Iraqi Politicians Push for Withdrawal

By
Friday, June 06, 2008 at 1:56 pm
Iraq, Baghdad (army.mil)

Iraq, Baghdad (army.mil)

A two-member delegation of Iraqi parliamentarians — one Sunni and one Shiite — toured Washington this week with a simple message: withdraw from Iraq. What you leave behind will not be the violence you fear, but rather the peace and unity you claim to seek.

“The anarchy and chaos in Iraq is linked to the presence of the occupation,” said Prof. Nadim al-Jaberi, who belongs to the Shiite Fadhila Party, “not withdrawal from Iraq.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Jaberi’s colleague, Sheikh Khalaf Al-Ulayyan from Anbar Province, a leading member of the Sunni National Dialogue Council. “The U.S. got rid of one person,” he said, referring to Saddam Hussein. “It put in hundreds of persons that are worse than Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, now Iran is going into Iraq, and this is under the umbrella of the United States.”

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

The elected parliamentarians’ primary purpose in coming to the U.S. — a trip arranged by the American Friends Service Committee, a pacifist Quaker organization — was to urge Congress to stop the impending deal between President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for an indefinite U.S. troop presence in Iraq. Details of the deal, leaked to Patrick Cockburn of The Independent in London — and publicly denied by the principal U.S. negotiator, Amb. Ryan Crocker — include control over Iraqi airspace below 29,000 ft., permanent bases for U.S. troops, immunity from Iraqi law and the right to detain Iraqis at U.S. troops’ prerogative. It is the position of the Bush administration that Congress has no say in these negotiations.

A letter signed by 31 Iraqi parliamentarians from across Iraq’s sectarian spectrum and presented to Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), chairman of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, called the deal “unconstitutional and illegal.” The letter’s signatories included Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, who appear to be following Iraqi public opinion. A joint BBC-ABC News poll from September 2007 found nearly 50 percent of Iraqis favor an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, with barely 30 percent saying the U.S. should remain “until security is restored.”

“[W]e wish to inform you that the majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms that obligate the occupying military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq, in accordance with a declared timetable and without leaving behind any military bases, soldiers or hired fighters,” the letter stated. It represents the first attempt at formal legislature-to-legislature communications, undercutting the pro-occupation executives in both Washington and Baghdad.

During a small dinner on Thursday in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, Jaberi claimed the letter was supported by 144 members of Parliament, a slim majority of the 275-seat body. A small majority also backed a legislative effort last year, sponsored by the party of Moqtada Sadr, to compel Washington to set a date for withdrawal.

“I don’t think that any person who loves his country would accept foreign occupiers to stay there for any reason,” Ulayyan said, through a translator at the dinner. “We are not asking to withdraw all U.S. troops overnight, but we ask for a timetable, negotiated, that will put enough time to… ensure there is not a void.”

Both parliamentarians insisted that Iraqis have no problem with the American people — only with the Bush administration. “We know the decision to invade was a political decision taken on behalf of the government,” Ulayyan said as Jaberi nodded next to him. “The American people are not responsible for the decision.”

They also said that the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq seen over the course of the five-year war will dissipate once the Americans leave. “We [haven't] had any social conflict between Sunni and Shiite in Iraq, never,” Jaberi said through translation at the dinner. “It’s a [recent] phenomenon introduced to Iraq lately. It grew under the occupation and will go away when the U.S. goes away. Sunni and Shiites in Iraq live together in the same neighborhoods and intermarry.”

He continued to dispute the other rationales typically given for an extended U.S. occupation. “They say if the foreign troops withdraw, Al Qaeda will take over and there will be anarchy and chaos,” Jaberi said. “I give you a historical fact: Al Qaeda never had any presence in Iraq before the occupation. It came under cover of the calls for liberation. So whenever the foreign forces withdraw from Iraq, these reasons cannot be used as a justification for violence.

“But keeping occupying forces in Iraq,” Jaberi added, “is a very good tool for the recruitment of extremist forces in Iraq.”

