Sadrists to Demonstrate in Baghdad against US Troops Remaining

One of the major consequences of the September 11 attacks ten years ago was that members of the Bush administration decided to “take advantage” of the resulting passions to pursue their long-planned vendetta against the government of Saddam Hussein. There followed the greatest US foreign policy disaster since the British occupied Washington, DC and burned the White House in 1814. I opposed the Bush invasion and occupation, since it violated the UN Charter, and I warned that “I have a bad feeling about this,” quoting Harrison Ford’s character in Star Wars. I warned that it would be seen as neo-imperialism, would revivify al-Qaeda, would throw the Shiites into the arms of Iran and would anger Turkey with regard to the Kurdistan Regional Government. Now, the US has an opportunity finally to extricate itself from the nightmare, but powerful forces in Washington are trying to ensure that the US keeps a significant troop presence in Iraq.

The number of US troops there is likely to be so small, however, that we risk a major attack on them, which could pull the US right back into Iraq. The only way to avoid this scenario is to get out altogether.

The Muqtada al-Sadr nativist Shiite movement in Iraq is planning a huge demonstration in downtown Baghdad on Friday, in favor of three demands. The first is that the Iraqi government announce an immediate jobs program that would put 50,000 Iraqis to work, from all ethnicities and religious groups. The second is that the Iraqi government give each Iraqi a royalty payment on Iraqi oil profits (ironically a suggestion once made by US viceroy in Iraq, Paul “Jerry” Bremer and modeled on a program in Alaska). The third is that there be no US troops at all in Iraq by the end of the year or earlier.

The Sadrists not only have a proven ability to put a lot of people in the streets, but their some 40 seats in parliament are key to the governing coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, so that he ignores them to his peril. The Iraqi constitution allows for parliament to call for a vote of no confidence if 50 MPs sign off on it, and rivals of al-Maliki such as Ayad Allawi have been calling for early elections.

The Sadrists’ Tahrir-style demonstration is intended to forestall any backpedaling by the Iraqi government on the issue of keeping US troops in the country after the end of this year.

It is therefore a special provocation that the US State Department now uses the phrase “formal negotiations” for its discussions with the Iraqi government of al-Maliki about the possibility of some 3000 US troops remaining in Iraq after December 31. Previously the terminology was simply “informal discussions.” But US ambassador Jim Jeffrey now feels that there is enough of a consensus among the Iraqi political leadership on the desirability of some US troops remaining that it is legitimate to talk about negotiations.

This terminological upgrade follows on a controversy in Washington that broke out Tuesday when Fox Cable News reported that President Obama had over-ruled his generals and opted for keeping only 3000 US troops in Iraq after December 31.

The report brought howls of outrage from Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who say they want to keep 25,000 troops in Iraq. I am not sure why McCain and Graham believe that this decision is their own. The only legal document governing this issue is a Status of Forces Agreement signed by the Iraqi parliament and the Bush White House in late 2008, which stipulates that there must be no US troops in Iraq at all by December 31 of this year.

Al-Maliki is on record as saying that the SOFA cannot be amended. Rather, a new SOFA would have to be negotiated and approved by parliament, which might bring US troops back into the country. Personally, I am doubtful that if the issue goes to parliament, a US troop presence can be approved. The Kurds would want it, and maybe some members of al-Maliki’s coalition, and a few members of the Iraqiya List (now largely Sunni Arab in character). But I doubt the plan could get 163 votes or a majority in parliament.

The only way it could be done would be for the cabinet to make the decision and sidestep parliament. Then the Kurds, Allawi’s Iraqiya and al-Maliki could push it through if they wanted to. But al-Maliki has repeatedly said that the matter would have to go to parliament. Until he reneges on that commitment, my guess is that the plan is doomed.

Another possibility would be to reclassify US troops as trainers. This step would be legitimate insofar as Iraq has ordered a lot of military equipment, especially planes and helicopters, from the US, on which Iraqi crews will need substantial training.

