Iraq Moves Closer to Obama-Type Plan for early US Withdrawal; Cabinet rejects Security Agreement

The debate between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama about a timetable for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq may have just been overtaken by events. Without a bilateral agreement on the rules governing US military actions in Iraq, US soldiers and officers would become liable to prosecution for acts committed in the course of battle.

It is highly unlikely that any security agreement will be passed by parliament by January 1st, when the UN mandate for multinational troops in Iraq runs out, given that the Iraqi cabinet has now called for substantial revisions in the draft agreement.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on Tuesday that failure to get a bilateral treaty passed or at least a UN Security Council resolution– passed could have dire implication for US troops.

In fact, one possible outcome, though unlikely, is a quick US withdrawal.

McCain opposes a withdrawal timeline of the sort that Bush has just agreed to. McCain said last summer:

“Prime Minister Malki . . . I am confident that he will act, as the president and foreign minister have both told me in the last several days, that it [US troop withdrawal] will be directly related to the situation on the ground, just as they have always said. And since we are succeeding and then I am convinced, as I have said before, we can withdraw and withdraw with honor, not according to a set timetable.’

But the Iraqis insisted on a timetable, initially 2010 but Bush argued that was too close to the Obama plan and got it postponed to 2011.

One of McCain’s main talking points has been left behind in the dust.

Obama, in contrast, welcomed the al-Maliki government’s called for awithdrawal timetable:

The good news is that Iraq’s leaders want to take responsibility for their country by negotiating a timetable for the removal of American troops. Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the American officer in charge of training Iraq’s security forces, estimates that the Iraqi Army and police will be ready to assume responsibility for security in 2009.

Only by redeploying our troops can we press the Iraqis to reach comprehensive political accommodation and achieve a successful transition to Iraqis’ taking responsibility for the security and stability of their country. Instead of seizing the moment and encouraging Iraqis to step up, the Bush administration and Senator McCain are refusing to embrace this transition — despite their previous commitments to respect the will of Iraq’s sovereign government. They call any timetable for the removal of American troops “surrender,” even though we would be turning Iraq over to a sovereign Iraqi government.

But this is not a strategy for success — it is a strategy for staying that runs contrary to the will of the Iraqi people, the American people and the security interests of the United States. That is why, on my first day in office, I would give the military a new mission: ending this war.’

The Iraqi cabinet shot down the draft security agreement negotiated by the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Bush administration, insisting that several of its paragraphs need a change of wording. Bush administration officials say that they are unwilling to engage in yet another round of negotiations. Without cabinet approval, the draft probably would not even be submitted to parliament, much less passed by it. Some of the objections, as I reported yesterday, come from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which is al-Maliki’s chief political partner, the support of which he would need to get the draft through parliament. ISCI is close to Tehran, which objects to the agreement.

Even al-Maliki seemed lukewarm about the draft his office had negotiated, complaining that the US government ‘takes away with one hand what it gave with the other.’

The Arabic text of the agreement is here.

The Bush administration came to al-Maliki last spring with a request for a Status of Forces Agreement specifying the rules for US troops operating in the country. Bush asked for hundreds of bases, no timetable for withdrawal, and complete legal immunity for both US contractors and for all military personnel.

Bush did not get it, just as he did not get success in so many other fields, including his “war on terror” (via Tomdispatch).

By the time a draft agreement was circulated last week (text courtesy Raed Jarrar), the US military had found itself confined to bases by next June and constrained to leave by 2011; civilian contractors were open to prosecution in Iraqi courts; and off-duty US troops who commit crimes might also find themselves before a qadi or Muslim court judge. There was no mention of long-term bases.

Behind the scenes, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani mobilized opposition to the original Bush demands, as an infringement on Iraqi national sovereignty.

In all likelihood, Iraq will go to the UN Security Council for a one-year renewal of the Multinational Forces Mandate. But the Iraqi politicians and people are voting, by their reluctance to acquiesce in the Bush/ al-Maliki plan for a SOFA, for something (with regard to the timetable for withdrawal) much closer to Obama’s plan.