That message directly contradicts the position of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee for president. In a speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in March, McCain said that “if we were to walk away from the Iraqi people,” it would “consign them to the horrendous violence, ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide.” McCain has indicated that he will make his position on Iraq a central aspect of his case against Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Both Ulayyan and Jaberi denounced the Maliki government as beholden to Bush, but stopped short of advocating parliamentary measures to oust the premier ahead of a prospective long-term-occupation accord. “There is a fear that if we took down the current government, Iraq would deteriorate more and we do not know who will fill the void,” Ulayyan said.

The American Friends Service Committee brought the two Iraqis to the U.S. and arranged their meetings with U.S. legislators, policy experts and journalists. Its policy director, Aura Kanegis, said the antiwar organization felt the U.S. debate over Iraq suffered from a lack of Iraqi voices. “The delegation has started new conversations on Capitol Hill about our nation’s Iraq policy,” Kanegis asserted in a prepared statement. “Key aspects of the political conflict in Iraq have been largely misunderstood here in the U.S., feeding uninformed assumptions about the U.S. role there. This type of face-to-face diplomacy is essential to finding a clearer path forward for U.S. policy.”

Some policy analysts who met with the two parliamentarians considered them credible, if predictable. “I found the Iraqi parliamentarians interesting but pretty much a charicture of what you’d expect by two representatives who are coming out on the wrong side of U.S. And Maliki government policies,” Ilan Goldenberg, director of the liberal National Security Network, said in an email. “Although, it’s pretty interesting that everything in Iraq is breaking down into two central coalitions. The centralizers (Sadr, the Sunnis of which these guys are representative) and the decentalizers (ISCI and the Kurds).” ISCI is the acronym for the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which is supported by both the U.S. and Iran.

Another policy expert said it was unclear how much actual support the men had in Iraq. “Both represent an Iraqi nationalist line, from the vantage point of a parliamentary minority which believes that they represent the will of the Iraqi people who are poorly represented by the sectarian results produced by the 2005 electoral system,” said Marc Lynch, an Arabic-speaking professor of political science at George Washington University who met with the parliamentarians on Wednesday. “Popular dissatisfaction with that system is widespread, though there’s no way to know if they actually command wider support. They do appear to tap into some sectors of popular opinion — you can hear similar discourse coming from the tribes and the Awakenings — but nobody has really been able to translate that into effective political action.”

At the Wednesday dinner, some pressed the two parliamentarians on whether post-occupation reconciliation would be as easy as they portrayed it. “The conflict between Sunni and Shiite is unexpected, and not with deep roots in Iraqi society,” Jaberi responded. “There are some political leaders who play this card out of their own interest, and who tried to turn sectarian conflict [worse] after the explosions in Samarra [in 2006]. Tempers rose, but then they calmed down. What matters now is the popular base, which protests [sectarianism]. Most Iraqis do not like to be presented as Sunni or Shiite.”

Jaberi and Ulayyan appear to be working toward this goal directly. Lynch translated a recent report from the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat that quoted a Sadrist parliamentary leader saying his group will soon announce a new coalition that will include Jaberi’s Shiite Fadhila Party and Ulayyan’s Sunni National Dialogue Council, along with at least three other factions.

Their opposition to the permanent-occupation deal may be yielding results. The Washington Post reported Friday that the Maliki government may request an extension of the U.N. mandate for keeping foreign troops in Iraq, rather than push through an unpopular deal with the lame-duck Bush administration.

Staffers for Delahunt, whose subcommittee hosted the parliamentarians on Wednesday, said that they hoped to deepen ties between Congress and the Iraqi Parliament. The feeling appeared to be mutual. “My major message for the American people is this,” Ulayyan said at the dinner. “We respect and thank all those who demonstrated against the war and protested the war and took the side of the Iraqi people.”

