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U.S. signs agreement to remove military forces

Sunday, November 23, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST

Loory: The United States signed a security agreement with the government of Iraq (last week) that requires it to withdraw all forces by the end of 2011. If the Iraqi Parliament approves the agreement, the Iraqi military and government will have to authorize all major American military operations after January 1. By the middle of 2009, all American troops would be withdrawn to their barracks and would not be called upon to carry out military actions unless the Iraqi government and military say that the Americans are needed. The agreement will also subject American soldiers to some jurisdiction in Iraqi courts for serious misdemeanors, and it will forbid American military operations in neighboring countries of Syria and Iran. Not everyone is happy with this deal. The radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr last weekend said that Iraq should reject it and continue to fight the Americans. Iran has also criticized the arrangement. Is Premier Nouri al-Maliki going to get approval for this deal from Parliament? And, is the Iraqi military ready to carry it out?

Asos Hardi, editor, Awene, Sulaymaniyah, Iraq: After long discussion in the Iraqi Parliament, it seems the agreement will be approved. The military ability of the Iraqi Army is growing, and violence is going down significantly. How the army reacts toward terrorist attacks and problems between Iraqis themselves remains to be seen.

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Judit Neurink, director, Independent Media Centre, Sulaymaniyah, Iraq: The people who have the majority in Parliament are in favor of passing this, so it is likely to pass in the end. But, Sadr is trying to require a super majority of the Parliament. The whole process could still be derailed.

Loory: The Guardian has been critical of this agreement; Simon Jenkins has written an article that virtually says there is no chance of its success.

Richard Norton-Taylor, security editor, The Guardian, London, England: From Jenkins’ perspective, the British — and Americans for that matter — shouldn’t be in Iraq in the first place and should have been gone long ago. The British have been only in Basra the last few months. They are only there to save face, waiting for the program of  the Americans and Iraqis to get done.

Loory: What about the overall agreement? Is it the feeling among the experts in the British government that this is really going to work?

Norton-Taylor: They don’t know; they assume it will work. Whatever the Americans sign, the British will sign. The British are fairly irrelevant regarding the future military presence in Iraq. They cross their fingers that Iraqi forces can maintain stability and look out for security in their own country. So far, the Iraqi forces have been effective in the Basra area without much American or British support. The British look to the future potential of the wealth of that area. They hope that it will be a booming part of the world, with oil in the Iraqi port, and the Iranians will be sensible in this Shia-dominated part of Iraq.

Loory: Is the Bush administration, particularly the Pentagon and military leadership, happy with this agreement?

Howard LaFranchi, foreign affairs correspondent, Christian Science Monitor: It’s not what the administration wanted, but they were willing to pass a number of previous red lines to reach an agreement before the end of the year. The Pentagon is generally satisfied with the agreement, feeling the Iraqi forces have performed better. It allows a longer timetable than Obama’s campaign statement of withdrawing forces within 16 months of taking office. It also gives some breathing space for the new Obama administration. There are a few matters troubling the Pentagon and Capitol Hill regarding limitations being put on U.S. forces. First, a joint Iraqi and U.S. military committee is being set up that will approve any military operations. Some think this might limit the U.S. military if it feels an operation is necessary. Secondly, the agreement would subject U.S. forces or contractors to Iraqi law if they commit certain crimes while off duty and while off U.S. bases.

Loory: What impact will this agreement have on Iraqi stability and the development of democracy in Iraq?

Babak Rahimi, assistant professor of Iranian and Islamic Studies, University of California — San Diego, San Diego, Calif.: The most important development is a move away from the sectarian type of political party formation seen from 2003 to 2006. When the 2005 elections happened, the political parties that emerged in this fragile Iraqi democracy were either sectarian or ethnic-based. Now, various Shia, Sunni and some Kurdish parties are switching sides according to their own local political interests. Optimistically, Iraqi democracy will gradually be more based on political interests rather than sectarian identity as this security agreement is institutionalized and the U.S. Army eventually leaves. Democracy depends on some level of security. There will be internal conflict, especially among the Shia factions, for years to come; this should be expected.

LaFranchi: Some say debate on this agreement is bringing out the sectarian divisions, like the elections in the past. I wonder if this is temporary or if it is something that will continue into the elections in January.

Rahimi: I have a different view: Looking at the sheer politics in Iraq, there is an internal conflict in the Shia politicians. There is a grass-roots movement in southern Iraq that opposes this pact for nationalist, and particularly local, reasons. Whereas the Maliki faction, people who left Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s regime, favor the pact. These are the people who will likely lead Parliament to accept the pact on November 24. I think it shows the debate is breaking down the sectarian identity of politics.

Loory: Great Britain has had a lot of activity in this area of the world for many years. What is the feeling in London about whether Iraq can actually become a model of democracy for the rest of the area?

Norton-Taylor: They are skeptical that it could ever be a model for democracy, even before the invasion. The Gordon-Brown government is pragmatic; the concern now is how much the federation will stick and how much forces will divide the country.

Hardi: If Iraqis can be successful in making a new democracy in this country, it will influence the whole area. When the Islamist revolution of Iran removed the Shah administration, other Islamist countries started going back to their Islamist roots. It depends on the Iraqis to make a real model for others here.

Loory: Iran is developing as a regional superpower that will have even more influence after the U.S. leaves Iraq. Will that be a benefit or a hindrance to the area?

Rahimi: Iran will be a power in the area for years to come, whether the U.S. is there or not. Iran will exert a negative power, especially in Afghanistan, if the U.S. maintains a belligerent foreign policy. The Iranian government feels threatened. It is surrounded by American forces. As a result, it has developed a belligerent policy that has caused more problems than good.

Loory: Are we likely to see some negotiation with Iran in the Obama administration?

LaFranchi: One of the highlights of President-elect Obama’s foreign policy vision was more diplomacy. Obama said there should be talks, but with preparation. It is a matter of overcoming 30 years of distrust. Then, there is the nuclear issue; Obama has said a nuclear-owning Iran is unacceptable. This will continue to be a thorn in the side of more negotiation.

Loory: President-elect Obama will inherit the tragedy of Iraq and everything involved with that. How he handles it will be the major early test of his presidency.

Producers of Global Journalist are MU journalism graduate students Jared Gassen, Chris Hamby, Sananda Sahoo and Hui Wang. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.


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