But any way such a decision were made would provoke a backlash from the Sadrists, who have threatened to take back up arms if there are US troops in the country in 2012, and from nationalist or fundamentalist Sunnis. As Tom Ricks, among our most experienced Iraq correspondents, points out, 3,000 US troops aren’t troops, they are hostages waiting to be taken.

McCain and Lindsey play the Iran card in arguing for keeping a division in Iraq, saying that otherwise Iran will take over. But this argument is, as usual with Republican politicians regarding Iraq, a bewilderingly uninformed one. The US presided over the destruction of a Sunni-dominated secular Arab nationalist regime and the installation of a government led by fundamentalist Shiites, many of whom had lived in exile in Iran and had excellent relations with Tehran. That cow is out of the barn, and the presence of US troops is unlikely to be relevant to the budding Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus axis, which is a political reality.

Iraq’s parliamentary system regularly produces hung parliaments and governments can only be formed with outside mediation. The US played that role in 2005, but Iran played it in 2010, by pressuring Muqtada al-Sadr to join a governing coalition with his enemy, al-Maliki. Al-Maliki is thus beholden to both Sadr and to Iran politically, and has been pushed toward Tehran by the Sunni crackdown on the Shiites of Bahrain and the prospect of a Sunni overthrow of the Shiite-dominated Baath Party in Syria. That is, the Arab Spring has finally produced that Shiite crescent of which the Sunni Arab monarchs began being afraid in 2004. Nothing Washington does is likely to change this new and consolidating alignment. And it is this alignment that makes a long-term US troop presence so unlikely, since none of the regional principals want it. But were some US troops to stay, they would be in constant danger and if they were hit, it could provoke the Third American-Iraqi War.

Posted in Iraq | 20 Responses | Print |

20 Responses

  1. US troops in Iraq do serve as a deterrent capability in that they are sitting ducks for Iranian missiles in the event of a Israel/US attack on Iran :)

    • That’s what Qadafi thought. He tried firing his long range SCUDS and without exception, each one of them was successfully intercepted by NATO’s anti-missile missile defenses.

      Iran doesn’t even have the technology to produce something as simple as a PC motherboard, or secondary chips. There is no way Iran can compete with the US in military technology.

      Besides, neither Israel nor US want to or will attack the Iranian people or its infrastructure. An attack on an illegal weapons-grade uranium enrichment facility is not an attack on Iran. A decisive majority of Iranians actually will support that.

  2. “And it is this [Shiite] alignment that makes a long-term US troop presence so unlikely, since none of the regional principals want it.”

    This is certain true over the long term. But you have to wonder if Iran would really object if, over the short run, the US keeps 3000 troups based in Iraq. Suppose that this putative force of 3000 is as vulnerable as Ricks suggests. Then Iran might regard them as useful hostages whose presence makes it that much more complicated and difficult for the US or Israel to launch an attack.

    • Surely you jest. It is more likely that Washington’s sociopathic political class and their neocon ‘familiars’ are looking down the road to position these hapless soldiers as “tripwire” troops, precisely as we were positioned in Germany during the 50s, 60s and 70s, to ensure a sufficient number of Americans soldiers would be overun and killed in the advent of hostilities that the American public back home in the ‘stands’ would demand a massive retaliation – i.e. lots of ‘helter-skelter’ political perks and tasty weapons spending. Precisely the same situation as in South Korea today – but with a tad more troops. Also, this is a classic setup rife for False Flag mischief and manipulation from Israel or whomever.

  3. How about this:

    1. Remove all U.S. troops from Iraq.

    2. Malaki gives the Defense portfolio to the Sadrist party.

    3. Let them decide – based on the reality of the Iraqi military’s needs – whether a small number of U.S. troops engaged in training and liaison work is a good idea. I suspect that, after a couple of months of actually having to deal with the realities of running the military and military bureaucracy, the merits of inviting a few hundred specialized American troops back in would become apparent.