Follow Spencer Ackerman on Twitter


Categories & Tags: National Security|

Comments

2 Comments

fredrickbernanke
Comment posted June 8, 2008 @ 4:22 pm

McCain’s Ignorant, Incoherent and Confused Iraq Policy

The number quotes below are from McCain’s Memorial Day speech in Albequerque, New Mexico.

1. “As we all know, the American people have grown sick and tired of the war in Iraq.”

2. “I understand that, of course. I, too, have been made sick at heart by the many mistakes made by civilian and military commanders and the terrible price we have paid for them.”

3. “We have new commanders in Iraq,… They are following a counterinsurgency strategy that we should have been following from the beginning, which makes the most effective use of our strength and doesn’t strengthen the tactics of our enemy.”

McCain criticized Obama and Clinton on their plans to withdraw troops ASAP, saying, 4. “It would strengthen al Qaeda, empower Iran and other hostile powers in the Middle East, unleash a full scale civil war in Iraq that could quite possibly provoke genocide there, and destabilize the entire region as neighboring powers come to the aid of their favored factions.”

These quotes evince the befuddled nature of both the Iraq conflict and John McCain’s understanding thereof.

Quote (1) needs no further elucidation.

Quote (2) is the first time this writer has heard ANY American politician dump blame for the Iraq fiasco at the doorstep of unnamed “military commanders.” Which commanders made mistakes? What were those mistakes? Were they acting without the authority and approval of the civilian leadership at the White House and Pentagon?

These are questions that need to be put to the Republican nominee, particularly since no Democrat has made these accusations against the Military.

In Quote (3), McCain is explicitly stating that a “counterinsurgency” strategy should have been followed “…from the beginning….” Where was John McCain at “the beginning” advocating such a position? Did he anticipate an “insurgency” and keep mum on the subject? Did he ever raise doubts about the “candy and flower petal” reception our invading troops would receive from Iraqis? And how does he, today, define “insurgency?” Against whom is the insurgency being waged? And why? And who are the “insurgents?”

Quote (4) addresses withdrawing our troops from Iraq. Therein he raises the possibility of simultaneously strengthening (Sunni) Al Qaeda and empowering (Shiite) Iran. Perhaps McCain is unaware of the contents of the most recent communique from Osama bin Laden of just a few days ago in which bin Laden raises serious objectives to the hegemonic ambitions of Iran in the Middle East. And perhaps foreign policy expert McCain forgets that there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq before we trundled on in there. Though Saddam’s Baath Party was also Sunni, it was Iraq-Sunni, not Saudi-Sunni like Al Qaeda.

Again in Quote (4), McCain refers to “full scale civil war in Iraq” breaking out if we leave. Implicit in that remark is the fact that currently there is a civil war taking place, but it’s not quite up to the full scale category because of United States presence. Again, the was no civil war, small or full scale, taking place in Iraq until we arrived. In the same Quote (4), McCain expresses concern that unnamed Sunni and Shiite governments in the region may intervene in the “full scale civil war,” in support of the Muslim sect they favor, and thereby “destabilize the entire region….”

This remark is perhaps the most nonsensical of them all. It presupposes that a stable, or status quo, Middle East is in the best strategic interest of the United States. This writer is not sure that is a valid proposition. The current “stability” in the Middle East is allowing the oil producing nations over there–Saudi, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, etc.– to rob the West of its wealth, without even holding a knife to our throats.

All the West should be concerned with is getting their oil as cheap as possible, period! Would there be some possible dislocations or even brief interruptions in oil flow if Iran and Saudi battle each other on Iraqi turf? Maybe yes; maybe no. They need those revenues as much as the West needs their oil. And they know that.

Internecine bloodshed in the Middle East is preferable to the blood of United States soldiers being shed there.

And, to give Iraqis some credit, perhaps they themselves could unite-as-Iraqis if they saw Saudi and Iranian soldiers invading their land—nothing unites two domestic rivals like a foreign enemy, be it the United States, Saudi Arabia or Iran.

