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

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Exceptions To Leaving Iraq Begin

I'm still trying to get back in the swing, but I am troubled by this story about the US and the Iraqis negotiating exceptions to the June deadline to remove troops from the major cities in Iraq.

The United States and Iraq will begin negotiating possible exceptions to the June 30 deadline for withdrawing American combat troops from Iraqi cities, focusing on the troubled northern city of Mosul, according to military officials. Some parts of Baghdad also will still have combat troops.

Everywhere else, the withdrawal of United States combat troops from all Iraqi cities and towns is on schedule to finish by the June 30 deadline, and in many cases even earlier. But because of the level of insurgent activity in Mosul, United States and Iraqi military officials will meet Monday to decide whether to consider the city an exception to the deadline in the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, between the countries.

“Mosul is the one area where you may see U.S. combat forces operating in the city” after June 30, the United States military’s top spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. David Perkins, said in an interview.

In Baghdad, however, there are no plans to close the Camp Victory base complex, consisting of five bases housing more than 20,000 soldiers, many of them combat troops. Although Victory is only a 15 minute drive from the center of Baghdad and sprawls over both sides of the city’s boundary, Iraqi officials say they have agreed to consider it outside the city.

Mosul remains troubled, and the recent rise in Baghdad may necessitate troops staying through the elections. But this is a slippery slope. This past weekend, I talked with Bill Hedrick, a candidate for Congress in CA-44 who has two sons and two daughters-in-law with a combined 10 tours of duty in Iraq. He told me how concerned he is about the residual forces, about continuing the occupation, and about these efforts at exceptions and delays and moving of the markers. He brought up the examples of Korea and Germany, and our continued presence in those countries, however friendly.

I would imagine this would concern the Iraqis as well. I'm sure many of them think that the US will never leave, and this adds to that frustration. Which can easily turn to violence. I fully understand that the sectarian conflict is rising but we can do little about that from a military perspective. Not to mention that the Prime Minister is thundering against a raid carried out by US forces:

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's prime minister denounced a deadly U.S. raid on Sunday as a "crime" that violated the security pact with Washington and demanded American commanders hand over those responsible to face possible trial in Iraqi courts.

The U.S. military, however, strongly denied that it overstepped its bounds and said it notified Iraqi authorities in advance — in accordance with the rules that took effect this year governing U.S. battlefield conduct.

The pre-dawn raid in the southern Shiite city of Kut ended with at least one woman dead after being caught in gunfire and six suspects arrested for alleged links to Shiite militia factions [...]

A statement from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — in his role as commander general of Iraqi forces — called the raid a "violation of the security pact."

He asked the U.S. military "to release the detainees and hand over those responsible for this crime to the courts," according to an Iraqi security official who read the statement to The Associated Press.

According to the Washington Post Maliki wants the soldiers to be prosecuted in Iraqi courts for violating the security arrangement. Juan Cole explains:

Under the Status of Forces Agreement, the US must notify the Iraqi government before it takes military action.

Al-Maliki is touchy about such an operation in Kut and probably wants personal approval in such matters. Kut is in the Shiite south, where al-Maliki has been attempting to spread the influence of his Islamic Mission Party (Da'wa). It has a significant Sadrist constituency, and al-Maliki is trying to put together coalition provincial governments with the Sadrists. So the US raid made al-Maliki look weak and puppet-like and made him unpopular in a key area where he wants support.

Maliki is not necessarily a good faith actor. He refuses to reconcile with Baathists and Sunnis, and he wants to consolidate power. The information on the raid in Kut never went up the chain of command from local Iraqi officials, but Maliki wouldn't have minded if this had taken place elsewhere. He is out for his own power and not a broader reconciliation among the Iraqis. He is a dangerous partner, and this tantrum further breaches the trust that Iraqis have in the Americans leaving. That could lead to violence very quickly.

Meanwhile, insurgents attacked an important Shiite shrine over the weekend. Very worrying.

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