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Dabbagh Says He Was Misquoted on Withdrawal From Iraq « The Washington Independent

On Friday I flagged a McClatchy story saying that Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh hinted that U.S. troops were needed in Iraq for seven years longer than the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) allows them to stay. Now, after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki rejected that comment, Dabbagh is saying he was misquoted. That’s in McClatchy too.

That same McClatchy piece reports that Iraqis just don’t believe the agreement will actually secure the departure of U.S. troops. Can you blame them? The U.S. promised Iraqis a ton of things that never materialized over five and a half years. Why should they start believing the U.S. now? Especially when the commanding general in Iraq, Ray Odierno, makes comments like these:

Odierno said some U.S. troops would remain at joint security stations in training and support roles. “We believe we should still be inside those after the summer,” he told reporters at a U.S. base in Balad, north of Baghdad. His remarks came before he welcomed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who arrived for a brief, unannounced visit.

One can understand that as a commander, Odierno wants the greatest-possible freedom of action. But a first-order strategic consideration for the U.S. now has to be to implement the SOFA. If the U.S. makes a high-profile display of signing an accord with the Iraqis that says over and over and over that Iraq is fully sovereign, it has to treat Iraq as fully sovereign. To do otherwise will give legitimacy to the insurgent elements that Odierno worries about withdrawal strengthening. Remember how the insurgency got way worse after the U.S. promised to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis on June 28, 2004 and then didn’t? Those were good times, huh?

The incoming Obama administration should think long and hard about whether it wants to even ask the Maliki government to allow some residual U.S. troops in the joint U.S.-Iraqi facilities that Odierno’s talking about. Does the administration really want the Maliki government to have to take the heat for not meeting the SOFA’s timetable — especially when it comes to the SOFA’s very first deadline? Like it or not, the SOFA is a fact. Violate its restrictions and you tell the Iraqi people that their very deeply seated anti-occupation sentiment is irrelevant and the U.S. will just do whatever it wants. Fewer messages are more provocative for an insurgency.

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