Archive for the Getting out of Iraq Category

Happy Holidays from Baghdad!

Posted in Current Events in Iraq, Getting out of Iraq, Iraq and Troop Levels, Iraq War with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 22, 2011 by whatafteriraq

Depressingly, it has not taken long for things to begin to show signs of unravelling in Iraq. Less than a week after the last American combat vehicle passed the frontier into Kuwait, the first crisis has emerged. It is no surprise that things are coming undone, of course; this blog has been part of a chorus for some time arguing that things would turn bad in that country after the United States and regardless of when the United States leaves. The only surprise is how fast the fissures have reopened; one would have hoped the partisans would at least have waited until after the eggnog was drunk and the presents under the tree opened. But that clearly was not meant to be.

The source of the fissure has been the newest dispute between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s regime and the highest elected Sunni in the country,Tariq al-Hashemi, head of the al-Iraqiya party. The focus of the dispute is Shiite accusations that Hashemi and his associates engineered the murders of numerous Shiites, a charge that Hashemi says are both false and politically motivated, arguing that in making these accusations Maliki “pushes things in the direction of no return.” Not trusting the police and courts in Baghdad, Hashemi has taken refuge in Kurdistan, which has offered him effective asylum and which he uses as a platform from which to excoriate the Maliki government. His basic argument is that the charges are politically motivated, untrue, and that he could not receive a fair trial in Baghdad with its pro-Shiite, pro-Maliki courts that do not, in his words, offer adequate “transparency.”

This dispute highlights two of the most basic sources of division in Iraq that many of us have argued since before the 2003 invasion provided more than adequate reason not to invade in the first place. The heart of the disagreement is an entirely predictable confrontation between Sunnis and Shiites, the basic religious divide in Islam. The net effect of 8 1/2 years of American involvement in Iraq has been to shift power from a tyrannical Sunni dictator to what is increasingly looking like a Shiite dictator–an absolutely predictable outcome of our insistence on one-man,one-vote “democracy” is a country that is over 60 percent Shiite. Now that whatever restraint our presence had on the competition has been removed, the Sunnis and Shiites are fighting again. What a surprise!

The other dimension is territorial, the division between the Kurdish north and the rest of Iraq along ethnic and territorial lines. Although supporters of the war were always loath to admit it, Iraqi Kurdistan has been a de facto independent states for several years now, with very little Baghdad jurisdiction over what goes on there. The fact that Hashemi would seek refuge in Kurdistan and that the government would feel the need to negotiate about the Kurds turning him over rather than simply arresting him in what is, after all, officially part of Iraq tells you everything you need to know about the territorial integrity of the country. Until some agreement is reached on the division of oil revenues in the country, this status quo will continue. It is probably true that the only reason Kurdistan has not declared formal independence is strong opposition from surrounding countries with contiguous Kurdish minorities who would probably move to join such a state. Turkey, with the area’s largest and most formidable armed forces heads the lists of opponents which could, unlike the government in Baghdad, establish its sway over the Kurdish region if adequately incited to do so.

All this is playing out without great notice in the United States. The crisis emerging over the holiday season probably explains part of this–as most of us are more concerned about old Saint Nick than we are about Iraq. Indeed, the Obama administration may have made sure all the troops were out before Christmas because it knew things would blow up and wanted that to occur when we were not paying attention.

The only American politician who seems to have noticed is John McCain, whose response has been entirely predictable, arguing that the fault lies with the Obama administration for removing all the troops when it did. His argument, which he seems to apply most everywhere, is that if we kept a military presence in Iraq, it would not be blowing up today. The same argument was used in Vietnam, but misses the point that regardless of how long we stay, the divisions are going to remain and will boil over whenever our departure occurs. The Iraqis, on the other hand, realize that now that we are gone, we are not coming back, so they can revert to form.

Anyone who can make a straight line projection of the current dust up to the final outcome in Iraq has either been drinking too much eggnog or eggnog spiked with illegal substances. The current brouhaha is, more likely, simply the opening chorus of a much longer and more traumatic outcome, the exact nature of which is impossible to predict. What is safe to suggest is that it will not work out the way that George Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, et. al. predicted back in the early summer of 2003.

Merry Baghdad to all, and to all a good night!

