Al-Maliki: US Troops Out!

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made news this week with his interview in the Wall Street Journal, in the course of which he insisted that all US troops would be out of Iraq by January 1, 2012:

‘ WSJ: Some American officials have spoken about contingency plans being drawn now in Washington for the possibility that some American troops will stay after 2011. Do you know about these contingency plans, and do you need troops?

Mr. Maliki: I do not care about what’s being said. I care about what’s on paper and what has been agreed to. The withdrawal of forces agreement [Status of Forces Agreement or SOFA] expires on Dec. 31, 2011. The last American soldier will leave Iraq.

Secondly this agreement is sealed and at the time we designated it as sealed and not subject to extension, except if the new government with Parliament’s approval wanted to reach a new agreement with America, or another country, that’s another matter. This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration, it is sealed, it expires on Dec. 31 [2011]. ‘

Al-Maliki in specifying parliament as the body that would have to make any new agreement for US troops to come back to Iraq after that date was implicitly throwing cold water on the hopes of American officials in Washington that they might be able to just have the prime minister extend the warrant for foreign troops to remain in the country.

Nor is there any reason to think that is what al-Maliki would want. A US official in Basra wrote last January that “According to XXXXXXXXXX, the GOI [government of Iraq] is anxious to ‘get rid of all the white faces carrying guns’ in their streets…”

There are not 163 votes in parliament for an extension of the US troop presence, and any move in that direction would likely cause al-Maliki’s government to fall. Muqtada al-Sadr’s followers have 40 seats in parliament and are the leading party in the National Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite fundamentalist parties, who have a total of 70 seats. They would pull out of al-Maliki’s government and likely return to militia activity were he to betray their expectations in that way. Al-Maliki’s own State of Law coalition, including his Islamic Mission Party (Da`wa) is certainly not going to plump for US troops to remain. It has 89 seats. Those two Shiite religious blocs have 159 seats between them. And, among the Sunni Arabs of the Iraqiya, there would certainly be at least 4 who opposed retaining US troops. Voila, 163. No parliamentary approval.

There is substantial doubt and deep-seated suspicion among many Americans that the US is truly getting out. The suspicion is justified, and there are certainly powerful political and military interests in Washington that do not want to leave.

But the likelihood is that the US military mission in Iraq really is rapidly winding down. Sometimes I hear people saying that the US will never abandon its hardened military bases, which are ‘permanent’ or ‘enduring.’ But there are no such things as permanent military bases. I grew up on army bases abroad, and not one of them still exists. In fact, I was among the military dependents forced out of France by DeGaulle in 1965-1966 when he took that country out of the military part of NATO and closed US bases. Kagnew Station in Asmara, Eritrea, where I spent some of my teenaged years, is a dim memory. Bases are usually the result of bilateral agreements, which can be abrogated (viz.: the Philippines).

In fact, the US military has been busily handing over former American or joint American-Iraqi bases to the new Iraqi military, and by August had closed 411 bases. At the web site of the US military in Iraq, where the wind-down is obvious. Just last month, the US announced the transfer of the Al Tib base on the Iranian border to the Iraqis. A base on the Iranian border was an important listening post for observing Iran and it was a significant site for interdicting smuggled weapons from Iran, and some in the US military would certainly have wanted to retain it as long as possible. But they had to turn it over to Iraqi commandos.

The signs of rapid and significant US military draw-down are everywhere. The NYT reported in early December that the number of Iraqis employed by the US military has fallen from 44,000 to only 10,500 since January, 2009. Over the past summer, of 2010, the number of contractors and grantees who are paid directly by the US government in Iraq fell by nearly a fourth.

I am beginning suspect that there really will be no US bases in Iraq a year from now. Some provision will likely be made for American trainers who will need to train Iraqi pilots and other personnel in the use of sophisticated military equipment. But we’re just not talking about a large number of people, perhaps only a few hundred, and they won’t go on military missions. The US Air Force will willy-nilly be Iraq’s air force for some years (Iraq has ordered US fighter jets and helicopter gunships, which will arrive in 2013, and it will take Iraqi pilots years to get up to speed on them). But close air support missions could be run from al-Udeid base in Qatar.

