June 12, 2008
George Bush’s Last Maneuver in Iraq
Ramzy Baroud, Aljazeera.net English.
When US forces descended on Baghdad five years ago, they seemed unstoppable. It seemed only a matter of time before the same frenzied scenario took place in Tehran, Damascus, and elsewhere.
As it turned out, the day Saddam’s status was toppled was the day that the US Army faced its real battle in Iraq.
Five years of continuous and unrelenting bloodbaths may have toned down Bush’s expectations. The lonely crusader who once vowed to fight tyranny at any cost is now trying to secure a treaty that would indefinitely secure US interests in Iraq. His administration may essentially be hoping to achieve what it regards as the best possible outcome of a worst possible situation.
Coopting the UN has helped secure temporary legitimacy to the occupation. The international body, once rendered irrelevant, became a major hub for American diplomacy seeking to legitimize its occupation in a country that refuses to concede. Even willing Iraqi leaders, perfectly rehearsed elections and mass suppressions have failed to bring stability and validation. Of course, White House, State Department and US military spokespeople ventured into endless talk about democracy, freedom, liberty and security in order to woo an increasingly agitated American public. But US action on the ground spoke of another reality: An imperial quest.
Now the Bush administration is ready to crown its Iraq travesty with a long-term strategy that would turn Iraq’s occupation into a lasting one. The US is “negotiating” a treaty with the Iraqi government, one that would replace the UN mandate and legalize the US occupation of Iraq permanently.
Basically, time is running out for Bush. If no treaty is reached by the end of the year, his administration could find itself pleading to the Security Council for another extension of the mandate. This would be an embarrassing and dangerous scenario for US diplomacy because it would allow Russia and China to re-emerge as important players wielding veto powers. By signing a long-term treaty, the Bush administration would pre-empt any action by a future Democratic president of Iraq.
When the UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend the US-led multinational forces in Iraq in November 2005, the US celebrated the decision as a sign of international commitment to Iraq’s political transition. John Bolton, then US ambassador to the UN, had repeatedly lambasted the UN and now saw “the unanimous adoption of this resolution (as) a vivid demonstration of broad international support for a federal, democratic, pluralistic and unified Iraq.”
After this the Pentagon said the “US planned to cut the numbers of troops next year.” Since then, the opposite has actualized. Iraqi troops failed their first serious test — in failing to crack down on Mehdi Army — and US forces grew in numbers. In order for the US to sign a long-term strategic treaty with the Iraqi government, it needs a level of stability. The US’ dilemma is that this coveted stability is nowhere in sight.
Since late 2007, officials in the US, the UN and Iraq have asserted that they have no intention of seeking another UN mandate.
The US-Iraq treaty is thus the only option that will legalize the American occupation. The idea of the treaty is to give the impression that the relationship between the two is not that of the occupied and the occupier, but two sovereigns with mutual interests and equitable rights.
Iraqis are, unsurprisingly, furious about US expectations from the treaty. According to Cockburn, “Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilize Iraq’s position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.”
Iraqi Cabinet spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh was quoted by Iraqi TV as saying that government will not compromise on Iraq’s sovereignty. Although it is difficult to believe in Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s commitment to “full sovereignty,” one cannot underestimate the pressure he faces in the Parliament — fractious alliances, nationalists from various backgrounds, unstable Shiite front, skeptical Sunni leadership. Al Jazeera reported on how two of these legislators testified to the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that, “US troops should leave Iraq before talks on a long-term security pact could be completed.” Khalaf Al-Ulayyan, the founder of the National Dialogue Council wants talks delayed “until there is a new administration in the United States,” but the US wants an agreement by July.
To avoid embarrassment, “it’s entirely possible that the Bush administration, sometime this summer, will force the hapless regime of Prime Minister Maliki to submit to a US diktat on a US-Iraq accord.” (Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation). “If Maliki signs the accord, and ignores the opposition from Parliament, he would instantly lose whatever remaining credibility he has left as an Iraqi leader,” which would lead to more violence in Iraq on the eve of US elections.
One can argue that no pleasant scenarios are possible in Iraq at any time under a US military presence.