Advertisements

The GOP Candidates and Iraq

Posted in Current Events in Iraq, Diplomacy, Getting out of Iraq, Iran and Iraq, Iraq and Election, Iraq and Troop Levels, Iraq War, Leaving Iraq with tags , , , , , on October 23, 2011 by whatafteriraq

If ignorance is indeed bliss, the GOP candidates for president in 2012 demonstrated that they must be the most contented lot in the world after their pronouncements about President Obama’s announcement this past week that the United States would end all military operations in Iraq by the end of the year. The stupendous ignorance of the facts demonstrated by the GOP field regarding how and why this ending will occur is breathtaking; it is also a sobering reminder of what foreign policy might look like should one of them somehow become commander-in-chief. Of that latter prospect, only the most ardent neo-conservative could possibly take take solace in the prospect.

What was the collective accusation? It was that somehow Obama had acted in a way that somehow would cause the United States to quit the field in Iraq, thereby submitting the United States and the region and world to great potential peril, since we will no longer be able to maintain some semblance of control there when all our troops (other than the Marines guarding the embassy) are gone–in time for the holidays, according to the administration.

That statement, which is of course a composite, has four distinct parts, two of which are clearly false or misleading, and two of which are arguable. Let’s look at each.

1. It was an action by Obama that has caused this situation. This assertion is, of course, necessary to blame the White House for something–which of course is the partisan putpose anyway–and it is patently false. The reason the U.S. will leave Iraq at the end of the year is because the Iraqis want us out. This is hardly a revelation, and it has been enshrined in an agreement signed by President Bush with the Iraqi government in December 2008 that called for withdrawal by the end of this year. The al-Malaki government views this requirement as a bedrock of their mandate, and it has been a condition and date that has existed–and been publicly known–for over three years.

The only way that treaty obligation could have been modified or moderated was through the negotiation of a new agreement with the Iraqis to allow some number of Americans to stay after the end of the year. The U.S. has indeed been trying to do so to allow a token force to stay behind, but those negotiations foundered on a critical provision of the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) that would have been necessary to extend the American presence: a provision that American forces be exempted from prosecution of alleged offenses under Iraqi law (a standard item of SOFAs the U.S. has with foreign governments). THE IRAQIS REFUSED TO ACCEPT THIS STIPULATION, and this is why the U.S. is leaving. There were probably two reasons for the Iraqi position: 1) they wanted us to leave, and knew this would force us out, and 2) given the track record of some Americans on the scene, they did not trust us enough to make the concession (think Abu Ghraib). We are leaving because we could not conclude a successful SOFA, and there is no SOFA because the Iraqis refused to negotiated one. Period. End of story.

If one wants to blame the president for this, all one can argue (much too subtle for the current GOP field) is that the Obama administration, which also wants out of Iraq, did not try as hard as they might have to force the Iraqis to relent. That is at least arguable, although to be accepted, two additional elements are needed: proof the Obama people dragged their feet and evidence that a more assertive advocacy would have made a difference. The first is possible; the latter fantasy.

2. The U.S. action will leave American interests at peril. Specifically, the argument goes that an Iraq without an American presence will be subject to pressure from Iran and will be driven into the arms of Iran. This outcome is at least arguable on a number of grounds, and one can accept the notion that the postwar environment will leave Iran the clear winner in the American war against Iraq. What is very misleading about this assertion, however, is the idea that the U.S. decision to honor its treaty promises is the cause of this outcome. Iranian increased influence was probably the inevitable outcome of overthrowing Iran’s greatest single obstacles in the region, Saddam Hussein, and was cemented by by our eight year occupation. Iran is equally likely to benefit regardless of when the U.S. leaves; to blame it on honoring Bush’s commitment is pure demagogery.

3.  A continuing American presence would help stabilize the situation in Iraq, and their removal reduces the U.S. ability to influence the situation. Exactly how the retention of 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq is supposed to stabilize anything is not clear,except in the symbolism of their presence and the implied threat (a very hollow one) that they could be reinforced if need be by sending more back. It is true that American influence will wane somewhat with all our presence there, but it is pretty hard to contend that we have much influence there anymore anyway. For a sliver of evidence, how successful were we in keeping al-Maliki from endorsing the continuing rule of Bashar al-Assad in Syria?

4. If we are gone, who will protect the American contractors and aid workers left behind? This is a serious question, because the answer is the Iraqis will have to do so. If they want whatever goodies we are dispensing, they will do so; if getting rid of all the Americans is what they really want, they will not. One can only hope all the remaining Americans in the country are keeping packed bags under their beds. Having said that, 5,000 Americans in garrison are probably not much better equipped to protect and extract those Americans from danger than Marines or special forces on duty on ships in the Persian Gulf.

