(Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, demonstrating the “separation
of mosque and state” in Baghdad last weekend.)
Allow me to belatedly join the rest of the Iraq blogosphere in noting this development, in this case as reported by the Washington Post:
Iraq’s national security adviser said Tuesday that his government would not sign an agreement governing the future role of U.S. troops in Iraq unless it includes a timetable for their withdrawal.
The statement was the strongest demand yet by a senior Iraqi official for the two governments to set specific dates for the departure of U.S. forces. Speaking to reporters in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie said his government was “impatiently waiting” for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops.
“There should not be any permanent bases in Iraq unless these bases are under Iraqi control,” Rubaie said, referring to negotiations over a bilateral agreement governing the future U.S. military role in Iraq. The agreement, if approved, would go into effect when a U.N. mandate expires in December.
“We would not accept any memorandum of understanding with [the U.S.] side that has no obvious and specific dates for the foreign troops’ withdrawal from Iraq,” Rubaie said.
Speaking of belated recognition, observers such as Eric Martin, Matt Duss, Kevin Drum, Spencer Ackerman, and Juan Cole all note the importance of Rubaie’s statement coming immediately after a meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.Â When the drumbeat of SOFA criticism began a month and a half ago, I think it was just yours truly who not only identified it but tied it to a similar conversation betweenÂ Sistani and prime minister Maliki in Najaf.
The Associated Press version of this story includes an interesting tidbit:
Al-Maliki has instructed his negotiating team to harden its position in recent days because he thinks the Bush administration is eager to sign an agreement before the fall elections, giving Iraq the chance to win a better deal, said a senior Iraqi Shiite official knowledgeable about the talks.
An alternate take that I’ve promoted here is that Maliki & Co. would just as soon run out the clock on the Bushites and strike a deal with a hoped-for Obama administration next year, but playing carrot-and-stick with demands the Bush regime will find hard to accept may be one way of achieving that goal.
Conflicting with that interpretation, though, the AP reporters go on to outline a deal that Dick Cheney might find acceptable:
Ali al-Adeeb, a Shiite lawmaker and a prominent official in the prime minister’s party, told The Associated Press that Iraq was linking the proposed timeline to the ongoing return of various provinces to Iraqi control.
. . . The proposal, as outlined by al-Adeeb, is phrased in a way that would allow Iraqi officials to tell the Iraqi public that it includes a specific timeline for a U.S. withdrawal, with specific time periods mentioned.
However, it also would provide the United States some flexibility on timing because the dates of the provincial handovers are not set.
But then again, Alexandra Zavis of the Los Angeles Times had a chat of her own with a Maliki aide and reported yesterday:
Haider Abadi, a Dawa member and political insider, said Maliki did not believe Iraqis should be pressured into making long-term arrangements with an outgoing administration.
“No one can guess which way U.S. policy will go after the election,” he said in a telephone interview. “We cannot go on discussing an agreement that may never materialize. There is too much at stake.”
. . . Abadi said the government was proposing that the U.S. finish handing over responsibility for security in all 18 provinces within six months and pull out most of its troops in two to three years. Nine of the provinces are already under Iraqi control.
So I guess we’ll have to see which analysis is correct — that is, whether the Iraqis are trying to carve out the wiggle room imagined reported by the AP, or taking the tougher stand I’ve described.
Ultimately, it’s a question of which view of the Iraqi government is correct.Â The Bushites are spreading the word that Maliki, Rubaie, et al. are just trying to placate public opinion in Iraq, but when the crunch comes they’ll give Dubya what he wants because they need U.S. military protection to stay in power — and in fact, many on the left (including Attackerman and E-Mart, among many others) share this view.
However, I think they’ve got it the wrong way around.Â As the head of a government installed in large part though the will of Ayatollah Sistani (and against the wishes of the U.S. occupation), it’s part of Maliki’s job to placate the Bushites… but he has to obey Sistani.Â And if Sistani refuses to allow a deal that legitimizes the occupation indefinitely, then I don’t think there’s going to be one.