The WaPo’s Mary Beth Sheridan has a piece in today’s paper describing the US-Iraqi negotiations over a SOFA as having an important backstory of a US-Iranian struggle for influence over the Iraqi government’s decisionmaking. She writes:
- A deal to authorize the presence of American forces in Iraq beyond 2008 is forcing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to choose between two influential powers in this country: the United States and Iran.
U.S. officials had hoped Iraq would quickly approve the accord put before the cabinet this month, which would give 150,000 American troops legal authority to remain in Iraq after Dec. 31. But Iraqi political leaders have balked. Maliki has not openly supported the agreement forged by his negotiating team.
As the U.S. ponders withdrawal, it is clear that American political capital in Iraq is waning as Iran’s grows…
She then describes Ghassan al-Attiyah, an Iraqi political analyst at London’s Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy in London as describing the Maliki government as being torn equally between both foreign powers.
For my part, I wrote back in early June that I thought Washington had lost the battle for influence over Baghdad’s decisionmaking, and I see no reason to change that judgment now.
Let’s review a couple of facts:
- 1. The US has been extremely eager to “persuade” the Baghdad government to conclude a long-term security agreement it. Baghdad has thus far resisted these entreaties– though it has signed a security agreement with Iran.
2. The US has also been extremely eager to “persuade” the Baghdad parliament to pass oil legislation that would thereafter allow western oil firms to conclude legally sound contracts with the Baghdad government. The Iraqi government and parliament have been playing a prolonged game of “pass the parcel” regarding that oil legislation, so western oil firms have not yet been able to sign contracts with the Baghdad government. Meantime, back in June, Baghdad concluded a significant ($3 billion) oilfield development/rehab contract with China.
Why do the MSM in the US not report these things, and not take them into adequate account when they’re assessing the present state of play inside Iraq? Why do they connive so deeply in perpetuating the myth maintained by the Bush administration that, (a) the recent history of the US intervention in Iraq has been one of some strategic success; (b) if we can’t yet exactly see the success, still, it is just around the corner; and (c) that Washington is still, definitely, in a position to be able to impose its “conditions” on Baghdad?
However, what is happening in and over Iraq right now is not a purely bilateral, zero-sum game between the influence of Washington and that of Tehran. This, because there are significant actors within Tehran that see the continued deployment of some US troops in Iraq as helpful to their own security (by providing a self-deterrent against any US or US-enabled attack against Iran.)
I think this is the best context in which to understand the otherwise bizarre “threat” that Gen. Ray Odierno delivered to the Baghdad government last week, namely that if the Baghdad government didn’t hurry up and sign the SOFA on the terms Washington wants, why then the US forces might all just have to pack up and go home.
From the point of view of Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki and a strong majority of both the Iraqi population and the Iraqi parliament, that outcome would be just fine. In poll after poll after poll, a strong majority of Arab Iraqis (though not of members of the Kurdish community that makes up around 17% of the national population) say that that is just what they want to happen.
So as a political “threat” against Maliki it doesn’t make any sense. And one has to assume that even Ray Odierno is smart enough to understand that at this point?
But Odierno was presumably calculating that the US message (blackmail threat?) to Maliki would also be heard in Tehran… And there, by contrast, it might indeed have some political traction and relevance?
If this is the case, as I suspect, then we could conclude that Tehran might currently be exerting quiet pressure on the Maliki government to make some of the concessions in the SOFA negotiations that Odierno and his masters seek?
Interesting, if so.