One need not be a particular supporter on Obama foreign policy to see that the withering criticism of his Iraq announcement was uncalled for, unfair, and displayed considerable ignorance on the part of those who made it. Up until now, the GOP  field has been remarkably quiet on foreign policy matters, and one can certainly see why in this cacophony of ignorance. If there is a bottom line to this sorry episode, it is a question: would anyone really like turning over America’s relations with the world to any of these bozos?  

 

A Black Cloud over Baghdad

Posted in Current Events in Iraq, Getting Into Iraq, Getting out of Iraq, Internal Violence in Iraq, Iraqi Oil with tags , , , on January 9, 2011 by whatafteriraq

We have now–finally!–entered the last year of American military involvement in Iraq. As the months proceed toward the removal of the last U.S. forces by year’s end, one can expect to hear a great deal of justification of the war that began when George W. Bush ordered a full-scale invasion of that country in 2003. Those rationalizations will be essentially that, because any hard look at what has happened, and what is likely to happen, in Iraq after we finally depart can only maintain straightfacedly that we have accomplished exceptionally little at extraordinarily large costs.

A couple of particularly black clouds crossed the radar in the United States last week that bode very poorly for the prospect on a positive American footprint at the end of the adventure. In Baghdad, our good friend, Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Malaki (as quoted in the Perspectives section of Newsweek) bid us a fare-no-so-well, stating of the withdrawal, “This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed.” In other words, “don’t let the doorknob hit you in the a**hole on your way out.” So much for the gratitude that the neo-conservatives assured us that the Iraqis would have for our “help.”

The second, and blacker, bit of news was the return of Muktada al-Sadr from his self-imposed exile in Iran. Al-Sadr, to put it mildly, is no friend of the United States, and his return bodes very poorly for the political tenor of Iraq toward the United States and U.S. interests post-occupation. For one thing, the Sadr army has been among the most violent opponents of the U.S. occupation (they have fought us at least twice), and al-Sadr’s political supporters have the second most seats of any party in the  Iraqi parliament, where their support has allowed al-Maliki to secure his majority. It is, of course, highly unlikely that al-Sadr ever talked politics with members of the Iranian government during his exile, but this still does not heighten the prospects of warm, congenial, and mutually supportive U.S.-Iraqi relations in the future, particularly with regard to Iran.

These events should not come as much of a surprise to anyone. It has become virtually conventional wisdom that the major geopolitical effect of the U.S. military action in Iraq has been to hand Iran a major geostrategic prize it could not achieve on its own when faced with a Sunni-dominated Iraq: primary political influence over its major Arab Sunni opponents in the region. The Arab states understand that their position vis-a-vis the Iranians has been materially compromised by George Bush’s war, which, among other things, helps amplify their horror over Iranian nuclear weapons development. If you are an Arab, your security is far less firm than it was before the invasion, and although you may not have liked Saddam Hussein very well–who could?–at least he kept the crazy Shiite Persians off your front doorstep. The Americans, in effect, have put them back in that position. Thanks, Dubya!

These events also help prejudice the post-occupation ethnic politics of Iraq in ways that do not favor American interests. When the major pinheads who planned the war (Paul Wolfowitz, et. al.) decided that a western-style democracy was just what Iraq needed, they seemed to ignore the obvious implication that this would be run by Shiites whose motives toward other religious and ethnic groups were no more benign that that of the Sunnis that our “idealism” would displace. The return of al-Sadr as a major prop for al-Maliki means the Shiite motive for revenge is going to be intensified, and we will not be there to get in the way. Although post-American internal instability in the country was pretty much a given under any circumstances, this can only make it worse. 

The rubber will hit the road over Kurdistan, where the United States has and will retain what few interests it ever had in Iraq. For one thing, the Kurds are the only group in Iraq that actually like us, largely because they think we will protect their autonomy (given the casualness with which we have turned on the Kurds in the past, why is not clear) in post-occupation Iraq. More objectively, the United States wants access to Kurdish oil (about half of Iraq’s reserves), and if we don’t get it, we will leave Iraq with absolutely nothing to show for our sacrifice. Concessions for the other half of Iraqi oil in Shiite areas, after all, was held last year, and the U.S. came out of that without a drop of oil. If the Shiites dominate the discussions of what happens to the Kurdish oil, the result could be the same. Should that be the case, we will be left holding the bag, and it will not be a sack with no appreciable oil stains on it.

