Who Will Leave First--al-Maliki or US Forces?
Recently, Washington's man in Baghdad Nouri al-Maliki has been making noises about the need to set a "hard" timetable detailing the departure of US occupation forces from Iraq. One wonders if Mr. al-Maliki is sincere in his demand or if he is posturing for the anti-occupation vote in the upcoming provincial elections in Iraq, much like Barack Obama attracted the antiwar vote in the primaries only to back away from an immediate withdrawal once he received the necessary votes for his party's nomination. If he is sincere and truly is demanding that Washington remove its forces within a given time, the question arises as to how long al-Maliki will remain at his post.
According to news reports, the recent utterances by the Green Zone Prime Minister are being dismissed by some senior officials in the US. These officials characterize the demands for a timetable as just another part of the negotiations around the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) the White House and Pentagon are hoping to put in place before the Bush-Cheney regime rides into the sunset. Of course, the SOFA these folks are hoping for would keep US troops in Iraq indefinitely. Furthermore, it would provide immunity for US forces and contractors, allow the US to take military action without the approval of the Green Zone government, and allow Washington to launch attacks on other countries from US bases in Iraq without Iraqi permission. If one is to believe most news reports, it is unlikely that the final SOFA will include all of the items on Washington's wish list, but you never know.
Al-Maliki's foreign minister, Hoshya Zebari, is insistent that the SOFA will be passed before the US elections in November. His original intent was to get the agreement signed by the end of July 2008, which was also the date hoped for by the White House. This comes as no surprise to those who know Zebari's history. He is a member of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) who was part of the US/CIA- organized Iraqi opposition prior to the US invasion of Iraq and is now one of Washington's fiercest proponents in the US created Green Zone government. He certainly understands that he holds his position because of the US military presence and that his future depends on Washington getting almost everything it wants in Iraq. In recent weeks, Mr. Zebari has told the Washington Post that Barack Obama's plan to withdraw almost all US ground forces from Iraq within sixteen months of his inauguration was, in essence, wrong. Like his backers in DC, Mr. Zedari insisted to the editors around him that Iraq was making progress. The Post closed their piece with a sycophantic and questionable appraisal of Zebari's role, writing "it makes sense to consult with those who, like Mr. Zebari, have put their lives on the line for an Iraq that would be a democratic U.S. ally." (Post 6/18/2008 A14)
Despite the very obvious differences in the two wars, I cannot help but return to the US adventure in Vietnam. If one recalls the history of that war, they will remember President Diem, who died in a US-sponsored coup in 1963. Most histories agree that a primary reason for Diem's demise was that he had begun to take an independent course in the war against the national liberation forces in southern Vietnam. This provoked Washington's anger and precipitated Diem's death. After he was gone, Washington never again allowed a truly free election in its Vietnamese colony while US forces were in country. Instead, the Saigon regime featured a series of corrupt military men who ruled through force and US dollars. Iraq's elections have been arguably a bit more free than any ever held in southern Vietnam during that country's brief existence, but no Green Zone government has existed without the backing of Washington and its occupying military. If al-Maliki sticks to his demand for a "hard" timetable for US troop withdrawal and holds to that demand even after the aforementioned elections, one wonders how long he will remain prime minister of the Green Zone and those other parts of Iraq he actually rules. Of course, the other side of this coin is that if he somehow manages to survive whatever skulduggery almost certain to arise if he holds to his demand is that his rule may began to expand beyond those regions.
Would Washington set a timetable if the Green Zone government demanded it? That is the million dollar question. The answer does not lie in Baghdad, however, but in the streets of the United States. No matter who wins the US election in November, there will be no US withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan unless the antiwar majority makes its presence known in those streets. That is where the status of US forces in those countries must ultimately be decided.