Iraq between Accelerated Withdrawal and bringing US Troops back In

Today’s story about Iraq is a story of conflict between Gen. Ray Odierno and the Iraqi parliament. Elements in the cabinet and the parliament put pressure on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki not only to put the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the US to a referendum on Jan. 15, but also to allow Iraqis to vote on whether all US troops should leave by the end of 2011, or whether that timetable should be moved up so that they are out by the end of 2010. (I am just speculating, but I wonder if this measure was pushed by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which is close to the ayatollahs in Tehran, who in turn may want to speed up the US withdrawal because they have become afraid of a ‘color revolution’ in Iran promoted by the US. Staging such things from neighboring Iraq would be easier than doing it from a greater distance . . .)

Gen. Odierno has repeatedly given interviews in which he questioned the timetable set out in the SOFA. Indeed, he wants to bring US troops back up to Mosul and Kirkuk to do joint patrols with Iraqi army troops and with the Peshmerga, the Kurdistan national guard. This step would be a reversal of the decision to have US troops cease patrolling in the major cities. It is aimed at intercepting attacks planned by radical fundamentalist cells in Mosul targeting heterodox Kurdish groups, which aim at polarizing the population with regard to ethnic and religious sensibilities– setting Kurd against Arab and Sunni against non-Sunni. Theoretically, the plan would need Iraqi parliamentary approval, but they won’t be back in session until after the fasting month of Ramadan ends around 20 September.

So Iraq moved in two directions on Monday. The cabinet moved to contemplating a hastier US exit. The American military commander moved to undo a clause of the SOFA and bring US troops back in to a volatile situation in the north.

One of these two moves is a dead end. We’ll know which by late January.

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