Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Iraq: Three-Dimensional Chess in the Dark

Our future in Iraq is being settled, but no one there or here knows all the details or approves of what they do know.

The status of forces agreement (SOFA) will establish principles for a continued US military presence in Iraq beyond the expiration of the UN mandate at the end of this year, but as a July deadline approaches, the end game is as murky and confused as the start of it all.

"We have reached an impasse," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said last weekend, "because when we opened these negotiations we did not realize that the US demands would so deeply affect Iraqi sovereignty and this is something we can never accept."

Back here, Congressman Bill Delahut, Chairman of a key House Subcommittee, is complaining that “Congress has received, to be polite, minimal information from the Bush administration on the agreement.”

Last summer Andrew Cordesman described Iraq as 'three-dimensional chess in the dark while someone is shooting at you." Now the shooting has subsided somewhat, but no one has turned the lights on.

One of the fascinating side shows is reflected in an OpEd in yesterday's New York Times: "With only perfunctory debate, the Bush administration is pressuring a divided Iraqi government to approve a security agreement that could haunt Washington’s relations with Baghdad for years to come.

"The 'strategic alliance' that President Bush is proposing eerily resembles, in spirit and in letter, a failed 1930 treaty between Britain and Iraq that prompted a nationalist eruption in Baghdad, a pro-Nazi military coup and a pogrom that foreshadowed the elimination of Baghdad’s ancient Jewish community."

This conclusion is based on the arguments of Ayad Allawi, the first prime minister after our occupation, backed by the CIA and now in exile agitating against al-Maliki with the help of very expensive Republican lobbyists in Washington

Today Thomas Friedman observes that the reconciliation process "has not reached a point where Iraq’s stability is self-sustaining. And Tuesday’s bombing in Baghdad, which killed more than 50 people at a bus stop in a Shiite neighborhood, only underscores that. The U.S. military is still needed as referee. It still is not clear that Iraq is a country that can be held together by anything other than an iron fist. It’s still not clear that its government is anything more than a collection of sectarian fiefs."

In fact, nothing about Iraq is clear other than it was huge blunder for the US to get in and it will be an unholy mess getting out.

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