Wednesday, June 11, 2008
One Day the Iraqis Will Send Us Home
While I was in Baghdad in 2004, I asked an Iraqi civilian if he was glad that Saddam Hussein was gone from the scene and he said, “Oh, yes, thank you..”
When I asked him if he was glad the American and Coalition forces were in his country, he said, “Oh, no…”
Then he added, “But please don’t leave yet…”
One of the biggest screw-ups in the beginning of the Iraq war was the failure of the Bush administration to look deeply into the history of the Arab world, the Shiite-Sunni conflicts and the long-held feelings of the Arab peoples that they didn’t want to be “occupied” by any western military forces.
We must remember that the Crusades were not noble endeavors. The Crusaders waged brutal warfare, leaving a trail of blood and Arab bodies – including men, women and children – as they rampaged throughout the Middle East and they were “terrorists” in their own time. Arabs have a long memory and this one remains quite vivid.
Then the British occupied Arabia during their colonial period, suppressing the Arab culture before finally carving up the Arab lands in what may have seemed a logical fashion, but which ignored many of the cultural needs of the people – such as the Kurdish citizens who were not given their own nation.
We must understand that the day will come when the Iraqi people want to be left alone. When they are comfortable that they possess the ability to take care of themselves, they will surely ask us to leave. They will not want any – repeat any – western military forces permanently occupying any part of their land. To believe otherwise ignores an Arab history that is one of complete distrust of western motives. Can we blame them?
American troops and their Coalition partners have done an amazing job and we have made many friends among the Iraqi people, but even these friends do not want our troops there forever. It is not about the willingness of an American administration to continue operations in Iraq; it is simply about whether or not the Iraqi people want us there. This is the Muslim Arab world which believes it has little in common with western powers.
In the end, the Shiite majority will determine the direction of Iraq. With luck the nation will remain a secular one, with a strong relationship – and hopefully friendship - with the United States. However, it remains likely that radical Shiites – with the help of Iran – will try to seize control of the government at some point after we have been shown the door. Should this happen, there will be nothing we can do about it except offer our help if it is requested - as we would for any of our other allies.
The following article is from McClatchy-Tribune Information Services and was posted on Military.com:
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US-Iraq Security Deal in Trouble
June 11, 2008
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
BAGHDAD - A proposed U.S.-Iraqi security agreement that would set the conditions for a defense alliance and long-term U.S. troop presence appears increasingly in trouble, facing growing resistance from the Iraqi government, bipartisan opposition in Congress and strong questioning from Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama.
President Bush is trying to finish the agreement before he leaves office, and senior U.S. officials insist publicly that the negotiations can be completed by a July 31 target date.
But that seems increasing doubtful, and in Baghdad and Washington there is growing speculation that a United Nations mandate for U.S.-led military operations in Iraq may have to be renewed after it expires at the end of 2008.
On Capitol Hill, top Democrats and Republicans complain that Bush is rushing the negotiations to try to tie his successor's hands.
Iraqi lawmakers say the United States has dropped at least one demand and is no longer insisting on complete immunity for private contractors.
Six senators, including the chairmen of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees and their ranking minority members have written Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the past week asking for transparency in the negotiations and more briefings. White House, State Department and Pentagon officials briefed staff members on the talks June 10.
"There's a tremendous amount of concern up here about the state of these negotiations. ... It's been expressed repeatedly," said a senior congressional staffer, who requested anonymity. He noted that their appeared to be growing talk in Iraq of simply extending the U.N. mandate.
A spokesman for Obama, D-Ill., said any long-term U.S. security commitment to Iraq must be subject to Congressional approval; alternatively the administration should seek an extension of the current UN mandate. Obama wants a new administration to make it "absolutely clear that the United States will not maintain permanent bases in Iraq," said spokesman Bill Burton.
Some Iraqi parliamentarians are now saying that Iraq has a third option besides extending the U.N. mandate or agreeing to the proposed Status of Forces Agreement: telling the Americans to go home.
"By December Iraq has to decide what to do," said Sami al-Askari, a Shiite lawmaker who is close to Prime Minister Maliki. "If we are put in a corner...we have three options, not just two." Al-Askari said the U.S. side is "keen to sign it early" but said the U.S. "have to be realistic and deal with the issues that are very sensitive for the Iraqis."
On June 10, Ambassador David Satterfield, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's top advisor on Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad that both the Iraqis and Americans were on track to agree and that the U.S. was respecting Iraq's sovereignty during negotiations.
"We're confident it can be achieved, and by the end of July deadline," Satterfield said. "It's doable, that's where our focus is, not on alternatives...We're focused on plan A because we believe plan A can succeed."
He spoke less than 24 hours after an unnamed senior U.S. official told the Associated Press that the deal may not be completed before Bush leaves office next January. Satterfield bristled when questioned about the "unnamed official" and insisted that the talks were on track for completion July 31.
Iraqi lawmakers say the Bush administration is demanding concessions that are unacceptable, among them: dozens of semi-permanent bases from which U.S. forces can launch missions with no prior consent from Iraq's government; control of Iraq's air space; and no guarantees the United States will defend Iraq against a foreign attack.
The United States has portrayed opposition to the agreement as limited to Iranian officials and followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who opposes the U.S. occupation. But the chorus of rejection is growing.
"There is only one agenda for us-we need foreign troops because our forces are not capable yet to defend Iraq inside and outside of Iraq," al-Askari said. But when Iraq reaches the point it can defend itself, "That's it, no more foreign troops on our soil," he added.
"It seems from the draft (agreement) and from the discussions that the Americans have something else in their mind, for instance fighting al-Qaida or terrorism. That's why they want a free hand in arresting any Iraqi. But the Iraqis say, `no you don't have the free hand'."
In interviews this week, majority Shiite legislators told McClatchy Newspapers that the U.S.-proposed draft agreement is unacceptable and, given the way negotiations are going, they did not see them being complete by July 31.
The majority of Iraqi politicians support some kind of security agreement with the United States and the presence of some U.S. forces, although on their terms.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraq's government has reached the point of decision.
"Time is of the essence," he said. "There is a need for a clear political decision... Either the Iraqis want this or they don't want it." Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a declaration of principles for the accord last November, Zebari noted. "It hasn't come out of a vacuum or out of the blue."
Iraq wants an agreement in which U.S. Soldiers stay on bases outside of the cities; the United States does not control its air space; and acts only if Iraq asks for help.
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The fact that the Iraqis will one day no longer want us in their country is not a sign that we failed. If their self-sufficiency is accompanied by a strong free-market economy, if they have achieved the ability to defend themselves from aggression and if they have retained the power to determine their own destiny, then we have achieved success.
Regardless of what future they choose in the long run - it is THEIR future.
Charles M. Grist