Others worry that the US will exercise political influence over Iraq for years to come. That likely influence is undeniable, but influence is not the same as domination. Iraq will seek a balance between US and Iranian demands, as it has been doing in recent years. Moreover, the wikileaks cables have revealed the remarkable degree to which the US government has been highly influential in, e.g. Australian politics, and if anything the US will have less leverage in Iraq than it does in Australia. No one is arguing that the peculiar, behind-the-scenes sort of American empire is ending with the withdrawal from Iraq. What is ending is George W. Bush’s departure into expensive and anachronistic games of direct imperial domination.

21 Responses

  1. Ft. Kobbe and Ft. Clayton as well as the rest of the post/bases in Panama are other examples of posts and bases closed. And we know they aren’t permanent in the States as well. (another brat who was raised on posts that no longer exist)

  2. [...] in the course of which he insisted that all US troops would be out of Iraq by January 1, 2012: Al-Maliki: US Troops Out! | Informed Comment The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; [...]

  3. “What is ending is George W. Bush’s departure into expensive and anachronistic games of direct imperial domination.”

    Well, maybe as to ONE of the made-up “states” sketched out on the proverbial cocktail napkin by those guys in top hats and diplomatic tails ’round a perfectly varnished conference table what, a hundred years ago? Playing the original game of RISK!, with real, bleedable “men” on the board to be ventured and swept away by random throws of the dice?

    Notagainistan (which may become an actual real nation, or some fraction of the tribes with flags within the arbitrary borders may eventually) might be another story. $7 billion in on-the-books US tax-and-borrow money, a running total of US and “Coalition/NATO figleaf” dead and wounded (link to icasualties.org), continued policies of body-counting (not for public consumption, of course,) the same noise and now, dare one say it, “droning” about “achieving success” and “winning” without either a “goal statement” or “identification of national interest or security threat to the Homeland” or any of those beloved “metrics” by which the Cloud Computers, of the Networked Complicated, Prone-To-Serious-Failure, Grotesquely Expensive To Build And Maintain,Make-Contractors-Grossly-Rich, Incompetently Asymmetric Battlespace, are supposed to report ‘Mission Accomplished.’ And a President WannabeCinC, who either doesn’t Get It, or has motivations that would (maybe will eventually) sicken pundits and historians if they ever become manifest.

    Of course, the jackals could just be tasked with Terminating Maliki With Extreme Prejudice or ginning up a coup a la Diem’s Last Stand, with a New Face who’s now Our Guy to dissolve Parliament and go back to fiat rule. Using, of course the New Iraqi Army, trained up by guys with CIA and School of the Americas creds.

    I have never understood how the most of us can accept the notion that the shortest path to Democracy Among The Wogs is to buy some of them weapons and teach them, not the “right” way or even the “wrong” way, but the “Army way.” And by setting up a national police force that, presto change-o, with a little encouragement from the Great Game players, turns into a state security apparatus of repression and terror. How many examples of the way that invariably turns out does it take to persuade “us” that there’s a number of reasons why Costa Rica (recently invaded by the US military, by the way) is not like the Congo.

    But the thing always to remember is the admonitions of REAL citizen-soldiers, from some of them ancient Roman generals who eschewed picking up the imperial fasces, to of course D.D. Eisenhower (old “military-industrial complex” himself) to Smedley Butler, who turned his back on a long career as a brave but pure-racketeer gunsel to teach us, if we were not so stupid and venal, that “War is nothing but a racket.” Of the worst and most persistent kind.