  4. “One of the major consequences of the September 11 attacks ten years ago was that members of the Bush administration decided to “take advantage” of the resulting passions to pursue their long-planned vendetta against the government of Saddam Hussein.”

    This comment is, to me, one of the most significant expressed by anyone who is prominent in the media in a long time. I have long believed that the Bush family for personal reasons have wanted to eliminate Saddam. And using the intellectual cover of the neoconservative loony idiots began to push for an invasion of Iraq within days, if not hours, after the 9/11 attacks. To have you express this Juan is lovely, because it is now in the public market place.

    The more Americans realize we went into Iraq because of one family’s personal vendetta, the more we are free to give up our ridiculous Islamophobia and return to a sane view of the world, and began to make some progress out of our current crisis.

    • I agree with your sentiments here, but one correction, please. The Bush people started pushing hard to invade Iraq immediately after the inauguration. They weren’t requiring a 9/11 as an excuse, though they did get the excuse later.

  5. “The Muqtada al-Sadr … three demands. The first is that the Iraqi government announce an immediate jobs program that would put 50,000 Iraqis to work, from all ethnicities and religious groups.”

    This man is smarter than the US Congress.

    • That really isn’t too difficult. The US currently has a Congress with an intellect that would be an embarrassment to even a minor African state.

  6. It will be interesting to see how the planned protests are portrayed in the US media. I wonder if the demand that US troops leave or the existing SOFA will be mentioned. My bet is that it will be “Pro- Iran Shiite Extremists” and that they hate us because we’re beautiful or something to that effect.

  7. Perhaps the hope of attacks against our troops is what neocons and others in our Government want. How quickly could we send reinforcements in support of our beleaguered troops and use the attack to reinsert permanent garrisons. I suspect Iran knows this scenario though, and would suppress any attempted attacks even if the US attempts some provocation.

  8. If USA were rational about its own well-stated problems (over-spending, over-borrowing) and its “ally”-‘s demand (and actual agreement), we’d get outta Iraq by 12/31 (perhaps leaving behind much expensive military equipment, etc. (As Gaddafi has done in abandoning Libya) and making a mockery of the world’s largest USA embassy.

    If soldiers are a “jobs” program, bring ’em home and let them repair bridges in Vermont and damage in Louisiana from earlier hurricanes.

    But USA is not rational — the leaders have a dream, a wonderful dream of a vast military empire, infinite money available to pay its extremely high costs, no necessity to justify either its costs or its existence (other than national macho pride for the USA’s militants).

    No arguing with dreams.

    • And the strategic doctrine boils down to “we’re there because we’re there because we’re there, we’re there because we’re there because we’re there!” to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.”

      Economically, it resolves down to “suckers working hard and paying taxes to fund our infinitely expensive war-gamery in the magical mystery Networked Battlespace.”

      And tactically, it’s even simpler, and so consonant with the fundamentals of human behavior: “We kill some of them so they kill some of us so we kill some of them so they kill some of us so we kill some of them so they kill some of us,” with the body count never coming out even because by definition it is an irrational number. link to

  9. If the Syrian government is overthrown, the Shiite crescent will wither and die. Syria is Hizbullah’s lifeline to Iran. And the Iranian secularists will ultimately win out. Afterwards, politicized Shiism in Iraq will crumble and secularism will win out, and return to some semblance of 60’s era secular nationalism. The truth is, Shiism is distasteful to the majority of residents of the Middle East, Arab or otherwise.

    Bahrain, like most of the Gulf is culturally irrelevant to the Arab and Islamic world. Minus the oil the Gulf Arabs have nothing to offer either the Iranians or the remainder of the Arab world, ex genera, Damascus, Cairo, Baghdad.

    To wit, the persistent constructive forces in Islamic history have been Sunni in religious bent and various in ethnicity, eg, Abu Hanifa (Sunni Iranian), Mehmet the Conqueror (Sunni Turk), Abu Jafar Al-Mansour (Sunni Arab).

