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Dr Musa A Keilani: Republican ignores realities
November 22, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Instead of welcoming an end to the costly US military engagement in Iraq, the Republican-led war camp in Washington are slamming the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama of playing politics with his decision to withdraw the US military from that country by Dec.31.

The Republican charge is led by Senator John McCain, who lost out to Obama in the presidential race and claims that the decision to leave Iraq was part of a political plan.

During his presidential campaign, Obama had promised to withdraw the US military from Iraq during his term at the White House. And he is delivering on that pledge.

But people like McCain are giving it a twist. “The truth is that this administration was committed to the complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, and they made it happen,” McCain said during a meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which questioned Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Iraq.

Is McCain accusing Obama of living up to his commitment? Wasn’t it the Republican administration of George W Bush which negotiated the current status of forces agreement that calls for an end to the US military presence by end of this year?

Probably, the Republicans would have accused Obama of reneging on his campaign pledge if he had managed to work out a new status of forces agreement that would have seen up to 20,000 American soldiers staying on in Iraq beyond the Dec.31 deadline.

It is not as if Obama did not try.  Despite his withdrawal pledge, he initially accepted the Defence Department’s moves to secure a new status of forces agreement that would extend the US military presence in Iraq on the condition that the US soldiers will have either  immunity or  enjoy the privilege of a Vatican-like extraterritoriality.

Well, the Defence Department failed in the bid, not because Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki did not want the US military to stay but because he did not have the political and legislative clout to support continued American military presence in the country with immunity or extraterritoriality.

In fact, his political career was at stake (although he has promised not to seek re-election after he completes his current term).

Numbers in the Iraqi parliament speak for themselves. And the overriding factor is that Iran, which wants the US out of its western neighbour, plays a central political role in the country.

The bloc of fiery anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr has 40 parliamentary seats that are key to ensuring the parliamentary majority of the Maliki-led coalition. Sadr, who is closely aligned with Iran, had made it clear that he and his Mahdi Army would take up arms against continued US military presence in Iraq beyond the end-of-2011 deadline. If he decides to quit the coalition, the Maliki government would fall.

Maliki’s own Dawa party, a Shiite fundamentalist group, has 89 seats, and many of its members have close relations with Iran and they opposed the US effort for a new status of forces agreement.

The Iraqiya bloc led by former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite, has 91 seats. The bloc includes several Sunni groups, some of whose leaders would not want to do anything with the US military, which they see as having brought the Shiites to the fore by invading and toppling the Sunni Saddam Hussein regime and then protecting the Shiite-led government that succeeded it. Some of them do not even believe that the US military will leave as scheduled. They think that the US would use one pretext or another to stay on.

Of course, Washington did have influence with Allawi to persuade him to join the Maliki coalition in late 2010 after an eight-month deadlock following parliamentary elections. The US could have convinced him to support a new status of forces agreement, but the former prime minister’s options with his bloc’s partners were limited.

In view of these constraints, it was obvious that the US would not have succeeded in convincing the Maliki government  to enter a new status of forces agreement.

In fact, the US administration’s relations with the various Iraqi political groupings are frail mainly because of the Iran factor.

Obviously, the Republican camp are ignoring the realities on the ground in Iraq and are accusing Obama of having lost Iraq to Iran in the run-up to next year’s presidential elections in which Obama will seek a second term.

The main fact remains, Iraq was lost to Iran the moment the first American military tank crossed the border into Iraq on March 20, 2003. And, mind you, it was a Republican president who ordered the invasion.


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