    Too bad “we” can’t keep in mind all that wisdom, and shed the blinders with the patriotic symbols on them that keep us from (or help us to continue to avoid) seeing the whole complex movement of money-and-materiel and its surrogate, “influence,” that goes along with our guys killing their guys killing our guys (who, what a surprise, there being a fair number of nascent sociopaths even in America the Beautiful who are sprung from their social bonds by the close ranks of The Military, do murder of inoffensive Hajjis and each other, and who rape the US women who for some reason think it is “liberating” to “go to war” as an equally unconstrained “brother in arms,” and of course the Wog women who catch their horny GI eyes when no one else is watching.)

    But one can hope, can’t one? Maybe the next sentient species to top the food chain will do better…

  4. Interesting point.

    However, aren’t the American government actively seeking to double the amount of private military firms in Iraq?

    Is that counted in this argument of yours?

    link to thenation.com

    • I can’t account for what the US government is trying to get the Iraqis to do, only for what it is likely that Baghdad actually will do, and I don’t think they want tens of thousands of white faces with guns. The number of Western contractors in Iraq is actually shrinking dramatically.

      • “The number of Western contractors in Iraq is actually shrinking dramatically.”

        Is there a source for this, because that is a fascinating point.

  5. A truly hopeful analysis. I can only hope we will leave Iraq completely, really leave Iraq, then Afghanistan and Pakistan. American militarism to the point of continual war and occupation must come to an end.

  6. Showing through the darkness of all the terrible news and prospects for the future, this is the one ray of light. And the main point is that the Iraqi people have done this for themselves in spite of our American plans to continue to control their country.

    They were already a strong resilient developed (to a certain extent) country before we came and they have pulled that back together. Fortunately we no longer have the wealth and military strength to keep them under our occupation and domination.

  7. Given that Iraq has become dominated by the Shiites (including Al-Malaki), we could argue that US influence in the country is already at a low ebb.

  8. “What is ending is George W. Bush’s departure into expensive and anachronistic games of direct imperial domination.”

    This is perhaps the most bizarre statement I have read regarding this matter so far. President Bush negotiated the Status of Forces Agreement. Even more peculiar is that the Iraq war a form of “direct imperial domination.” I am at a complete lose to understand how you deduced that deposing a dictator, setting up a democracy, and agreeing with the newly established democracy to leave the country is an act of “direct imperial domination.”

    • George Bush was forced into the SOFA, and made no bones about his opposition to withdrawing from Iraq. He “neotiated” the SOFA in approximately the same way a suspect “negotiates” an agreement to plead guilty.

      This revisionist history in which George Bush was anything but forced out of Iraq isn’t going fool anybody. We all remember “cut and run” and the effort to replace the Saudi bases with Iraqi bases.

      • The entire point of the Iraq War was to create a democracy in the Middle East. The fact that a democratic Iraq does not want American troops stationed on its soil should not surprise anyone. And we do remember “cut and run”. We also remember, “we’ll drawdown when they stand up”. It not that difficult to put those two comments into context.

        The only revisionism is the desperate attempt to frame a withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, as violence drops to its lowest levels since the war, and a national government is formed from democratic elections, as some kind of defeat.

    • What a false pretence of democracy we use.

      If you look back closely US history of last 50 years, it will show whoever supports US interest or more beneficial to US interest, US will support that regime.

      1. For thirty years, US did not even recognize mainland China. When Nixon realized China would be much better business wise, US dumped Democratic Taiwan in favor of communist China. American Embassy moved to Beijing from Taipei.

      2. US toppled democratic governments namely of Guatemala, Chili & Iran to name just a few. Brought dictators those created hell in those countries. Those dictators supported by the USA killed thousands of innocent people. Does USA really care about democracy?

      3. Similarly, dictators were overthrown like Sadam Hussain & Noriega of Panama after they no longer listen to Washington, one in the name of democracy other on drug charges.

      If Maliki goes a little bit too much of course, what Washington likes, any false charges could be labeled against him, just as Bush & company invented WMD, and he will be overthrown covertly or overtly in no time.

