by Shaun Appleby, Tue Nov 11, 2008 at 02:49:13 PM EST
One of the first challenges for the new Obama administration will be delivering on the promise to responsibly end the war in Iraq. While this issue has not been the subject of much discussion in the recent electoral contest it remains a key expectation of the new government both here and abroad. After the election Obama said one of his first policy directives will be to give military commanders and the Secretary of Defense 'a new mission in Iraq: ending the war.' But therein lies a rather complex and difficult tale.
Presently the US and Iraqi leadership are in the process of finalising the 'status-of-forces agreement' which will replace the UN mandate which expires on 31 December 2008, and it remains problematic:
BAGHDAD, Nov. 6 -- Two days after the election of Barack Obama, Iraq's chief spokesman said with unusual forcefulness Thursday that his government will continue to insist on a firm withdrawal date for U.S. troops, despite American demands that any pullout be subject to prevailing security conditions.
"Iraqis would like to know and see a fixed date," spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in an interview in which he also reiterated Iraq's position that American forces be subject to Iraqi legal jurisdiction in some instances.
Iraqi officials, who see President-elect Obama's views on the timing of a U.S. withdrawal as consonant with their own, appear to be leveraging his election to pressure the Bush administration to make last-minute concessions. Dabbagh said negotiations to reach a status-of-forces agreement, which would sanction the U.S. military presence in Iraq beyond 2008, would collapse if no deal is reached by the end of this month.
Ernesto Londoño, Mary Beth Sheridan and Karen DeYoung - Iraq Repeats Insistence on Fixed Withdrawal Date Washington Post 7 Nov 08
The problem that this agreement faces is ratification by the Iraqi parliament, further compounded by upcoming provincial elections on 31 January 2009 and the electoral split in the provinces between the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Da'wa Party which may undermine the Shia coalition government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. While some demands have been met, such as Iraqi inspection of mail and cargo to US troops in-country, the major sticking points of extra-legal jurisdiction of US servicepersons and the absence of a fixed withdrawal date remain:
The latest draft calls for U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 2009 and withdraw from Iraq by 2011. It also lifts immunity for private U.S. contractors such as Blackwater, whose security guards were accused of uncontrolled shooting while on patrol duty, resulting in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.
It also allows for a joint U.S. and Iraqi committee to decide whether a U.S. soldier who's committed a crime outside a U.S. base was off-duty and where he should be tried. Iraqi officials wanted to make that decision on their own, but the Bush administration has apparently rejected the demand.
Leila Fadel, Nancy A. Youssef and Warren P. Strobel - Iraqis seek more 'withdrawal' talks; U.S. says they're over McClatchy 6 Nov 08
The provisions of the agreement remain controversial both among State and Defense Department negotiators on the one hand and the Iraqi leadership on the other but it is now a 'take it or leave it' proposal by the United States:
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the al-Maliki government will in coming months show the draft security agreement it has negotiated with the Bush administration to the main blocs in parliament to gauge whether they will accept the amendments it has wrung from Washington. A source in the ruling (Shiite fundamentalist) United Iraqi Alliance told al-Hayat that there are no prospects for further negotiation with the U.S., and that the political parties in parliament will have to accept or reject it.
Juan Cole - Al-Maliki to Parliament on Security Agreement: 'Take it or Leave it' Informed Comment 11 Nov 08
With less than fifty days remaining to the expiry of the current mandate for the US forces presence in Iraq it is now in the hands of the Iraqi cabinet and parliament. As well as noting an interesting sidelight to this story from the Obama transition team it is probably worth reviewing the political and security situation in Iraq to assess the threats and opportunities faced by the incoming administration in resolving this issue. In spite of the lack of attention to this transitional phase in US-Iraqi relations there is no 'slam dunk' solution and the potential for trouble is acute.