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What’s In and Outside of Baghdad? « The Washington Independent

We’ve gotten word for weeks now that the U.S. military probably planned to request that Mosul be the exception to the July 30 deadline for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraqi cities set by the Status of Forces Agreement. Now that’s definitely the case, with a twist thrown in, according to The New York Times:

[Iraqi Major] General [Muhammed] Askari emphatically said that the June 30 provision did not apply to the Camp Victory complex because it was effectively outside the city. General Askari also said having American combat troops at Camp Prosperity would not violate the terms of the agreement, because they are there for force protection and to guard the nearby embassy.

“If there is a small group to stay in that camp to guard the American Embassy, that’s no problem,” he said. “The meaning of the SOFA is that their vehicles cannot go in the streets of Baghdad and interfere with our job.”

I’ve been to the Victory complex, which is five bases in one — what a bargain! — surrounding Baghdad International Airport. It’s huge. Like, 20,000 soldiers-housed-huge. So huge that there’s a transit system of minibuses that take you around in it. So huge that I got lost on one of the minibuses and a soldier I believe was from Uganda angrily demanded my papers when it was clear to him that I was not where I was supposed to be. Anyway. The point is that while it’s true that Victory is on the outskirts of the city, no one ever referred to it to me as being “outside” of Baghdad.” All our discussions were about what was going on “here in Baghdad” and so forth. Two things, I think, can be safely presumed by the Iraqi military’s determination that Victory is outside Baghdad: first, that moving all those troops and their supplies out of Victory because of the SOFA is a huge logistical hassle that no one wants; and second, that the Iraqi military wants an insurance policy, as provided for in the SOFA, to call on U.S. troops before 2010 in case security worsens in the city.

As for Mosul, the Times piece indicates that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hasn’t yet made a decision about keeping U.S. combat forces in the city. Any such decision comes at an inconvenient moment, as Maliki said over the weekend that the U.S. violated the SOFA during a raid in the southern city of Kut that left Iraqi civilians dead. (The U.S. military disputes that characterization, saying the operation was “fully coordinated and approved by the Iraqi government.”) Juan Cole provides context:

Al-Maliki is touchy about such an operation in Kut and probably wants personal approval in such matters. Kut is in the Shiite south, where al-Maliki has been attempting to spread the influence of his Islamic Mission Party (Da’wa). It has a significant Sadrist constituency, and al-Maliki is trying to put together coalition provincial governments with the Sadrists. So the US raid made al-Maliki look weak and puppet-like and made him unpopular in a key area where he wants support.

Assuming Cole’s read is correct, none of those conditions apply in Mosul, so perhaps Maliki will approve the U.S. request to keep combat troops in the city after June 30.

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