Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We’re Half-Awake In a Fake Empire

On Sunday night, the US military conducted airstrikes in Syrian territory - ostensibly targeting hubs used to facilitate the passage of foreign fighters into Iraq, and possibly to target AQI personnel. Although initially, certain members of the Iraqi government seemed to sign off on the operation, today, the Iraqi government issued a forceful condemnation:

Iraq's government denounced on Tuesday a U.S. air strike on a Syrian border village in an unexpected rebuke of Washington.

"The Iraqi government rejects U.S. aircraft bombarding posts inside Syria. The constitution does not allow Iraq to be used as a staging ground to attack neighboring countries," spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

The Bush administration chose an interesting time to go ahead with this cross-border attack, as such aggressive actions could severely compromise the already problematic negotiations over the status of forces agreement (SOFA), with autonomy over military operations within, and launched from, Iraq's borders being an issue of contention (the SOFA has been discussed in prior posts, most recently here and here). The article alludes to the delicacy of the situation:

The criticism of the United States was announced after a cabinet meeting to discuss a security pact to allow U.S. forces to stay in Iraq.

The pact has so far been blocked mainly by Shi'ite political parties, and one of their main complaints has been that the accord might allow U.S. troops to use Iraq as a base to attack neighboring countries.

It's not just the Shiite political parties that oppose the current draft, however. The Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), one of the main Sunni political parties as led by Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, has also come out in opposition to the SOFA in its current form. Meanwhile, Maliki's spokesman has indicated that he will not sign the current draft, and as discussed last week, Robert Gates has stated that this is the final offer:

"The problem is that when we were given the latest draft, we were told the American negotiators will accept no amendments to it, and the Iraqi government has more requirements," said Sagheer, an Islamic cleric who later led the Friday prayers broadcast on national television.

He said that Maliki had come to the Political Council for National Security, a top decision-making body, and said the new accord was the best he could obtain, but it didn't include everything that Iraq wanted.

If Maliki signed the accord and turned it over to the parliament, "I'm sure that the agreement will not be approved for 10 years," Sagheer said.

Swopa takes the view that Maliki et al are simply trying to squeeze the best possible deal out of the Bush administration, and has been employing classic negotiating tactics (especically effective given the Bush administration's obvious agenda):

Isn’t that a classic haggling technique in any society? Let the other side know you’re oh-so-close to a deal, encourage them to make a few concessions to close the gap… and just as they do and reach for the pen, pull back and say, “Wait, there’s one more thing you need to agree to.”

You’d almost think they’re having fun toying with the Bushites at this point.

Certainly a possibility. Along these lines, Aswat al-Iraq is reporting that the Iraqi cabinet has made major changes to the SOFA and will resubmit the revised version to their American counterparts. We'll see if Gates was bluffing, or holding firm. To counter Maliki's tactics, the Bush administration has, for the first time that I can recall, attempted to use a bit of leverage itself. Crude, but perhaps effective - reminscent of the "take all my toys and go home" schoolyard gambit:

The U.S. military has warned Iraq that it will shut down military operations and other vital services throughout the country on Jan. 1 if the Iraqi government doesn't agree to a new agreement on the status of U.S. forces or a renewed United Nations mandate for the American mission in Iraq.

Many Iraqi politicians view the move as akin to political blackmail, a top Iraqi official told McClatchy Newspapers on Sunday.

In addition to halting all military actions, U.S. forces would cease activities that support Iraq's economy, educational sector and other areas - "everything" - said Tariq al-Hashimi, the country's Sunni Muslim vice president. "I didn't know the Americans are rendering such wide-scale services."

On the other side of the ledger, a triumverate of Shiite religious authorities have weighed-in on the SOFA. Matt's Atomic Duss Bin has the details:

On October 21, Lebanon’s Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah criticized the security pact, saying “the Baghdad government has no right to ‘legitimize’ the presence of foreign troops,” and that any agreement should call for an unconditional withdrawal of U.S. forces:

Fadlallah’s edict came in response to questions by some Shiite members of Iraq’s parliament who asked the cleric to give his opinion about the proposed security pact. […]

“No authority, establishment or an official or nonofficial organization has the legitimacy to impose occupation on its people, legitimize it or extend its stay in Iraq,” Fadlallah said in the edict released by his office.

Fadlallah was one of the founders of the Dawa Party in Najaf in 1957, along with his mentor Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr, a relative of Muqtada’s. Fadlallah also helped found Hizballah in Lebanon.

Fadlallah is the marja al-taqlid (source of emulation) for many in the Dawa — including Maliki — which means that they have chosen Fadlallah as a spiritual guide and committed to following his guidance in regard to correct religious practice. This, in and of itself, makes the SOFA in its current form basically a dead letter.

Depending on how one reads Maliki's intentions (secretly in favor of a prolonged US presence or pretending to ally with us, but secretly pushing to the exits), Fadlallah's proclamation either hinders Maliki's ability to compromise with the US, or gives him the cover to shrug his shoulders and plead impotence as he wishes us a fond farewell. Either way, the result might be the same. In other Shiite clerical news:

On Wednesday, Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri, another cleric with roots in the Dawa Party, issued an even more stringent fatwa against the SOFA:

Al-Haeri called the proposed agreement “haram”—which in Arabic means forbidden by Islam—and said that approving the deal would be “a sin God won’t forgive.”

Al-Haeri, based in the Iranian holy city of Qom, has Iraqi nationality and is believed to be a mentor of anti-U.S. Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose followers oppose the deal. The fatwa, or religious decree, was posted on al-Haeri’s Web site.

In the edict, the cleric claimed the U.S. is pressuring the Iraqi government to approve the security pact.

“We know that this deal will undermine Iraq’s national sovereignty and that approving it will mean accepting humiliation and misery,” al-Haeri said.

As Duss notes, Haeri is the on-again/off-again spiritual mentor of Moqtada al-Sadr (currently "on") and many of the Sadrists. Sistani (the putative source of emulation for many ISCI members and other Iraqi citizens) has issued statements demanding that the SOFA be submitted to parliament and, possibly, a national referendum - which will make it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to pass on any but the most favorable terms for Iraqis. That pretty much sews up the Shiite side of the equation (with the Sadrists, Dawa and ISCI on the same page), and with the IIP and most of Iraq's non-Kurdish population opposed, this is going to be extremely difficult to pull off unless the US bends more to Iraqi demands.

So much for the grandiose designs of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century that imagined the US establishing a vassal state in Iraq from which to project military power in a series of wars, and further dominate the Middle East. As Duss concludes:

The power of these ayatollahs to effectively scuttle an agreement of significant import to the security of the United States throws into stark relief what the Bush administration has created in Iraq: a government dominated by Shia religious parties who take their guidance — and derive their legitimacy — from the opinions and edicts of a small handful of senior Shia clerics.

There would be a touch of humor to this if the abject destruction and profligation of human suffering weren't so bitterly tragic. Hopefully, we can begin to return to a saner foreign policy next week.

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