On terminating the foreign presence on Iraqi lands
On 7 July 2008, Iraqi Prime
Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, stated that the status-of-forces agreement being
negotiated with the
“Today, we are looking at the necessity of terminating the foreign presence on Iraqi lands and restoring full sovereignty.
“One of the two basic topics is either to have a memorandum of understanding for the departure of forces or a memorandum of understanding to set a timetable for the presence of the forces, so that we know (their presence) will end in a specific time.” 
Iraqi National Security Adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, appeared to go further the following day, telling reporters in Najaf after meeting Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani:
“We can’t have a memorandum of understanding with foreign forces unless it has dates and clear horizons determining the departure of foreign forces. We’re unambiguously talking about their departure.” 
The White House was less than enthusiastic about these demands for a withdrawal date. The response from the White House Press Secretary, Dana Perino, on 9 July 2008 was:
“We have always been opposed, and remain so, to an arbitrary withdrawal date. We believe that, as we’ve said before, that any actual troop withdrawal schedule needs to be based on conditions on the ground. 
Remember, she speaks for a president, who told a press conference on 24 May 2007:
“We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It’s their government’s choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave.” 
But, apparently, not yet.
End of UN mandate
The background to all this is that
the UN Security Council mandate, under which US and other foreign forces
This initial MNF-I mandate in resolution 1511 was for a year. It has subsequently been renewed, ostensibly at the request of the Iraqi Government, most recently by resolution 1790  passed on 18 December 2007, which extended the mandate to 31 December 2008.
At the time of this renewal, Prime Minister Maliki indicated that the Iraqi Government would not seek a further renewal. Instead, it was planned that, from 1 January 2009 onwards, US and other foreign forces would operate under a bilateral US-Iraq status-of-forces agreement. This was envisaged as one part, albeit the most important part, of a wider agreement between the US and Iraq, foreshadowed in the grandiose Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America , to which President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki put their names on 26 November 2007. The whole package was supposed to be agreed by 31 July 2008 for submission to the Iraqi parliament for approval in August.
At the outset, the US expected that,
under the status-of-forces agreement, US and other foreign forces would
continue to operate in Iraq as they do now – conducting military operations and
detaining Iraqi civilians when and where they wanted, without asking for Iraqi
permission; having exclusive control over Iraqi airspace; and, crucially, having
blanket immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law, no matter what crimes they
committed. Furthermore, the
In addition, the
“The declaration sets the
General Douglas Lute, the Assistant
to the President for
“Well, in fact, we do have a long-term bilateral with [South]
Plan A abandoned
Matters haven’t worked out as the
As Karen DeYoung reported in the
Washington Post on 13 July 2008, in an article entitled US,
“US and Iraqi negotiators have abandoned efforts to conclude a comprehensive agreement governing the long-term status of US troops in Iraq before the end of the Bush presidency, according to senior US officials, effectively leaving talks over an extended US military presence there to the next administration.
“In place of the formal status-of-forces agreement negotiators
had hoped to complete by July 31, the two governments are now working on a
‘bridge’ document, more limited in both time and scope, that would allow basic
“The failure of months of negotiations over the more detailed accord – blamed on both the Iraqi refusal to accept US terms and the complexity of the task – deals a blow to the Bush administration’s plans to leave in place a formal military architecture in Iraq that could last for years.
“Although President Bush has repeatedly rejected calls for a
troop withdrawal timeline, ‘we are talking about dates’, acknowledged one
“Unlike the status-of-forces agreements between the
To make this limited agreement palatable to the Iraqi Government, according to Karen DeYoung, it is going to have to include target dates “for US troop withdrawal from Baghdad and other cities and installations such as the former Saddam Hussein palace that now houses the US Embassy” and put limits on the current freedom of action of US forces and private contractors.
In particular, the
Maliki takes a stand
In the past, Prime Minister al-Maliki has rarely adopted a political stance counter to US wishes. His present stance is a first in that regard. It cannot be certain that he will maintain it, but popular opposition to an open ended status-of-forces agreement may compel him to do so.
