Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Iraq Asks U.S. To Draw Up Withdrawal Plans: Move Towards Autonomy, Electioneering, Or Brinkmanship by the Maliki Government?

On July 7, 2008 Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that he wanted a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Iraq that would include a withdrawal plan for American forces. The memorandum would take the place of two agreements that have stalled in negotiations over the future relationship between the U.S. and Iraq. This is not the first time that Iraqi officials have called for a U.S. withdrawal recently. The real issue however, is what is Maliki’s motivation. Does he want U.S. troops to eventually withdraw so that Iraq can be a fully sovereign country, is he simply positioning himself as a nationalist for the upcoming provincial elections that are planned for the end of 2008, or is it an example of brinkmanship by the prime minister to get the beat deal possible for Iraq?


Since November 2007 the U.S. and Iraqi governments have been working on two agreements for relations between the countries. One would define the political, military, and economic ties between the two, while the other would provide a legal basis for American forces in Iraq. Currently the U.S. operates under a United Nations resolution that will expire at the end of 2008. In November 2007, the two sides signed a Declaration of Principles that set up the terms for the long-term deals. The two agreements are suppose to be finished by July 31, 2008. As that date has approached, Iraqi politicians have become more and more divided. Many politicians believe that any deal will be an infringement upon Iraq’s sovereignty. That has placed the deadline in jeopardy, and it appears now that neither will be signed in time. In its place, Iraq has now proposed a short-term memorandum of understanding that would allow the U.S. to stay in Iraq until the other two agreements have been finalized.

As part of this memorandum, Prime Minister Maliki has proposed including a timeline for a U.S. withdrawal. This idea has been aired before. At the beginning of June 2008 a letter signed by just over half of Iraq’s parliamentarians was delivered to the U.S. Congress asking for a U.S. drawdown as part of any new U.S.-Iraq agreement. A few days later Maliki said that Iraq had the right to call on the U.S. to withdraw if it wanted. According to news reports, Maliki is calling on a phased withdrawal. First, the U.S. would hand over all of Iraq’s provinces to Iraqi security forces. Currently half are under Iraqi control. The U.S. would then move out of the cities and back to their major bases. Finally the U.S. and Iraq would review the security situation over a series of years, and begin pulling out American troops when the situation allowed it.

U.S. Response

The administration seems to have been caught off guard by Maliki’s announcement. Bush has said that he opposes any set timeline for a U.S. withdrawal, and the White House responded to Maliki by saying they don’t believe he wants a specific timetable either. The Arab newspaper Al Hayat on the other hand, reported in July that the U.S. had actually agreed to a drawdown because it wants to set policy before a new administration comes into office. They also believe that a memorandum of understanding would not have to go through a Democratic Congress that might reject a longer-term deal. The whole process shows a lack of planning by the administration for such an important issue. It doesn’t appear that the U.S. made any public relations campaign to try to sell the deals to Iraqis. Instead, the State Department has been largely silent, and kept its dealings as secret as possible. The U.S. wants a long-term presence in Iraq, but doesn’t seem to have thought of a way to pull it off.


The most important thing to consider in these negotiations is Maliki’s motivations. There are many possible explanations. One is that Maliki and other government officials believe that Iraq’s security forces are approaching the point where they do not need a large U.S. military presence to secure the country anymore. The recent offensives in Basra, Sadr City, Mosul and Maysan province have emboldened many, including the prime minister, into thinking that Iraq can handle its own security affairs. Maliki’s statements therefore, could be an attempt to assert Iraq’s sovereignty. The calls for a U.S. drawdown could also be driven by Iraqi election politics. At the end of 2008 Iraq is scheduled to hold provincial elections. The results are up in the air. Over 500 individuals and parties have registered for the vote. The Shiites and Sunnis are fracturing rather than coming together, which threatens the parties that are now in power. Calling for the U.S. to withdraw could be a way for Iraqi politicians to divert attention away from their own shortcomings in governing the country, to focus the public upon the American presence instead. This nationalist stance could help garner votes and maintain the ruling parties control over the government. Finally, the statements could also be an attempt to negotiate with the U.S. Some Iraqi politicians believe that Bush is in a position of weakness because he wants an agreement before he leaves office in just a few months. Maliki is also reportedly afraid of being blamed for anything that could go wrong under the deals, so he may be threatening Bush with his greatest fear, a timed withdrawal, in a game of brinkmanship to get the greatest concessions possible. Others think that Iraq, not the U.S. needs to ultimately set the limits on America’s presence. All of these forces may be in play, and it’s too soon to say whether these are real threats or negotiating tactics.


Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraq’s al-Maliki wants short-term US agreement,” Associated Press, 7/7/08

Biddle, Stephen, Nasr, Vali, Nash, William, “Political and Security Developments in Iraq and the Region,” Council on Foreign Relations, 6/12/08

Bruno, Greg, “America’s future in Iraq, an annotated reading list,” Daily Star, 7/7/08

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

Cockburn, Patrick, “US troops will be gone within 10 years, says Iraqi minister,” Independent, 1/25/08

DeYoung, Karen, “In Pact, U.S. Won’t Commit to Protecting Iraq,” Washington Post, 2/7/08
- “Iraq Wants U.S. to Compromise More on Security Deals,” Washington Post, 4/22/08
- “No Need for Lawmakers’ Approval of Iraq Pact, U.S. Reasserts,” Washington Post, 3/6/08

