Iraq Timeline Deal Imminent?

[ Posted Thursday, August 7th, 2008 – 15:36 UTC ]

Will tomorrow be the ultimate "take out the trash" day in the news? This charming term is an inside-the-Beltway phrase which refers to the propensity of politicians to announce things they'd rather not in the most dead and unnoticed news cycle of the week: late Friday, after the evening news has already aired on the East Coast. If the administration has some of what they consider "trash" news -- news that they don't want to draw a whole lot of attention to -- this is when they unveil it. Nobody's watching news on Friday night, and very few follow the news much over the weekend, which effectively buries the story.

But tomorrow night is not exactly a usual Friday night, as it will be the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. So will President Bush and the government of Iraq very quietly announce (while the party's going on in Beijing) that they have reached an agreement which sets a timeline for American combat troops to leave Iraq?

This story has been slowly leaking all day today, mostly from the Iraqi side. The Iraqis have learned the power of the press both inside their country and in the U.S., which they proved once again by leaking the details of the current proposals for some type of Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the two countries. To the Iraqis' advantage, once again.

Throughout these negotiations, the Iraqis have leaked these proposed details before, which has always boosted support for their position inside their own country -- as well as showing Americans how much Bush is overreaching. This has, several times, caused Bush to back down from what were supposed to be bedrock positions in our negotiations. And, from the current leaks, it looks as if the Iraqis have been even more successful than Bush admitted even a few weeks ago. From the article:

The proposed agreement calls for Americans to hand over parts of Baghdad's Green Zone -- where the U.S. Embassy is located -- to the Iraqis by the end of 2008. It would also remove U.S. forces from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, according to the two senior officials, both close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and familiar with the negotiations.

The officials, who spoke separately on condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing, said all U.S. combat troops would leave Iraq by October 2010, with the remaining support personnel gone "around 2013." The schedule could be amended if both sides agree -- a face-saving escape clause that would extend the presence of U.S. forces if security conditions warrant it.

Got that? The only way "conditions on the ground" would warrant changing a timeline for American troops to leave is if the Iraqis agreed to it as well. Which gives them the veto vote, not Bush or America (that's the problem when you go around granting sovereignty to people... sometimes they actually take you at your word). Democracy, in the form of the Iraq Parliament (since Bush ironically has no intention of involving the U.S. Congress), will win the day -- since any proposal without a hard timeline for withdrawal is just not going to be acceptible to them when they vote on it.

Even Muqtada al-Sadr seems to be on board with this, as long as it's got a solid timetable. For the first time, he is talking about separating his political followers from his militia, which shows he's keeping his eyes towards the future in Iraq -- where political power may be more important than how many guns you've got.

Bush, and Secretary of State Rice, are not amused. Again, from the article:

As the talks drag on, American officials said the Bush administration is losing patience with the Iraqis over the negotiations, which both sides had hoped to wrap up by the end of July.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and al-Maliki had a long and "very difficult" phone conversation about the situation on Wednesday during which she pressed the Iraqi leader for more flexibility particularly on immunity, one U.S. senior official said.

"The sovereignty issue is very big for the Iraqis and we understand that. But we are losing patience," the official said. "The process needs to get moving and get moving quickly."

There's only one problem with that -- time is on the Iraqis' side in this standoff. So Bush and Rice can lose all the patience they want, but it's not going to help them in any way. One almost dares to point out that perhaps they don't really "understand" that sovereignty is a big issue inside of Iraq.

Now, I admit that tomorrow night may be too soon for such an announcement. There are still sticking points over what laws American soldiers will be subject to obeying (the "immunity" being spoken of in that passage). Bush wants immunity for American troops from Iraqi laws, the Iraqis don't want it to be quite such a "blanket" immunity. Also, there is the question of who gets custody of any prisoners taken, the Iraqis or the Americans. These are both "red lines" neither side wants to blink on, so wrapping something up in the next day may be impossible. But really, the entire Olympics should be seen as "take out the trash day," since most Americans are looking forward to a break from politics for the next few weeks.

My humble guess is that the SOFA will be announced before the closing ceremony in Beijing, and that the Iraqis are going to get about 80-90% of what they're asking for -- including a hard timetable for withdrawal. And now, veto power over whether conditions on the ground warrant deviations from that timetable.


-- Chris Weigant


5 Comments on “Iraq Timeline Deal Imminent?”

  1. [1] 
    loslobo wrote:

    If they got 80 billion in the bank and all that oil let's make the a state...

    Thanks always

  2. [2] 
    Yeah right wrote:

    If anyone thought that any other President besides Bush was going to get the credit for bringing the troops home then I just don't know anymore. Approval ratings go through the roof, people will cheer in the street, and what will Obama or McCain do? America will need a new enemy?

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I think we should be careful that we don't put too much faith in the Iraqi government, as currently structured. The Maliki government's authority doesn't even cover all of Baghdad, much less extend throughout the rest of the country. And, I don't see how provincial elections, should they take place as planned, are going to do anything to change this dynamic.

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Yeah right -

    I've always been amazed that Bush hasn't made more political hay out of troops coming out of Iraq. The whole (OK, most of it, to be accurate) "surge" came home, and Bush never had a photo op with some homecoming soldiers. It's almost like they don't want to use this image for some reason.

    Elizabeth -

    Point taken. But Maliki's backed himself into a corner by leaking all the details during the negotiations. By stirring up the Iraqi people, he now has to make good on what he's been promising them -- a hard deadline for the US to leave.


  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I am just so fed up with all of the talk about the surge and whether or not it worked...and, if it did - to what end!?...about the deadline or time horizon for Maliki and Obama are in the same boat - the same sinking boat, if you ask me -and even about when the Iraqi government will get its act together and make some moves toward political reconciliation. NONE OF IT MATTERS!!!

    Until everyone snaps out of it and realizes that there is no reasonable prospect that a strong central government in Iraq can materialize - now or anytime in the near to medium term - Iraq will continue on a downward spiral toward all out civil war and quite possibly the complete fragmentation of the country along with dangerous and unpredictable consequences for the region, not to mention for US national security interests.

    I'd like to know when there will be a serious effort to implement a muscular diplomatic surge to promote and facilitate a sustainable political settlement in Iraq that would bring the warring Iraqi factions to the negotiating table and involve the regional and major powers to support and secure whatever power-sharing arrangement the Iraqis are able to achieve. Absent such action, there is no good reason to keep any US forces or civilians (say good-bye to that monstrosity known as the US embassy in Baghdad) in Iraq past yesterday.

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