Baghdad Furious over Secret US contact with Guerrillas; Iraq may Retain US Trainers beyond 2011

I have been saying for some time that the US military presence in Iraq is highly unlikely to completely end at the close of 2011. I think the important thing is that the combat troops will be out and that the tiny number who remain will mainly be trainers of Iraqi troops; there will likely continue to be some Air Force personnel, since the US will be Iraq’s Air Force until about 2018 at least.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said as much in Washington on Thursday. Aljazeera English has video:

The headlines this admission generated in US news sources about ‘US troops may stay’ are a little puzzling to me, and seem actually sensational. What al-Maliki explicitly said was that Iraq may ask for a handful of trainers to stay. He is not saying that the US military will be rolling tanks in Iraqi cities in 2012.

Of course, it is possible that the Sadrists and the Sunni Arabs will ally to force all US troops out on the short timetable. Both could strengthen their positions in parliament in the January 2010 elections, and they may be able to appeal to Iraqi nationalism to get a resolution through forbidding the sort of thing of which al-Maliki spoke.

It is also possible that the Obama administration just won’t be interested in a further US military presence in Iraq, what with having Afghanistan on its plate, which is quite enough.

In case the nationalist Iraqi forces did forestall al-Maliki or his successor from such a step, the training would just shift offshore, maybe to Jordan (where a lot of Iraqi officers and police have been trained anyway in recent years). And the US Air Force support for Iraqi troops who get into trouble with local militias can be provided from air bases outside Iraq.

Either way, what al-Maliki said is not a story.

What is a story is the revelation that US officials met in Turkey this spring twice with representatives of an umbrella group of Sunni Arab guerrillas from Iraq. The guerrillas were disappointed that a third meeting was not held and so leaked the news of the first two. They appear to think that Iran ordered al-Maliki to order the US to stay away from them.

Al-Maliki would not have needed any orders from Tehran. He has steadfastly resisted American requests that he reach out to the Sunni Arab guerrillas himself. He dismisses them as Baathists and murderers. The Iraqi government is asking the US sharp questions about why they were having these meetings without informing Baghdad!

This sort of thing is the reason I suspect that al-Maliki won’t actually be likely to ask, or be in a domestic position to ask, for US troops to remain in any numbers. In fact, he surely was sorry he was so accommodating to Washington during the visit, despite his desperate desire for US corporate investment in Iraq.

The USG Open Source Center translated a discussion of al-Maliki’s visit on al-Alam TV (an Iranian channel broadcasting in Arabic) among a pro-Maliki Iraqi analyst, an anti-Maliki observer, and US Rep. Dennis Kucinich, which gives a sense of how furious Baghdad really is over the secret US talks with the guerrillas:

FYI — Iranian Al-Alam TV Program Discusses Iraq, US Relations, Pacts
Al-Alam Television
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Document Type: OSC Summary . . .

Tehran Al-Alam TV in Arabic, in its “With the Event” program at 1735 GMT on 23 July . . . interviewed in the studio Jawad Talib, a political analyst; Hazim al-Shammari, an Iraqi academic, live from Baghdad; US Senator Dennis Kucinich, a congressman, live from Washington and Munir al-Ma’wi, a political analyst, live from Washington. . .

Central to the discussion was what was referred to in the program as a “bombshell” caused by news of a pact allegedly signed between the CIA and armed groups in Iraq. The program debated the significance of the such news and the implications on Iraqi-US relations, particularly the impact this has on the security pact between the two countries.

Talib defended Al-Maliki’s government and said the CIA wanted to put pressure on Al-Maliki whilst on a visit to Washington. “They are twisting Maliki’s arm,” he said. It was completely inappropriate the way the news was made public, especially given Maliki’s presence in Washington.

Al-Shammari agreed and said the alleged deal between the CIA and the armed groups was outside the security pact between the US and Iraq and that this was a “blow” to the new ties between the two countries. He said contacts between the armed groups and the US were known for a long time, but this was a new development. Shammari anticipated huge confusion to ensue as a result. Shammari also spoke of various “wings” within the US Administration, each pushing towards certain goals and each working in “secrecy”. Concluding, he said this US Administration was not so different from the previous one.

Senator Kucinich said he was unaware of the alleged deal between the CIA and the armed groups. He said the US was sincere in its plans to pull out of Iraq.

Al-Ma’wi urged everyone to focus on the success of Maliki’s visit, insisting that the news of the alleged deal was a side issue. He said he was confident that the US sought stability in Iraq and that whatever happens would fall within this context.

About removing Iraq from under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Kucinich said the US was trying to talk with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to resolve this matter. He said Iran too wanted reparations from Iraq. The programme moderator, in response to this last comment, said Iran was not against taking Iraq out of Chapter VII.

Talib said such news would surely undermine Maliki’s visit. “If I were him (Maliki) I would have cut the visit short,” said Talib. There is a security pact signed with a superpower, the ink of which is not yet dry, only for the CIA to come and make another pact with the armed groups. Talib asked: How is this possible?

Munir again said this was a side issue and the focus must be on the achievements of the visit. He disagreed with Talib about cutting the visit short and thought the suggestion to be irrational.

Al-Shammari said Maliki went to Washington to seek strength, but he would now return weakened. This would be a “triumph” for some Kurdish leaderships in Kurdistan. The US can actually order the removal of Chapter VII. They are not honest about this issue, Shammari said.

Talib disagreed and said Maliki did not go to Washington to seek strength. On the contrary, he said. Maliki gave the US clear signs that Iraq was becoming stronger and was capable of running its affairs. As for Chapter VII, the US wants to twist Maliki’s arm. They want to tell Maliki that he has to achieve reconciliation in Iraq, including the Ba’thists. There are other regional powers who are seeking the return of the Ba’thists, said Talib. The other issue is the issue of Kirkuk. The US is playing a game, Talib said.

Munir said the US was seeking national reconciliation in Iraq. But that would entail the participation of the Ba’thists, said Munir. I agree, regional powers want the Ba’thists to return.

The “US Administration is not an angel. It is the biggest Satan,” said Shammari, who anticipated an Iraqi-US conflict in the time to come.

The security pact between the US and Iraq was a cover-up for more serious issues, said Talib. Chapter VII is used as a card against Al-Maliki’s government, he said. The US wants to keep the situation tense. They want to weaken Al-Maliki and they want to “abort” the next elections, said Talib.

(Description of Source: Tehran Al-Alam Television in Arabic — IRIB’s 24-hour Arabic news channel, targetting a pan-Arab audience)’

Al-Maliki also admitted that the Arab-Kurdish conflict over the future of Kirkuk province poses a particular danger to Iraq and needs to be resolved.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports in Arabic that al-Maliki said that he would resume negotiations with the Kurdish leadership after this weekend’s elections in the Kurdistan Regional Government.

It is likely that incumbent Massoud Barzani will be returned as president, and he says he is not interested in negotations. He insists that there will be no compromise, and demands that the referendum in Kirkuk agreed-to in the Iraqi constitution be held. The United Nations has warned against holding the referendum on the grounds that it likely would kick off a civil war among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen over Kirkuk.

End/ (Not Continued)

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