If the reader happens to be (which he/she almost certainly is not) an Iraqi Shiite, this analysis is the cause of joy, not concern, and the black cloud analogy does not much hold. Rather, the final, irrevocable removal of the Americans lifts, not imposes the cloud. Rather, maybe it is more appropriate to say the black cloud has descended over Washington (where, in a deadlocked Congress, the Democrats will declare it is black, the GOP will equally declare it is white, and they will be unable to agree on a shade of gray). Or maybe the cloud will descend in the tony neighborhood in Dallas where the Chief Decider decided that invading Iraq was a good idea in the first place.

Baghdad Bombings and Afghan Peace

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan and Election, Afghanistan War, Current Events in Iraq, Getting out of Iraq, Internal Violence in Iraq, Iraq and Election, Iraq War, US Domestic Politics with tags , , , , on November 7, 2010 by whatafteriraq

There is a curious peace process going on in Kabul. It is curious partly because it is so low key and private. Of course, diplomatic processes are supposed to be held behind the curtain, so that the participants can negotiate freely and reach compromise outcomes that could look like, and be exploited by, opponents as defeats if one knew negotiating postures in advance. While that is actually a sign of the health of the process, it is still curious in an electronic age where secrets of any kind are increasingly impossible to keep. Hopefully someone involved will tell the rest of us how they did it after the process is over–at least unless the process included draconian mutilations of attempted leakers.

Another source of curiosity is the American role. When the talks between the Karzai government and the Taliban began, the American role providing security for and ferrying Taliban negotiators to Kabul was widely publicized for a couple days, but since, there has been not a word about that continuing role–and it certainly does continue. What is interesting about this aspect of the process is that the Taliban actually trusts the United States to act in that capacity. What is more interesting is what this willingness says about the United States and its attitude. What it says to me is that the United States desperately wants to find a way out of Afghanistan and will do virtually anything short of a unilateral withdrawal to find a way out.

A third source of curiosity is exactly what role outsiders are playing in whatever talks are ongoing. The American role is especially veiled: what outcomes does the United States want? What is it willing to accept short of what it wants? And what leverage does it have to move the process toward what it wants out?

One can offer tentative answers to these questions. The answer to the first (what do we want?) is that the United States wants out, but in a way that we can plausibly argue victory (at least in some vague way) or, more minimally, the absence of defeat. That translates into a post-agreement Afghanistan that is non-Taliban and has a strong, stable government. This latter requirement is almost certainly unattainable (Afghanistan never has a strong stable government, and there is really no party that can lead a plausible attempt to create one). That leads to the second question (what, short of our preferred outcome, will we accept?).

The answer to that question is crucial, and it depends on two calculations. The first is domestic in the United States. Like it or not, Barack Obama’s reelection campaign for 2012 is in full motion, and the critical Afghanistan question it faces is, what about Afghanistan will do the president the most good (or create the least harm)? The answer again seems two-fold. By a healthy majority, the American people want out of Afghanistan, an outcome with the secondary benefit of possibly saving money and thus appearing fiscally responsible. Thus, getting us out or well on our way out before 2012 makes political sense. However, there is a second part of the answer: to make the political right, who believe Afghanistan is a righteous cause, the withdrawal has to look like it is done on American terms: there must be an appearance of victory/lack of defeat. An outcome that does this will not gain the support of the right for Obama, but it will make their opposition less convincing and maybe even less shrill (picture Mama Grizzly here). The other consideration is what the parties themselves will accept. It is gradually being recognized (and I suspect we will find later is the real joint interest that created the possibility of talks) that what virtually all Afghans want is for the Americans and their allies to be gone: Karzai so we will quit hectoring him about honest government, the Taliban so we will stop shooting them. If that is the case, they have reason to accede in a peace process wherein the Americans can declare “mission accomplished” and depart.

This brings us to the Baghdad bombings. In the past week or so, what had been passing for tranquility in Baghdad has been shattered by a string of bombings by dissatisfied Iraqis. The process that has just been described for Afghanistan is indeed essentially what happened in Iraq for the past couple years, and what is now going on in Baghdad is its net result. The Americans came, stayed, and seemed intent on staying indefinitely. Faced with that distasteful prospects, the Iraqi factions came together and negotiated enough of a peace agreement to make it look enough like peace had broken out so the Americans, anxious to go, could conclude an arguably accomplished mission, and withdraw combat forces.