      It appears that the mantra of Democracy, democracy, democracy is no more than the fig leaf to fool the world.

  9. How is it that members of the US foreign policy establishment (and, I think, also the military) routinely express their belief/wish that the SOFA agreement will be renegotiated given how complete US withdrawal from Iraq was Obama’s signature campaign promise during the 2008 election? I’m still baffled, frankly, why Obama isn’t himself setting up a big victory parade–this is one “Mission Accomplished” proclamation which can’t later be undone. Or that journalists won’t probe the inconsistency between the stated goals of Obama and Maliki, on the one hand, and the seeming contrary wishes of so many American commentators. What gives?

  10. Yes, DeGalle kicked the US out of France, and there are other examples of the locals asserting themselves. But we have to look at cases. France was, after all, comprised of white people, albeit eccentric and proud people, with none of the white mans burden with which our relationship with Iraq is saddled. Not to mention, France had nothing like Iraq’s oil

    If McCain had won the election, other things being equal, I don’t think any of us would give a nickel for the odds of the SOFA holding. John Yoo or one of his buddies would answer the call and provide whatever ever-so-elegant rationale was needed.

    Obama is apparently be made of sterner stuff, and this alone is what our vacation is premised on. Against his plan (?!), we have to factor in the forces of the neocons/likudniks/etc, that are impressive if by nothing more than their relentlessness: They still have time to do…something… active and provocative, and pressure in some form can still be brought to bear on the big O. As is true in human events generally, when someone really wants to do something they generally find a way…

  11. Juan replies:”….The number of Western contractors in Iraq is actually shrinking dramatically.”

    Your answer may relate to white faces in Iraq, but doesn’t address the equally large question of where, after leaving Iraq, “contractors” are going. A vacation? Back to American unemployment? Across some border where they manage and profit from non-white faced workers remaining in Iraq? The next new, as yet not quite announced war? Or a number of dispersed tiny war-lets. As far as Iraq, fewer white faces can hardly hurt. As far as the US itself, progress depends on whether the total number of contractors and dollar amount of spending is actually decreasing, or whether they remain full speed ahead, slowly but surely drawing the noose tighter on America.

  12. So that is it? We just walk away from Iraq next year and Afghanistan in 3 or 4 or 5 years and say no harm no foul?
    No one did anything wrong. If they did it was neccessary for the national interest. America land of the free home of the brave leader of the free world and all of that. We recover from the our advetures in the ME just like we recovered from our adventures in SEA, by throwing ourselves a big birthday party or something. Say wasnt the war of English reconquest fought at about this time 200 years ago?

  13. If I remember correctly, the SOFA wasn’t approved until after the 2008 election.
    If McCain had won, Iraq could have kicked the US in January 2009.

  14. Dear Prof. Cole,
    The scenario that you outline for Iraq is certainly plausible and it is outcome that is viewed by the US gov’t, and especially the Pentagon, as a strategic defeat for the United States. It is not just neo-conservatives who see things this way. For example, here is Anthony Cordesman, a mainstream figure close to the Pentagon, as quoted in the NY Times:

    “We don’t yet know whether Iraq’s new government will be friendly enough to want a strategic partnership, or stable and effective enough to make one work. … What we do know is that Iraq is far from over its internal problems, and we have not yet won anything in grand strategic terms.”

    “If we don’t maintain strong presence,” [Cordesman] continued, “if the State Department does not have sufficient funding to aid Iraq in improving its economy and governance, if Defense cannot maintain a strong advisory presence and offer aid to Iraq in rebuilding its military forces to the point where it can defend the nation, we throw away any chance at turning what has so far been a tactical victory into one that has any lasting meaning.”

    This passage appears near the end of this article:

    link to nytimes.com iraq&st=cse&scp=1&pagewanted=all

  15. Seems to me there’s a US “embassy” there that cost almost a trillion dollars. Somehow I just can’t see Washington leaving that hardened city-within-a-city empty.

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