Monday, July 14, 2008

War Of Words Continues Over Agreement on U.S. Presence in Iraq

Just as the Washington Post reported that a pair of agreements to set the long-term presence of U.S. forces in Iraq was basically dead for now, the Sunday Times of London had a story on how the rhetorical battle between the two sides continues. The Post said that hopes to sign two agreements to give the U.S. the legal right to operate in Iraq and set the relationship between the two countries, would not meet the July 31 deadline set by the White House. It would be up to the next administration to complete them. In its place a memorandum of understanding is being negotiated.

The agreements began to break down in May when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki decided to play hardball with the U.S. to gain concessions and paint himself as a nationalist for the upcoming Iraqi provincial elections. It was in May that Maliki said talks had reached a dead end. Iraq’s foreign minister later said this was just a negotiating ploy. In June, the Prime Minister upped the ante by calling for a U.S. withdrawal as part of any deal. Later reports had Iraqi politicians backtracking on that demand, saying that Baghdad actually held a closer position to President Bush who has said any drawdown would be based upon military conditions on the ground.

That hasn’t stopped the war of words however. On July 13, the London Sunday Times quoted Maliki’s spokesman Ali Dabbagh saying that Baghdad wanted the U.S. out of the Green Zone and all of Iraq’s cities by the end of 2008. Dabbagh said the U.S. should be limited to military bases and the U.S. embassy afterwards, and only deploy troops when asked by Iraqi officials. This is a demand Iraqis have made before, but one that was supposed to play out over several years. This puts President Bush in an ironic position of opposing Iraqi demands to leave when he said the U.S. would only stay as long as the Iraqis wanted. At the same time, it shows that Iraqi nationalism is becoming the dominant narrative amongst Iraqi politicians because of election era politics and perhaps overconfidence in the ability of the Iraqi armed forces. This also represents a setback for President Bush who hoped to have both agreements signed before he left office. The State Department also failed in public diplomacy to sell the agreement to the Iraqis. Maliki wanted a deal as well, but seems to be coming out on top anyway with an interim agreement to keep U.S. troops in Iraq, and with an increased standing amongst the public for standing up for the country’s sovereignty.

SOURCES

Buzbee, Sally, “Iraq insists on withdrawal timetable US troops,” Associated Press, 7/8/08

Colvin, Marie, “Nouri al-Maliki ready to oust US from Iraq green zone,” London Sunday Times,

DeYoung, Karen, “U.S., Iraq Scale Down Negotiations Over Forces,” Washington Post, 7/13/08

Hauslohner, Abigail, “Has al-Maliki Turned on the U.S.?” Time, 7/8/08

Voices of Iraq, “Iraqi – U.S. memorandum of understanding for troops’ withdrawal – PM,” 7/7/08

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