Iraqi Violence Clouds US Withdrawal
by Charles Lemos, Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 10:17:03 PM EDT
A car bomb ripped through a market in the town of Bathaa in southern Iraq's Shi'ite heartland. At least 29 people were killed with scores injured. It was the deadliest bombing to hit the Nasiriyah area since November 12, 2003, when a suicide truck bomber attacked the headquarters of Italian forces stationed there, killing more than 30 people. It was the first such bombing directed at civilians in the area around Nasiriya in the past two years. Iraqi officials blamed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia for the blast.
The blast is the latest in a series of high-profile explosions that have raised concerns about a resurgence of violence as the US military faces a June 30 deadline to withdraw from urban areas in Iraq under the terms of an agreement negotiated between Iraq and the United States late last year. Under the security agreement, American combat troops must withdraw from Iraqi cities by the end of this month and all American troops must be out of Iraq by December 31, 2011.
With Iraqi government moving ahead with plans to hold a national referendum on the agreement, US officials are quietly lobbying the government not to hold the referendum because if it is held, it may not pass. Only the Kurds support the pact, other groups are largely opposed for varying reasons. If the Iraqi people vote down the security pact, the American military would have to withdraw all troops within a year from the date of the vote.
From the New York Times:
On Tuesday, the cabinet approved the appropriation of $99 million for the referendum. Parliament still has to sign off on the spending and pass a law detailing how the referendum would be conducted, but it is expected to do so. There is still some possibility that the referendum could be pushed back, especially if, as often happens, the Iraqi Parliament gets bogged down in crafting the referendum legislation.
Perhaps in deference to American concerns, the cabinet issued a statement on Tuesday saying that it wished to delay the vote for six months so that it could be held at the same time as the national elections in January "in order to save money and time."
But senior lawmakers appeared to think that a change in the date was unlikely. Under current law, the referendum would be held on July 30. In order to change the date, the cabinet would have to submit a new draft law on the timing of the vote to Parliament, which would then have to move it through the lengthy parliamentary process for considering legislation.
But there's more going on behind the scenes. Earlier this week, Dr. Rafe Al-Eissawi, Iraq's deputy prime minister, made a speech at the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace Center in which he addressed the issue of US withdrawal from Iraq. Al-Eissawi insists that Iraqi security forces are ready to take over the protection of the country. Others are not so sure.
Listen to John Nagl, a retired lieutenant colonel who commanded troops in Iraq and now the president of the Center for a New American Security, talk about since we have to withdraw our troops from the cities by June 30th the solution is to redefine what constitutes a city.