    Safavid Shiites (Iran was forcibly made Shiite–the forgotten origin of the modern Iranians distaste for religion) and the Gulf Arabs, essentially, are the anti-thesis of the majoritarian history of the region. They had little to no constructive part in Islamic history.

    The same is true of Najd and her cohorts, Ibn Abdul-Wahhab and Al-Saud.

    • Mohammed, I suggest to you that the Shite / Sunni divide stems from a tribal consciousness perspective. And the Arab Spring stems from a internal desire in Arabs to finally discard tribalism. So in the post Arab Spring environment, the Shite / Sunni relationship will in time be like the Methodist / Baptist relationship: recognized differences, but assumed to be minor in the tent of Christianity.

      • It is not what you suggest.

        The Safavid Shiites include a large segment of Iranians, who are not Arabs at all; they are Aryans. The Safavid dynasty was in fact a tribe of Turks, neither Aryan nor Arab, ruling over Iran.

        Tribalism is not as important as the Orientalists have convinced the West is is. Tribalism is true in some places, not others. It isn’t true or at least, far less relevant in urban areas, eg, Damascus, Cairo.

        True “tribes” live, with great relevance, in the Gulf, the South of Iraq and interspersed in the rest of the Arab world.

      • Warren, I would suggest to you that the shia Sunni devide is rooted more in the fundamentals of the religion i.e. Shia rejection of the legitimacy of the first 3 caliphs (abu bakr, Omar and Othman may Allah be pleased with them) as well as their rejection of a’isha may Allah be pleased with her.

      • @Warren – Mohammed is right, tribalism has nothing to with the Sunni/Shia divide. Tribal divisions, irrespective of ethnicity, are almost always based on territory.

        The Sunni/Shia differences are theological & juridical, they’re closer to the schism between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Sunni & Shia Muslims have a long history of sectarian violence (see Battle of Kerbala), as do Catholic & Orthodox Christians (see Fourth Crusade sacking of Constantinople).

        @Mohammed, I’m sure you know that there’s no such thing as Safavid Shiism. The Safavids imposed Twelver Shiism on the Iranians in the 16th century CE. The Twelver sect of Shiism is anchored in the Iraqi holy shrine cities of Najaf and Kerbala, which were founded the 7th-8th century’s CE.

        The Fatamid Caliphate were of the Ismaili Shiite sect, they founded of Cairo and ruled North Africa & the Levant between the 10th & 12th century’s CE, .

        The enmity between Arabs & Iranians goes back to Cyrus the Great and beyond, pre-dating Christianity by about 600 years & Islam by 1,200 years.

        The Arab Spring isn’t about tribalism nor is it about sectarianism, its about overthrowing absolute rulers (dictators and hopefully a few kings)

  10. It’s surprising the Sadr’s #2 demand, that Iraqis receive a direct stipend from oil sales, which is the most significant by far of the 3 demands, did not elicit any discussions here.

    I wonder what Juan’s take is on that.

    Ahmadinejad has instituted such royalty payment, which I believe amounts to $40/mo for each adult Iranian.

    Such a policy would have direct material impact on the lives of millions, as opposed to feel-good ideological or nationalist policies demanded by Sadr or other political players.

    If Iraq allocates 40% of its oil income (assumed to be $90/b based on a $100 oil price) to each adult Iraqi, that will amount to approx. $300/adult/mo for Iraqis. Or about $1,200 for each family.

    The impact of this policy in addressing issues of poverty, unemployment, and social assistance is earthshaking and positive.

    It will also transfer the decision making nexus for 40% of oil income from an overbloated underproductive and corruption ridden bureaucracy, to a democratic level where each Iraqi can decide how to best utilize that resource.

    I simply fail to see the down side of such a policy, as it will also prompt the movement of unproductive and graft laden government workers to more productive industrial or service activities.

    The remaining 60% of oil income would be more than sufficient for government infrastructure programs. Service fees can be instituted for those that put an inordinate demand on government services.

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