Everybody who knew anything about Iraq knew the peace would not hold, and the bombings are just the tip of the iceberg of lingering Iraqi instability. Peace has not taken hold in Iraq, and it will not for a while–but with a difference. The United States retains a physical presence, but we have withdrawn in a psychological, political sense. Nothing likely to happen in Iraq will affect the 2012 election. In answer to the third question about Afghanistan (what is American leverage?), the answer is close to zero, and no amount of proposed American postwar assistance (which we will probably welsh on anyway) will affect that much.

Will the same thing happen in Afghanistan? Almost certainly. The peace process will, in due time, produce what both sides and the United States can agree is an honorable, stable peace. No one involved will really believe that, but it is a necessary kabuki dance to a) get rid of the Americans and b) remove Afghanistan from the 2012 election campaign. Will the peace hold? The answer is about as well as it has done in Iraq, but like Iraq, if we have managed to establish a psycho-political distance from Afghanistan, who cares?

Extending Vietnamization to Afghanistan

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Getting out of Iraq, Iraq and Vietnam, Iraq War with tags , , , , , , , on February 14, 2010 by whatafteriraq

 The war in Afghanistan took a familiar turn this week, as the U.S. Marines began an Aghan “surge” to wrest the city of Marja in the opium-infested province of Helmand from the Taliban. The term “surge” kept coming up to describe the purpose and intent of the operation, presumably because of the widely advertised “success” of similar operations in Iraq in 2007. The surge in Iraq, however, was only the first step in a process of Iraqification that is unfolding in that country and will be fully implemented by the end of 2011, if current timetables are honored. Is the Afghan surge the first step in a policy of Afghanization? It sure looks like it.

Consider the prototype: Vietnamization. In 1969, the new Nixon administration finally realized that it was not going to be able to achieve a World War II-style victory in Vietnam and that the American public (in no small part because of the impact of the Tet offensvie of 1968) would not tolerate an indefinite extension of a war with no decisive ending in sight. The solution was to turn the war over to America’s South Vietnamese allies: Vietnamization.

To implement the decision to quit the war without appearing simply to bug out with our tails between our legs and leaving our erstwhile allies to the wolves, the policy of Vietnamization entailed two essential elements. The first was to train and equip the South Vietnamese (to “stand them up,” in a truly awful military term) so that they had a chance of winning the war themselves. The other element was to stabilize the military situation as best possible to give the ARVNs (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) the best possible chance of success. This amounted to “preparing the battlefield” and included such things as the incursion into Cambodia and extensive attempts to interrupt the Ho Chih Minh Trail through Laos.

In the process of formulating and implementing Vietnamization, the American political objective changed as well. During active American combat operations (1965-1973), the goal had been to guarantee the territorial integrity of South Vietnam. Under Vietnamization, that goal was modified to providing a “reasonable chance” the South Vietnamese could succeed.

How do Iraq and Afghanistan measure up in these terms. Remarkably similarly. In Iraq, the United States has spent a great deal of time and energy training and equipping the Iraqi armed forces, and the purpose of the 2007 surge was clearly to weaken opponents of the regime, thereby preparing the battlefield for the Iraqis once the Americans leave. The same process is underway in Afghanistan, although it is not as far along. The United States is currently trying to “stand up” the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), including the army (ANA) and has put additional human training and monetary resources into the effort. Whether that will succeed is problematical, for reasons discussed in this space. At the same time, the current, first surge in Marja looks and sounds a lot like “preparing the battelfield” for the ANA by rooting the Taliban out of places they have historically dominated.

How did Vietnamization work out? It is a fair question if the intent of Iraqification and Afghanization is roughly the same as the intent in Vietnam. In Vietnam, obviously, the answer is unhappy and negative, since the “reasonable chance” proved not enough to prevent the fall of the Republic of Vietnam in 1975. While some apologists continue to argue that had the United States not effectively left our South Vietnamese allies out to dry that this would not have been the outcome, The objection misses the point that the primary purpose of the policy was to extricate the United States from a no-win situation, which it accomplished. Our allies surviving was a hoped-for outcome, but not the heart of the policy and implementing strategy.