MyBlog: http://ProteanPerspectives.blogspot.com


fredrickbernanke
Comment posted June 8, 2008 @ 11:22 am

McCain's Ignorant, Incoherent and Confused Iraq Policy

The number quotes below are from McCain's Memorial Day speech in Albequerque, New Mexico.

1. “As we all know, the American people have grown sick and tired of the war in Iraq.”

2. “I understand that, of course. I, too, have been made sick at heart by the many mistakes made by civilian and military commanders and the terrible price we have paid for them.”

3. “We have new commanders in Iraq,… They are following a counterinsurgency strategy that we should have been following from the beginning, which makes the most effective use of our strength and doesn't strengthen the tactics of our enemy.”

McCain criticized Obama and Clinton on their plans to withdraw troops ASAP, saying, 4. “It would strengthen al Qaeda, empower Iran and other hostile powers in the Middle East, unleash a full scale civil war in Iraq that could quite possibly provoke genocide there, and destabilize the entire region as neighboring powers come to the aid of their favored factions.”

These quotes evince the befuddled nature of both the Iraq conflict and John McCain's understanding thereof.

Quote (1) needs no further elucidation.

Quote (2) is the first time this writer has heard ANY American politician dump blame for the Iraq fiasco at the doorstep of unnamed “military commanders.” Which commanders made mistakes? What were those mistakes? Were they acting without the authority and approval of the civilian leadership at the White House and Pentagon?

These are questions that need to be put to the Republican nominee, particularly since no Democrat has made these accusations against the Military.

In Quote (3), McCain is explicitly stating that a “counterinsurgency” strategy should have been followed “…from the beginning….” Where was John McCain at “the beginning” advocating such a position? Did he anticipate an “insurgency” and keep mum on the subject? Did he ever raise doubts about the “candy and flower petal” reception our invading troops would receive from Iraqis? And how does he, today, define “insurgency?” Against whom is the insurgency being waged? And why? And who are the “insurgents?”

Quote (4) addresses withdrawing our troops from Iraq. Therein he raises the possibility of simultaneously strengthening (Sunni) Al Qaeda and empowering (Shiite) Iran. Perhaps McCain is unaware of the contents of the most recent communique from Osama bin Laden of just a few days ago in which bin Laden raises serious objectives to the hegemonic ambitions of Iran in the Middle East. And perhaps foreign policy expert McCain forgets that there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq before we trundled on in there. Though Saddam's Baath Party was also Sunni, it was Iraq-Sunni, not Saudi-Sunni like Al Qaeda.

Again in Quote (4), McCain refers to “full scale civil war in Iraq” breaking out if we leave. Implicit in that remark is the fact that currently there is a civil war taking place, but it's not quite up to the full scale category because of United States presence. Again, the was no civil war, small or full scale, taking place in Iraq until we arrived. In the same Quote (4), McCain expresses concern that unnamed Sunni and Shiite governments in the region may intervene in the “full scale civil war,” in support of the Muslim sect they favor, and thereby “destabilize the entire region….”

This remark is perhaps the most nonsensical of them all. It presupposes that a stable, or status quo, Middle East is in the best strategic interest of the United States. This writer is not sure that is a valid proposition. The current “stability” in the Middle East is allowing the oil producing nations over there–Saudi, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, etc.– to rob the West of its wealth, without even holding a knife to our throats.

All the West should be concerned with is getting their oil as cheap as possible, period! Would there be some possible dislocations or even brief interruptions in oil flow if Iran and Saudi battle each other on Iraqi turf? Maybe yes; maybe no. They need those revenues as much as the West needs their oil. And they know that.

Internecine bloodshed in the Middle East is preferable to the blood of United States soldiers being shed there.

And, to give Iraqis some credit, perhaps they themselves could unite-as-Iraqis if they saw Saudi and Iranian soldiers invading their land—nothing unites two domestic rivals like a foreign enemy, be it the United States, Saudi Arabia or Iran.

MyBlog: http://ProteanPerspectives.blogspot.com


RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.