Republicans vote Down Webb Plan for Troops; Al-Maliki Accuses Blackwater

Iraqi guerrillas killed four US troops on Tuesday.

Republican senators succeeded in blocking the Webb plan to give US troops off as much time between deployments as they spent in Iraq. The Bush administration managed successfully to lobby Senate Republicans to defeat the measure, which would have resulted in a reduction of the number of US forces in the field (or a big increase in the use of National Guard units). The Dems needed 60 in the Senate to get a consensus, and could only muster 56. They could not, in any case, have over-ridden a presidential veto, which veto Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had urged on W.

This sort of outcome underlines my point last week that the Democrats in Congress are unlikely to be able to force significant troop drawdowns before Bush goes out of office. See below for an important argument that at least they should try to mandate preparations for troop withdrawals (preparations that appear not to have been made, much to the annoyance of a lot of endangered Americans in Iraq, including those in the Green Zone). I know some readers favor a sort of Democratic Gingrichism, using power over the budget to shut down the Defense Department, but realistically speaking such a strategy would likely boomerang big time and might well cost the Democrats the next election. The Republicans would blame every American death in Iraq on them from now to the election, on grounds of their ‘irresponsibility.’ They would be accused of being allies of ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq,’ helping kill US troops by defunding them in the face of a vicious enemy. Sitting Democrats in Congress are just not going to go this route, folks, and if they did they likely wouldn’t be sitting there much longer. (All of the House of Representatives has to face the voters every two years!) I don’t know why proponents of this tactic don’t recognize that the war will actually be much prolonged if the Democrats act in ways that may rehabilitate the electoral chances of the Republicans in ’08. At the least, it is a chance that has to be taken into serious account.

My guess is, the Republicans will go on standing up for an increasingly unpopular war until November, ’08 and will take a bath. And then the new Democratic administration will swiftly move to draw down the troops, with most out by the end of 2009. This scenario contains extreme dangers for the Democrats, since 2010 could then be a very, uh, interesting year in the Middle East.

McClatchy reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has suspended the license of Blackwater to operate in Iraq while it is under investigation for recklessly killing civilians. Al-Maliki pointed to seven discrete incidents. An aide said that the Americans seemed shocked that the Iraqis were making a stand on the issue. Apparently sympathy with Iraqis about their innocent civilians being shot up by cowboys hired by a private American firm is not widespread in the Green Zone.

One experienced reader wrote me that the Iraqi government stance is reasonable, that foreign security guards should be accountable in some legal system. If Iraq cannot try them (by virtue of a fiat issued by American Viceroy Paul Bremer), and if they are not all Americans and so can’t all be tried in US domestic courts, then they are essentially operating beyond the reach of any court of law. That situation is unacceptable to anyone who cares about the rule of law.

By the way, complaints about the immunity of foreigners to prosecution in local courts (called ‘extra-territoriality’ by historians) were among the grievances that fueled the Khomeini movement in Iran from the 1960s (servicemen on bases in Iran had such immunity, and Khomeini used the unpopularity of this injury to national sovereignty to whip up anti-American sentiment). Paul Bremer and Donald Rumsfeld appear not to have learned any lessons from all that.

The US Congress may attempt to intervene by passing legislation on accountability for private US firms operating in Iraq. There are some 180,000 private individual contractors in Iraq, mostly working for US firms or subcontracting from the US government.

In Wednesday’s violence, there was a significant firefight between guerrillas and the Iraqi military in Mosul, car bombs in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Muqdadiya, and assorted other mayhem.

“LUKoil will have an advantage in a new tender for the West Qurna-2 field in Iraq, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said, Interfax reported Wednesday. LUKoil’s investments and work at the field will be taken into consideration should the oil producer bid, Zebari said, Interfax reported. “

That’s why Americans are dying in Iraq?

The Iranians have released Kian Tajbakhsh from prison.

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