Occupation of Iraq – no end in sight

FRFI 207 February / March 2009

When Iraqi journalist Muntazer Al Zaidi threw his shoes at President Bush during a Baghdad press conference last December shouting, ‘This is a farewell kiss. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq’, he no doubt hoped to be seeing the end not only of Bush but also the whole of the imperialist occupying forces. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between the US and the Iraqi governments in November calls for US troops to be withdrawn from Iraqi towns and cities by 30 June this year and from the whole of Iraq by the end of 2011. Opposition to the occupation by the people of Iraq and neighbouring governments, principally Iran, forced the Iraqi government to insist on far more than the US initially wanted to concede. But they both knew that the Iraqi government and President Al Maliki had to be able to pose as ending the occupation; otherwise the followers of Moqtada Al Sadr, who, unlike the Iraqi government, have consistently opposed the occupation, were likely to make sweeping gains in the forthcoming provincial elections. SOFA, however, includes provision for it to be cancelled by either side at any time.

Even if the agreement is instituted, it allows the Iraqi government to request US assistance in combat operations against ‘terrorists ... outlaw groups ... remnants of the former regime’ and ‘temporary support for surveillance and control of Iraqi airspace’. Non-combat US forces will be involved in ‘training, equipping, supporting, supplying and upgrading logistical systems’. General Ray Odierno, commander of US forces in Iraq, anticipates US forces will still be in Iraqi towns and cities and in joint US/Iraqi military bases in cities long after the 30 June deadline. The US military will still be free to move equipment and personnel without interference by the Iraqi government. Although SOFA forbids the use of Iraq as a base for attacking other countries, the associated Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) allows the US to use ‘military measures or any other measures’ to deal with ‘external or internal threats’.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh admitted that Iraqi security forces would be ‘unable to control the country for another decade’ and that the government would be willing to extend the December 2011 deadline. President Al Maliki confirmed that ‘We can change the date or articles if that is necessary’. The SFA commits the US and Iraq to a ‘long term relationship in economic, diplomatic, cultural and security fields’. The US will supply the Iraqi airforce with F16s and helicopters together with training and maintenance personnel. John Nagl, who drafted the US counter-insurgency plan with General Petraeus, said, ‘There are going to be Americans helping Iraqis keep their F16s in the air for at least a decade.’

All of which has led Moqtada Al Sadr to denounce the agreement as a betrayal and a subtle way to extend the occupation. A Sadrist spokesman, Ahmed Al Masoudi told The Washington Post, ‘This confirmed our view that US forces will never withdraw from the cities next summer, and that they will never leave Iraq by the end of 2011. Iraqis will discover that the government has bamboozled them about this agreement.’

During the US election campaign Barack Obama promised, ‘My first day in office I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war – responsibly, deliberately but decisively.’ Last month President-elect Obama somewhat less decisively said ‘it might be necessary – likely to be necessary – to maintain a residual force to provide potential training, logistical support, to protect our civilians in Iraq...I have tried not to put a number on it’. Others in the Obama camp have not been so reticent. Colin Kahl, co-ordinator of Obama’s Iraq Working Group, suggests there will; still be 60,000 to 80,000 US troops in Iraq in two years time. Two weeks into the Obama administration no significant initiatives have been taken on Iraq.

Jim Craven


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