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PORTSIDE  July 2010, Week 1

PORTSIDE July 2010, Week 1

Subject:

On Fourth of July, Let Iraq Go

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Date:

Mon, 5 Jul 2010 21:31:27 -0400

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On Fourth of July, Let Iraq Go 

by Juan Cole

Posted on July 4, 2010

http://www.juancole.com/

The Fourth of July celebrates the Declaration of
Independence of the American colonies of Great Britain,
on the grounds that they deserved representative
government and popular sovereignty- something denied to
them by the British crown.

Iraq was occupied by American troops in 2003 after an
illegal invasion, and it is still so occupied. The
viceroy appointed by George W. Bush, Paul Bremer, had
no legal charter from the US Congress and represented
no one, having never been elected to anything. He wrote
dozens of laws for the Iraqis by fiat. They are still
technically the law of the land in Iraq. He used Iraq's
oil revenue, billions of dollars worth, to run his
interim government, even though no Iraqi voted to give
it to him for that purpose. In subsequent years the US
intervened heavy-handedly in Iraqi political affairs
and still does so today. Few complaints of the Founding
Fathers against Britain could not be lodged against the
United States by Iraq.

All through spring of 2009, US officers in Iraq heavily
lobbied the new president, Barack Obama, not to honor
the Status of Forces Agreement that George W. Bush had
negotiated with the Iraqi parliament during his last
months in office. It called for troop reductions. The
officers opposed them. It called for US forces to cease
actively patrolling major Iraqi cities on June 30,
2009. the officers said that step was foolhardy, and
would make it impossible to keep up their collection of
intelligence on urban guerrillas. It called for rapid
US troop reductions. The officers argued that Iraq
would fall back into instability.

Obama stuck to his guns, and the US soldiers stopped
patrolling the cities independently on June 30, 2009.
In July of that year, the number of attacks by
guerrillas and the number of civilians killed both fell
by one third. It appears that the patrols were causing
violence, not stopping it, since the guerrillas
attacked the patrols and ended up killing civilians.

The troop withdrawal also proceeded apace throughout
the past year. Although Iraq remains in a low-intensity
civil war, the monthly death toll of civilians and
security forces averages 300-400 now, compared to 2500
a month in summer of 2006. At the height of the troop
escalation or surge there were around 170,000 US troops
in Iraq. Today there are about 88,000 and the number is
rapidly falling.

Everything the naysayers in the Pentagon alleged about
the effect of implementing the SOFA was wrong.

Now unnamed sources in Iraq are leaking again to the
New York Times. They want to insist that the timetable
for troop withdrawal in the SOFA is unrealistic. They
cannot imagine that US troops will really leave by the
end of 2011. They are sure that the SOFA will be
renegotiated by the new Iraqi government whenever it is
finally formed.

While the SOFA could be tinkered with, there are
powerful forces working against that outcome. The
Sadrists, fundamentalist Shiites who follow cleric
Muqtada al-Sadr, may well be kingmakers of the new
government, and they are dead set against any change to
the SOFA timetables. The Sadrists are highly
politically networked and their relative success in the
March 7 parliamentary elections attests to their
political strength even today. They could prove
spoilers of any attempt by the US to drag its feet on
withdrawal, since they can put thousands of protesters
and hundreds of guerrillas in the street.

Nor is the threat only of renewed political unrest
among Sadrists if the US stays in force. Al-Hayat
reported on May 24, "The local government in Basra
announced yesterday its commitment to the security
agreement signed by Iraq and the United States for
scheduling the US forces' withdrawal. The announcement
came in reply to statements by Al-Sadr Trend in the
governorate about preparing its armed wing "Al-Mahdi
Army" to resume the resistance activity against the
remaining forces in the governorate and to wait for
orders to do this from Trend Leader Muqtada al-Sadr."

It is true that the 50,000 or so troops that will be
left in Iraq as of September may not all be
'non-combat' units, since there will be some
rebranding. And it is true that Iraq will need the US
air force for years to come, for logistics purposes.
But to say that the timetable will be tinkered with at
the request of the Iraqi parliament in any major way is
wishful thinking.

The US commanders were expecting to be asked by the
Iraqi officers to go on joint patrols in the major
cities. They got few invitations, even though they had
trained many of the Iraqi officers who now gave them
the cold shoulder. The new Iraqi military is perfectly
capable of patrolling on its own now in cities such as
Baghdad, and of facing down any ordinary threat from
militias. The US is not needed for routine security
patrols. While the Iraqi troops have not been able to
establish order in Mosul or in Diyala Province, the
prospect of the dwindling number of US troops doing so
is slim to none. Iraq is just going to be a little
unstable for a few years, and even if US troops stayed
in numbers past the deadlines, it is highly unlikely
that they could miraculously lend the place stability.
Bush knocked Iraq off balance, and it will likely
remain off balance for a good long time. Bush was not
authorized by the Iraqi people to destroy the country.
He was acting more like his namesake, King George III,
than like a president who won an election.

Moreover, as the US military has increasingly focused
on Afghanistan, many will realize that they just don't
have the resources to continue in Iraq.

Iraqi factions are finding it hard to form a government
in the wake of the March 7 parliamentary elections. But
they have a perfectly good interim government, that of
incumbent Nuri al-Maliki, in the meantime. And it took
Lebanon 5 months to form a government recently. The
Lebanon case is instructive because the national unity
government that came out of months of wrangling is
fairly representative and seems to have forestalled
further trouble of the sort we saw in May 2008. Vice
President Biden may or may not succeed in helping the
factions make progress during his visit to Baghdad this
weekend, but contrary to what some American politicians
say, there is no reason the process of
government-formation cannot be protracted. Consensus is
better in Iraqi politics than up-and-down-votes that
cause some faction to lose and to lose face.

For the pragmatic reason that the US cannot afford
Iraq, and because it is the right thing to do, the
Obama administration should withdraw in a systematic
and deliberate manner from Iraq. We owe its people
their independence. It is what we used, at least, to
stand for.

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