Will the outcome extend to Iraq and Afghanistan? The answer is that we do not know, since the policies of Iraqification and Afghanization are not fully implemented and won’t be until the final American withdrawal. Certainly, the process is further along in Iraq, and we should have some idea not too long after the final U.S. withdrawal scheduled for 2011. In Afghanistan, the process is less far along, with the first U.S. troop draw down not scheduled to begin until mid-2011 and no date for total withdrawal yet established. The answer in Iraq is closer than it is in Afghanistan, but in both cases it is a matter of conjecture.

The Vietnamization prcedent does, however, suggest a couple of probable parts of the outcome. The first is that the United States will leave before there is a definitive politico-military outcome in either country. If one assumes U.S. presence artificially affects the environment in both countries and is part both of the solution and problem and a barrier to natural internal process reaching fruition, the outcome cannot be decided until we leave. When that occurs, however, there will be no surrender by either side, no white flags waving, and nobody holding up one finger (presumably the index) crying “we’re number one.” The second is that since American withdrawal will only begin the process of internal settling of the war in an atmosphere in which the United States no longer has much leverage, there will be recriminations over leaving. These will be especially hysterical if our side fails (as it may well in both cases), but charges of “bugging out”–which, of course, is the ultimate purpose of the policy–will be frequent and shrill.

The current surge is almost certainly the first step in the policy of Afghanization of the war there, beginning a painful process of disengagement. It is not, of course, being advertised that way, for fear that admitting it to be the case would submit the administration to withering rhetorical fire from the right. It is, however, likely the policy in Afghanistan (and Iraq) for the same reason it was the policy in Vietnam: it was the only real option available. The only way to have avoided Iraqifying or Afghanizing those wars would have been to heed what many at the time thought was the lesson of Vietnam: to avoid those kinds of wars in the first place. If you ignore that entreaty, count on the same thing happening again, and again, etc.

Iraqi Oil Contracts

Posted in Current Events in Iraq, Getting out of Iraq, Iraq War with tags , , , , , on December 15, 2009 by whatafteriraq

The announcement last week that the Iraqi government had awarded foreign contracts for the exploitation of a number of its oil fields created a remarkably mild, one-day reaction in the popular press. The gist of the awards, of course, was that virtually everybody, from the Russians and Chinese to the Malaysians and Angolans, were given contracts on one field or another, while American companies were essentially left holding the bag, with participation in a couple of relatively minor deals. This is not how this aspect of the Iraq war was supposed to work out, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s lame comment that it shows private enterprise is alive and well in Baghdad did little to assuage those who expected more for Uncle Sam.

Two not especially complimentary explanations have snuck forward into the public dialogue. One is that the Iraqi government of al-Maliki is simply snubbing its nose at the Americans and showing that if we expected any gratitude for invading, conquering, occupying, dismantling, then putting back together Iraq six and a half years after the fact, we can forget it. The other is that it shows the failure of what some believe to have been the primary underlying motivation for invading Iraq in the first place, which was to gain control–or at least influence–over Iraqi oil reserves for the future. The book after which this blog is named is among the places where this argument can be found. Defenders of the war even argue this demonstrates that oil was not the motive in the first place, or we would not be standing by so docilely as the Iraqis sell it to other people.

Does this prove that the United States has lost out? As someone who has believed all along that the war was all about oil, my answer is that it does not. The reason for this assertion is not that the United States failed to get in on the deals let; it is that the oil in which the United States is most interested is NOT the oil that was part of the deals. If anything, the pattern of dealing suggests a more sinister underpinning that has always been there, slightly below the surface.

The key here is the location of the oil. About half of Iraq’s oil is located in the south and southeast of Iraq, in the Shiite areas such as Rumalia, Majnoon,and Halfaya, and the other half is in Kurdistan in the north. The southern fields, because they are in Shiite territory, have never been the prize for Americans; it is the Kurdish fields that American oil companies and the government have coveted. The contracts were let on almost exclusively Shiite fields in the south and southeast where the American claim is weakest, as is likely American influence after we leave. The down side is that this is the oil easiest to access and get to market, whereas Kurdish oil is more remote and has less infrastructure supporting it. Kurdistan, however, is the part of Iraq where American interest and prestige is highest, and it is by no means beyond the range of possibilities that the eventual outcome of Iraq will be a bifurcated country with a wholly or largely independent Kurdistan. Such a country would almost certainly be friendlier to the United States than the rest of Iraq.

