Iraq has marked three milestones this fall. The formal military mission of US troops was ended by President Obama on August 31, and while about 50,000 troops remain, some of them occasionally engaged in combat at the invitation of the Iraqi government, there are no large US military campaigns. The remaining 50,000 troops are scheduled to be out of the country on December 31, 2011, and newly reinstalled prime minister Nuri al-Maliki is insisting that the deadline will be met. While many Americans are skeptical that the withdrawal will take place on time, so far it has been running according to schedule. And it should be remembered that US foot-dragging could revive the Mahdi Army and other anti-American militias, who will not put up with a long-term US military presence in their country. As the number of US troops shrinks, they become more vulnerable to militia attack.
Second, last week the United Nations Security Council removed Chapter 7 restrictions on Iraq, which had established the ‘food for oil’ program that restricted Iraqi petroleum exports and forbade it to have even civilian nuclear energy. Iraq had been in a kind of UN receivership, but as of July 2011 will again become a fully sovereign nation in the law.
Third, Iraq finally formed a new government of national unity, headed by incumbent prime minister Nuri al-Maliki The new government is from the point of view of the US and Saudi Arabia too close to Iran (and it is in fact a result of Iranian intervention in Iraqi political affairs, since Iran convinced the Iraqi Shiites to cooperate with one another, creating momentum for Nuri al-Maliki to gain a second term).
However unsatisfactory the situation from Washington’s perspective, these three pieces of good news are important to Americans because they mean that the troops really can and likely will come home now. A long national nightmare is coming to an end. Iraq has been Lebanonized and will likely be fragile for years, with occasional bombings and attacks. But it can now muddle through on its own.
Moreover, a successful US withdrawal from Iraq– and the US Left has a responsibility to hold Washington’s feet to the fire about implementing it– could herald a similar ultimate military disengagement from Afghanistan and a winding down of the National Security State of perpetual war that so profoundly threatens our democracy, as John Mearsheimer has argued.
Al-Hayat writing in Arabic that the Iraqi parliament on Tuesday approved the incomplete cabinet presented to it by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, over nine months after the March 7 election. Al-Maliki postponed presenting the new government for one day because the Iraqiya Party and the Kurdistan Alliance had, because of internal squabbles, neglected to put forward the names of their candidates for ministerial posts.
On Tuesday, 279 members of parliament attended, out of 325. They voted unanimously to appoint al-Maliki prime minister, as well as acting minister of the ministries of Interior, Defense and National Security, until such time as he named heads of those ministries. The parliament voted by big majorities to confirm Roz Nouri Shawis, of the Kurdistan Alliance, as on of three vice-premiers. Former oil minister Husain Shahristani, a Shiite, was made a vice premier for energy eissues. Then therewas Salih Mutlak. Mutlak had been forbidden from running for parliament because of suspicions that he is still close to the old Baath Party, but he was reinstated last week and now elevated to high office. Al-Maliki was clearly attempting to mollify the Sunni Arabs of the Iraqiya Party, to which Mutlak belongs.
Houshyar Zebari, from the Kurdistan Alliance, retained the post of foreign minister, which Mutlak had wanted. Zebari was also made acting minister of state for women’s affairs. Raafi al-Isawi, a Sunni Arab, became minister of finance. Abd al-Karim Luaibi, a technocrat from an Shiite Arab background, became minister of petroleum. Ali al-Adib, a prominent member of the prime minister’s party, the Islamic Mission Party (Da’wa), became minister of higher education. Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Badr Corps militia and close to Iran, became minister of transportation. A complete guide to the new cabinet is here.
The Ahrar or Free Party, made up of Sadrists who follow anti-American, puritan cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, received only 3 of the cabinet posts, none of them very important, despite their support for al-Maliki from September, under Iranian influence. The US is said to have lobbied to marginalize the Sadrists in the new government. Even if they have few cabinet posts, however, the Sadrists are powerful in civil society and are attempting to impose a puritanical social order
When al-Maliki was challenged on why so many of the cabinet seats remained unfilled, he replied, according to al-Hayat, “Because of the lack of women candidates for some of the cabinet posts, and the existence of some candidates whos political parties did not provide any information about them.”
Two women among the members of parliament protested the lack of female cabinet ministers in the current line-up.
Al-Maliki promised a rule of law and a government of institutions, not of individuals, and a strict adherence to the constitution. He emphasized these elements of rule because, as Liz Sly points out in WaPo, al-Maliki has been accused by his opponents of aspiring to be a soft strong man who has sought to get control of the officer corps and the security agencies.