders always wanted
      power for themselves and never intended to share it with the
      Americans in the long term. The Sunni guerrillas did surprisingly
      well against the American army, but their community was decisively
      defeated in the bloody battle for Baghdad fought by government death
      squads and sectarian militias. It was this defeat – and not simply
      hostility to al Qa'eda in Iraq – that led the Sunni rebels to seek
      their own alliance with the US.

      I was in Baghdad during the first half of October and then flew to
      New York. Never has there been such a deep gap between what Americans
      think is happening in Iraq and the reality on the ground. Senator
      John McCain keeps celebrating the supposed triumph of the "surge",
      and seems to imagine that "victory in Iraq" is now in sight. His
      exotic running mate Sarah Palin sneers at the "defeatist" Barack
      Obama. And Obama, afraid to appear unpatriotic, has recanted his
      earlier doubts about the surge and attempted to avoid discussion of
      Iraq in general. With American voters understandably absorbed by the
      financial crash and coming depression, attention to events in Iraq
      has evaporated: the American media have barely mentioned the
      rejection of the SOFA.

      In New York I found it strange that so many people believed the surge
      had brought an end to violence in Iraq. It was a curious sort of
      military victory, I observed, that required more troops in Iraq
      today – 152,000 – than before the surge began. The best barometer for
      the real state of security in Iraq, I kept telling people, is the
      behaviour of the 4.7 million Iraqi refugees inside and outside the
      country. Many are living in desperate circumstances but dare not go
      home. Ask an Iraqi in Baghdad how things are, and he may well
      say "better". But he means better than the bloodbath of two years
      ago: "better" does not mean "good".

      Driving around Baghdad I tried to avoid particularly dangerous areas
      like Tahrir Square in the centre of the city. This turned out to be
      very sensible: a few days after I left, a suicide car bomb attack
      there on the convoy of the Labour and Social Affairs minister killed
      12. The suicide bomber had reached Tahrir Square despite the fact
      that there are military and police checkpoints every hundred yards
      and gigantic traffic jams throughout the city. There is now a little
      more activity after dark, particularly in Karada and Jadriyah
      districts, but Baghdad is still the most dangerous city in the world.

      The government should be able to do better. It has money. Reserves
      total $79 billion. The state is vast and employs some two million
      people. But it is also dysfunctional. Government employees like
      teachers and army officers are better paid but half the population is
      unemployed. The Labour and Social Affairs Ministry, the head of which
      was so nearly assassinated, is meant to help millions of impoverished
      Iraqis but has only spent 10 per cent of its budget. The private
      sector is languishing. One sure sign of economic activity is cranes,
      but in Baghdad I do not recall seeing a single one of them aside from
      those rusting beside Saddam Hussein's uncompleted mosques.

      The inability of the Iraqi government, many of whose members have
      long co-operated with the US, to reach a new accord with the US
      underlines a simple truth about Iraqi politics. The occupation has
      never been popular. The only part of the country where it is
      acceptable is Kurdistan, which has never been occupied by US forces.
      Some Sunni Arabs, under pressure from the Shia, may now look to the
      US as their protectors, but overall Iraqis blame the occupation for
      their present miseries. Dislike of the occupation is so great that
      many Shia politicians think they would be signing their political
      death warrant to go along with it – though they are also nervous
      about coping without American military support.

      The Kurds say privately that Maliki is overconfident. This may be so,
      but he has a strong hand. It is too late for the Americans to try
      replace him. He owes his greatest triumph – facing down the Mahdi
      Army of Muqtada al Sadr in Basra, Sadr City and Amara earlier this
      year – as much to Iranian restraint of the Sadrists as to American
      military support. It would be dangerous for him to make an enemy of
      Iran by signing a deal to which they are vehemently and openly
      opposed.

      Maliki seems to have been of two minds about the SOFA: uncertain
      whether the greater danger is signing or not signing. He is looking
      ahead to the provincial and parliamentary elections next year when he
      will want to present himself as a patriotic Iraqi leader who stood up
      to the Americans. If he does not then the Sadrists and possibly the
      Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq will denounce him as an American pawn.

      The danger in Iraq is that neither McCain nor Obama seem to
      understand how far the US position in Iraq has weakened this year or
      why Iraq refuses to sign the security accord. The overselling of the
      surge as a great victory means that few Americans see that they are
      increasingly without allies in Iraq. The US no longer makes the
      political weather there. No matter who inherits the White House,
      American military retreat is now inevitable. The only question that
      remains is who will hold power in Baghdad after they have gone.


      Patrick Cockburn is the Ihe author of "Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the
      Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.


      A version of this article originally appeared in The National
      (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

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