One major artifact of the war, after all, has been to encourage Kurdish autonomy that has some of the trappings of independence, and the United States bears no small amount of responsibility for that occurrence. Iraqi Shiites may feel no comraderie with the Americans and may revel in thumbing their noses at the United States; the Kurds, on the other hand, have every reason to be grateful to the United States.

One scenario to watch involves the letting of Kurdish oil fields somewhere down the road. The current reason not to do so is because the Kurdish region is volatile and unstable, which means the Kurdistan question has not been entirely resolved–will the fields be part of Iraq or Kurdistan? The brouhaha over electoral laws has this as an aspect–who wins that battle will be able to influence where oil revenues go and in what proportions, to Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites. The Kurdish ace in the hole is secession.

If it comes down to Kurdish separatism, would the United States consider a deal whereby we support the establishment of a de facto or de jure Kurdistan in return for oil contracts there? It is by no means idle to think this could occur. Another way to look at last week’s blanking of the United States in the competition for southern oil fields is that we did not really compete, because that was not our objective anyway–Kurdistan was. Dick Cheney was  certainly capable of thinking about the situation in those terms (and probably did); will the Obama administration feel the same way?

Iraqi SOFA Update

Posted in Getting out of Iraq, Iraq and Election, Iraq War, Leaving Iraq, US Occupatio with tags , , , on November 16, 2008 by whatafteriraq

With the 2008 U.S. presidential election now decided in favor of the candidate who opposes the Iraq War, progress has finally been made toward a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) allowing American troops to remain in Iraq after the UN mandate under which they have been officially deployed expires at the end of the year. The new agreement represents a compromise on both sides and one that should be acceptable to the new Obama administration (which presumably has signed off on it). The new SOFA has been approved by the Iraqi cabinet (an historic roadblock) and has only to be approved by the Iraqi parliament to go into effect. While that approval is not a given, the only organized group that opposes it are those allegiant to Muktada al-Sadr, who will accept nothing less than an immediate, full US withdrawal.

The agreement is a compromise in which both sides have given something to get something. It has two major aspects. The first is the continuing tenure and status of US forces in the country. Under the agreement, that tenure is bounded: all American forces must leave by the end of 2011. While that seems a long way off (and a longer period than Obama has said he wants), it represents a compromise on the part of the Bush administration, which wanted either no set withdrawal date or one that was flexible based on conditions on the ground. It gave in. The conditions of tenure are also limited: American forces must withdraw from Iraqi cities and suburbs by June 30, 2009, effectively limiting them to rural garrisons and patrols of rural areas–presumably where Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia remnants may still exist. It means they will be away from urban areas where the people do not want them, where their presence is a negative politically, and where they might get into trouble because of what they might do. This is also a small victory for the Iraqis and is also intended to reduce Iraqi opposition to letting the Americans stay until 2011.

This latter consideration affects the second aspect, which is the status of those forces. The largest source of contention in negotiations to this point has been whether American forces would be subject to American or Iraqi legal jurisdiction when they were accused of breaking Iraqi laws. The two sides were very far apart on this issue: the Iraqis insisting that off duty Americans in particular should be subject to the Iraqi legal system; Americans argued that Americans should be under U.S. law at all times. The Iraqis gave on this point, leaving even off duty troops under American jurisdiction. Presumably, the fact that Americans will have been banished to the countryside after June 30 made this concession more palatable, since GIs will not physically be where they can get in trouble. 

Both sides can say they won in this. The Iraqis get a time certain American withdrawal date, if one further in the future than they would have preferred, and they get the Americans out of their hair in the urban, populated parts of the country, a political positive. The Americans, on the other hand, do not face the dilemma of what to do when January 1, 2009 arrives and their mandate has evaporated, and they maintain control over Americans in a legal sense.

Can the Obama administration live with this deal? The short answer is yes. The part of the agreement on which they have voiced an opinion is that of tenure: Obama has said repeatedly he expects to have all American troops out within 16 months of being sworn in. That would mean the last combat troops out around June 1, 2010, and there is nothing in the agreement to preclude that–the date is well in advance of when we have to leave, and nothing in it says we cannot leave sooner. His position does not preclude keeping non-combat Americans (contractors and those who provide security for them) in place until the end of 2011. Thus, the Bush administration hands the Obama team an agreement with which they can live and within which they can accelerate leaving if they decide.

The only sticking point is that pesky Iraqi parliament. Is a time-certain withdrawal date enough to gain their approval? We will see in the upcoming weeks.