Fadel, Leila and Tharp, Mike, “Maliki raises possibility that Iraq might ask U.S. to leave,” McClatchy Newspapers, 6/13/08

Garcia-Navarro, Lourdes, “Iraqis Consider Alterantive Deal For U.S. Presence,” Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR, 7/6/08

Jaffe, Greg, “Gates Crafts Long-Term Iraq Plan, With Limited Role for U.S. Forces,” Wall Street Journal, 9/19/07

Missing Links Blog, “Al Hayat source: US not opposed to a memo of understanding setting out a withdrawal schedule,” 7/7/08

Parker, Ned, “Iraq officials question need for U.S. troop presence,” Los Angeles Times, 6/11/08

Raz, Guy, “Long-Term Pact with Iraq Raises Questions,” National Public Radio, 1/24/08

Reuters, “Iraq lawmakers want U.S. forces out as part of deal,” 6/4/08

Shanker, Thom and Buckley, Cara, “U.S. and Iraq to Negotiate Pact on Long-Term Relations,” New York Times, 11/27/07

Taheri, Amir, “Iraq and US: the Path of the Future,” Asharq Alawsat, 6/20/08

Voices of Iraq, “IAF spokesman rules out agreement on security pact,” 6/23/08
- “Iraqi – U.S. memorandum of understanding for troops’ withdrawal – PM,” 7/7/08

Zavis, Alexandra, “Iraqi prime minister advocates withdrawal timetable,” Los Angeles Times, 7/8/08


Anand said...

Motown, I live in the Bay area as well. So do several other people informed regarding the ISF.

Please ask any questions you want to regarding the ISF in the comments here:

Or here:

Regarding logistics, please see:

The Iraqi Support Command (ISC) is lead by a capable LTG.

All ten original IADs can manage their own transportation needs with their MTRs (Motorized Transportation Regiments.) 8 out ot 13 Iraqi army divisions can manage their own supply via location supply commands. All 13 will be able to do so in 6 months.

The MoD’s JFC (Joint Forces Command) can sustain a corps level operation on their own for some length of time provided they cannibalize supply, transportation, and maintenance for the rest of the ISF.

Earlier this year, the IA launched 3 simultaneous massive and complicated corps level offensives. 1 planned in Mosul. Two that were not planned on the fly with very little notice. The MNF-I supported these three offensives.

Very few countries in the world can simultaneously conduct three major corps offensives without substantial foreign assistance. Probably only America, Russia, China, India, and South Korea. Some would add North Korea, but I doubt it.

The UK, France and Germany can no longer sustain three corps level operations simultaneously without calling up substantial reserves and without substantial lead time.

The IA is much further along than most believe. Hence PM Maliki’s statements about a more rapid MNF-I drawdown.

Joel Wing said...

I don't discount the great strides that the IA has made in just the last couple months. That being said they are still a very limited force. They can carry out counterinsurgency operations, but still rely on the U.S. for supplies, communication, and intelligence. They're also incapable of defending the country from foreign threats because of a lack of artillery, armor and air support.

In Basra they got fought to a draw by JAM and it was the cease-fire that ended things. In Sadr City it was the U.S. that was doing the heavy fighting trying to build the wall around the southern section, and in Mosul and Maysan provinces there wasn't any real fighting. It was more of a search and seizure, manhunt operation.

From "The Battle for Basra" by Marisa Cochrane, Institute for the Study of War and the Weekly Standard, 5/31/08:

"By the end of the first week, the offensive reached a stalemate. The Iraqi Security Forces were unable to take control of the Jaysh al-Mahdi's heavily fortified neighborhood strongholds. The intense clashes continued with neither side gaining momentum."

That being said, this is a huge improvement over a force that could barley get past checkpoints just a little while ago.

And yes, I read Long War Journal everyday. I think I got banned from their comments section after I said someone comparing Iraq to Washington D.C. and Detroit was making a stupid analogy. I haven't been able to post since then.

Anand said...

Regarding your comment on the LWJ, can we discuss via e-mail?

You can briefly list and then delete your e-mail from this article's comment section (which will be automatically e-mailed to me.)

Intelligence by the IA and the NOC's counter terrorism wing is improving (has improved quite a bit recently, hense the huge reduction of violence.) The Iraqi Air force is now flying a lot more recon aircraft:

Communications is improving. I already discussed improvements at the ISC (Iraqi Supply Command) above.

Air support remains a huge problem.

The IA just recieved a large shipment of upgraded T72 tanks. It now has 3 tank armored brigades, 1 wheeled armored cavalry brigade, and one tracked armored cavalry brigade (old 4-7, or now 29-7.) The 37-9 wheeled armored cavalry is being replaced by a tank armored brigade.

Many more tanks are in process. See equipment OOB pdf above.

Artillery: most Iraqi battalions now have 60 mm artillery. The 8th IAD now has 81 mm brigade level artillery. Division level 120 mm artillery comes in 2009.

I haven’t read: "The Battle for Basra" by Marisa Cochrane. But if you want to discuss what happened there, we can do so in the comment section at:

Anonymous said...



You have not been banned from LWJ.

You are not one of the 18 individuals that have used 23 IDs that are banned.

But, I would not want to make you a lier and ruin your street-cred.

You are banned now.

Joel Wing said...


Thanks for being such a kind host! I tried making several replies on LWJ, and they never went through so I thought I had been blocked for some reason. I guess I am now.

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