Slowly does it with Iraq withdrawal
Slowly does it with Iraq withdrawal
By Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani
CAIRO - Washington and Baghdad signed a security agreement this month allowing
the United States to maintain a military presence in Iraq for another three
years. But while Baghdad officials hailed the pact as the "beginning of the
end" of the US-led occupation, Egyptian commentators - like much of the Iraqi
opposition - say the agreement simply reflects US strategic interests.
"The pact reflects the balance of power and is therefore entirely in the
interest of the US," Ahmed Thabet, political science professor at Cairo
University told Inter Press Service. "It provides formal
cover for the continuation of the US occupation of Iraq and leaves all
decision-making - and the very fate of the country - in American hands."
After months of wrangling between the US-backed government in Baghdad and Iraqi
opposition groups, the agreement was ceremonially signed December 14 by
outgoing US President George W Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
The pact lays down a timetable for the phased withdrawal of US troops from
Iraqi cities by June of next year and the complete departure of the US military
from Iraq as of January 1, 2012.
In addition to a timetable for troop withdrawals, the treaty also puts limited
restrictions on US military operations in Iraq and grants Baghdad a degree of
legal jurisdiction under certain conditions - over US troops.
While Iraqi government spokesmen defended the pact as a step towards the
eventual departure of all foreign troops from the country, Iraqi opposition
groups blasted the deal. Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, whose followers
staged angry demonstrations against the agreement, called it "a pact of shame
In Egypt, a major Arab ally of the US, the signing of the agreement was met by
official silence. Independent Egyptian commentators, however, were quick to
criticize the document, which they say amounts to little more than political
cover for the US-led occupation of Iraq.
"The agreement is simply a formal continuation of the longstanding US
occupation and will ultimately allow American troops to stay in Iraq
indefinitely," Gamal Mazloum, retired army general and expert in military
affairs, told IPS.
Most importantly, said Mazloum, the pact does not clearly and definitively call
for the full withdrawal of all US troops by the January 1, 2012, deadline.
"The terms of the agreement are ambiguous and contain a number of possible
legal loopholes," he said. "Although it states that the US military presence is
temporary, there are a number of stipulations that could allow it to extend its
"Iraqi government officials say the pact represents the 'beginning of the end'
of the US military in Iraq," Mazloum added. "But at the same time, they're
publicly saying that US forces might be needed for another 10 years."
On December 11, a spokesman for Maliki reportedly told a Pentagon press
briefing that US troops might be required to provide security in Iraq for up to
another decade. "The Iraqi military is not going to be built in the three
years. We do need many more years," he was quoted as saying. "It might be 10
In a statement issued days later, the Iraqi premier insisted that his
spokesman's comments "did not represent the Iraqi government".
Thabet, too, expressed serious reservations over the likelihood of a full US
withdrawal within the next three years, pointing to recent calls by the US
Defense Department for the establishment of permanent military bases throughout
Iraq. "In this case, the US will be able to say it has withdrawn while
simultaneously maintaining strategic command centers from which it can force
its policies on the Iraqi government and people," he said.
On December 13, fears that the agreement's terms would not be respected by US
military planners were partially borne out when the commander of coalition
forces in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno, announced that US "training teams"
would remain in Iraqi cities beyond the June 30 deadline.
The agreement was officially approved - by a slim majority - by the Iraqi
parliament late last month. Nevertheless, critics say the pact lacks the
support of the Iraqi public, the vast majority of which would like to see the
immediate departure of all foreign troops.
"Washington forged the security pact with the government in Baghdad, not with
the Iraqi people," said Thabet. "And the only Iraqis that will benefit from it
are those individuals and political parties - be they Sunni, Shi'ite or Kurdish
- working in the interest of the US."
Thabet added that, almost six years after the US-led invasion, there is still
"tremendous popular opposition" to the presence of foreign troops in the
country. "The occupation hasn't benefited anyone except the so-called Iraqi
'expatriates' that cooperated with US war planners in Washington and London in
advance of the invasion," he said.
Nor, say critics, will the signing of the agreement have a positive impact on
Iraq's dangerous security environment.
"I seriously doubt that the pact will improve the security situation, since the
US military itself - which broke up the country's existing police apparatuses
and encouraged sectarian conflict - is the reason behind most of the
instability," said Mazloum.
He went on to point out that, according to the document's small print, US
soldiers operating in Iraq will for the most part remain subject to US - not
Iraqi - law. "This means that war crimes perpetrated by US troops can be
expected to continue," he said.
"Iraq will never be stable until all foreign military forces completely
withdraw from the country," Mazloum said. "But given the vague terms of the new
pact, I can't see this happening for a very, very long time."