Provincial elections are due to be
held before the end of this year and parliamentary elections are scheduled for
2009. Moqtada al-Sadr, who leads the
political opposition to Maliki amongst Shiites, is unequivocally opposed to an
agreement without a date for the end of
Article 58 of the Iraqi constitution specifies that “the ratification of international treaties and agreements” requires “a two-thirds majority of the members” of parliament . Maliki has promised that any status-of-forces agreement will be submitted to the Iraqi parliament for review and approval, and has accepted that a two-thirds majority is necessary for parliamentary approval.
The original plan was to have an agreement ready for submission to the Iraqi parliament at the end of July and approved prior to the parliamentary recess for Ramadan in September. That plan has had to be shelved and the plan now is to negotiate a temporary agreement instead.
Whether this will count as an
international treaty or agreement requiring the support of two-thirds of the
Iraqi parliament is not clear. Karen
DeYoung quotes “
There could be interesting times towards the end of 2008 if, as the UN mandate runs out, the Iraqi parliament refuses to ratify a bilateral agreement for US and other foreign forces to operate under in 2009.
This is in no small measure due to the
Obama stands firm
In the US presidential race, Barack Obama has stuck remarkably firmly to his position that the invasion of Iraq was an unnecessary war for the US – that Iraq was no threat to the US, that it had nothing to do with 9/11 and that there was no al-Qaeda there before the invasion – and, if elected, he will end it and withdraw combat troops by the summer of 2010.
Here is what his website says about the withdrawal of troops:
“Barack Obama believes we must be as careful getting out of
“Under the Obama plan, a residual force will remain in
Obviously, the last paragraph gives
him plenty of wriggle room (and it should be said that in a Democratic
presidential debate on 26 September 2007, he refused to pledge that there will
By contrast, his Republican opponent,
John McCain, has been the ultimate Bush loyalist on
McCain has condemned Obama’s timetable
for the troop withdrawal as “surrender” and, famously, told a campaign meeting
in February 2008 that he would be happy with
News for McCain
There have been a number of sharp
exchanges between the candidates about
“Al-Qaeda is in
Obama’s response was equally sharp:
“I have some news for John McCain, and that is that there
was no such thing as al-Qaeda in
In March, on a visit to the Middle East, McCain did his reputation for good judgment about America’s “enemies” no good when he asserted that it was “common knowledge” that Iran was training al-Qaeda operatives, a confusion he repeated more than once . His Senate colleague, Joe Lieberman, had to whisper in his ear live on TV in order to put him right.
McCain on back foot
One might have thought that the
dramatic decrease in US casualties in recent months would have given momentum
to McCain on
Obama has now got a consistent story
George Bush was responsible for this strategic blunder and John McCain was one of the most vociferous advocates for it. Obama promises to fix it by withdrawing troops from Iraq and sending some of them to Afghanistan, where there is supposedly a real threat to the US – which there isn’t, but it’s a post-9/11 story that the US electorate will buy.
Obama takes advantage
The recent calls from the Iraqi leadership for a troop withdrawal date have also boosted Obama’s position – and he has been quick to take advantage of them. In an op-ed in the New York Times on 14 July 2008, he wrote:
“The call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a
timetable for the removal of American troops from
“The differences on
“Only by redeploying our troops can we press the Iraqis to
reach comprehensive political accommodation and achieve a successful transition
to Iraqis’ taking responsibility for the security and stability of their
country. Instead of seizing the moment and encouraging Iraqis to step up, the
Bush administration and Senator McCain are refusing to embrace this transition
— despite their previous commitments to respect the will of Iraq’s sovereign
government. They call any timetable for the removal of American troops ‘surrender’,
even though we would be turning
“But this is not a strategy for success – it is a strategy
for staying that runs contrary to the will of the Iraqi people, the American
people and the security interests of the
It’s surprising how blunt Obama is about the invasion of Iraq, saying as he does that it was a war of choice for the US against a state that wasn’t a threat to the US and had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. He never mentions the “success” of overthrowing of Saddam Hussein, as other do.
In other words, according to Obama, Bush
and Blair engaged in “the planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war
of aggression”, which was the accusation against the Nazi leadership at
20 July 2008