As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Can The Iraqis Save Iraq?

A unified front is forming in Iraq among Sunnis and Shiites, opposed to the terms of the draft of a long-term security agreement to keep US forces in the country. Muqtada al-Sadr tapped into a populist rejection of the US occupation and the Iraqi government, for now, is playing hardball.

Iraq's chief spokesman acknowledged differences with the United States over a proposed long-term security agreement and pledged yesterday that the government will protect Iraqi sovereignty in ongoing talks with the Americans.

Chief government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said that the Iraqi negotiators have a "vision and a draft that is different" from the Americans' but that the talks, which began in March, were still in an early stage.

"There is great emphasis by the Iraqi government on fully preserving the sovereignty of Iraq in its lands, skies, waters and its internal and external relations," Dabbagh said. "The Iraqi government will not accept any article that infringes on sovereignty and does not guarantee Iraqi interests."

If we reach December without an agreement, the US presence in Iraq would actually be illegal. And this is not just a Sadrist movement - Shiite clerics from Maliki's own party are publicly opposing the agreement.

While US negotiators claim that they have no interest in permanent bases in Iraq, the contract proposals that have been signed in recent weeks show the desire for a continuing presence, and it's not too hard for the Iraqis to catch on to this.

The contracts call for new spending, from supplying mentors to officials with Iraq's Defense and Interior ministries to establishing a U.S.-marshal-type system to protect Iraqi courts. Contractors would provide more than 100 linguists with secret clearances and deliver food to Iraqi detainees at a new, U.S.-run prison.

The proposals reflect multiyear commitments. The mentor contract notes that the U.S. military "desires for both Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense to become mostly self-sufficient within two years," a time outside some proposals for U.S. combat troop withdrawal. The mentors sought would "advise, train [and] assist . . . particular Iraqi officials" who work in the Ministry of Defense, which runs the Iraqi army, or the Ministry of Interior, which runs the police and other security units.

The mentors will assist an U.S. military group that previously began to implement what are described as "core processes and systems," such as procurement, contracting, force development, management and budgeting, and public affairs.

Mentors would have to make a one-year commitment, with options for two one-year contracts after that. As a reminder of what they are getting into, the mentors must supply their helmets, protective body armor and gas masks, according to the announcement.

The marshals service would be organized by the State Department's bureau responsible for developing rule of law programs in Iraq. It "has plans to create an Iraqi service to be known as the Judicial Protection Service (JPS), modeled to some degree after the U.S. Marshals Service, that will ensure the safe conduct of judicial proceedings and protect judges, witnesses, court staff, and court facilities," a notice published last month said.

State's plan is to hire a contractor as a judicial security program manager, who would work out details of how such a service could be put together for the Iraqis. That person or group would develop not only the mission, size and structure of an Iraqi JPS service, but also the personnel, budgeting and training materials necessary, plus "all other aspects of creating the new organization so that the project can be contracted out."

In short, State wants a contractor to put together all the elements so the department can contract the project to another contractor.

The occupation is big money. All these middlemen and contractors and sub-contractors are getting rich. Byron Dorgan is running a one-man crusade to try and put an end to the waste and the profiteering, but if the United States remains in Iraq, there will be big pots of money to be had by corporate interests. And in addition, there's clearly an effort to pry open Iraq's natural resources and allow the oil companies to come in and add to their fortunes. The only entity committed to putting a halt to this seems to be the Iraqi people.

US officials still expect to wrap up the negotiations by July, and I'm sure the cheerleader-in-chief is whispering entreaties like "Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!" in their ears. It's kind of sad that the Iraqis are standing in their way instead of the supposed opposition party in this country, which has slightly more ability to oppose.

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