Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Showdown at the Baghdad Corral

In Iraq, after more than four years, President Bush may be about to get what he has been hoping for: a clear reading on the Iraq situation that is free of U.S. politics.

But he might not like what he gets.

This is nothing to do with the progress report due next month or the evaluation promised for September by General Petraeus or even the Government Accountability Office’s non-partisan review due in early September.

No. What the president may well get is a vote by the Iraqi parliament that ends the UN mandate, thereby removing the fig leaf of UN approval for the continued occupation of Iraq by U.S. – led coalition forces.

The stage for such a vote has already been set by the Iraqi parliament’s vote on a binding resolution that requires Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to submit any proposed extension to the parliament for its approval. In the past, the prime minister has by-passed the parliament – noticeably so last December when, without consulting the Iraqi legislature, he sent a letter to the UN Security Council requesting a 12 month extension of the mandate.

As prime minister, al-Maliki can veto the just-passed binding resolution. Even the most ardent opponents of the U.S. and coalition troop presence concede they probably do not have the two-thirds majority to override a veto. (One must assume that al-Maliki has learned the political art of the parliamentary “whip” to line up enough “sure” votes that, added to those he can get by making “concessions” on less important items, will command a majority in his favor.)

The great unknown in all this, however, is how the Iraqi population might react to a veto. With polls consistently showing a majority – and an ever-expanding majority – of Iraqis calling for the departure of foreign troops, a veto could create a powerful political backlash against al-Maliki, one so powerful that it could swing votes away from al-Maliki and toward the nationalists. This would be more likely the case should a vote to override come on top of confirmation by General Petraeus of what, indeed, is beginning to look like a failed military “surge” strategy by the U.S.

In both the Petraeus report and that by the GAO, the key, measurements are likely to be the number of attacks on Iraqi security forces and the number of Baghdad “neighborhoods” the U.S. declares “pacified.” Should the former be up and the latter not rise above 300-325 (there are 457 in all), al-Maliki just might not want to risk losing a vote of “no confidence,” which this would be as it entails for Iraq a significant strategy shift. Such a loss undoubtedly would plunge the country into a political as well as a military morass.

Signing the binding resolution, on the other hand, would shift the pressure from al-Maliki and put it on Washington, for the Iraqi nationalists in parliament have enough strength to demand that a definitive timetable be set for foreign troops to leave as a condition for extending the UN mandate for six months.

There is little doubt that Bush would be unhappy to get that kind of news from Baghdad as it would put to the test his own promise to withdraw U.S. troops should that request be made by the Iraqi government. On the other hand, he could assume the tone of an unidentified senior military officer in Baghdad quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal article who believes the U.S. has “been too passive and deferential to Iraqi sovereignty.”

Admittedly, there are many “coulds,” “woulds,” “mights,” and “maybes” in this analysis, but that is the nature of Iraq today. Yet this very uncertain state is ready-made for Bush, who thinks of himself as “the decider.” He decided a long time ago that Iraq would be a democracy, and a vote by the Iraqi parliament would be proof of his vision. All he would need after that is to decide just how long the U.S. would take to withdraw, at which point he could declare “”victory” and leave office completely vindicated – even if his victory kills thousands more .


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Col. Smith:
Congrats on a fine article. You may find the following May 10 comment on this topic by Jonathan Weisman of interest; in response to my online Q asking about al-Maliki-as-Puppet, which received a "be glad to [fail to respond]" Mr Weisman managed to paint myself as well as others such as you and anyone else finding the Iraqi Parliamentary votes of interest, as "anti-war activists" while simultaneously painting the entire majority of the Iraqi Parliament who voted for the early-May withdrawal vote as "death squad organizers."

I should not have been surprised as my "WaPo-Live" Q excoriated the Post for pointedly ignoring my prior day's Q despite early submission. Notably the WaPo and NY times had also ignored my letters to the Editors [at very bottom of this post; included only as proof that a former Congressional staffer who can write floor speeches can also draft syntactically accurate letters to the editor].

I'll sign off now and attach my WaPo-Live Q with Mr Balz's answer for your delectation, followed my my Wapo-Ltr-to-Editor excerpt:
-Deborah S. Alexander, Esq.

Here is the Q and the reply:

Warren, N.J.: Yesterday I wrote asking Mr. Balz to comment on the curious parallel situation where both a majority of Iraqi lawmakers and a majority of U.S. lawmakers were being stymied by their respective heads of government. This question was never printed. Today an article relegated to page A12 finally covers the AP wire story from a few days ago about the Iraqi Parliament, noting "the development was a sign of a growing division between Iraq's legislators and prime minister that mirrors the widening gulf between the Bush administration and its critics in Congress."

My question today: Will you comment on whether the parallel efforts by Mr al-Rubaei and Mr. Cheney, traveling to shore-up support in the face of growing opposition, indicate that Mr. Maliki seems more and more to be a puppet? Iraqi Lawmakers Back Bill on U.S. Withdrawal (Post, May 11)

Jonathan Weisman: I would be glad to. I also note that while the story ran inside the paper, it was flagged on the front page with what we call a tagline. That's the next best thing really. It is significant, but I must say the petition drive was organized by Moqtada al-Sadr's wing in Parliament. Yes, he speaks for a large number of Iraqi Shi'ites. But it's a little scary when anti-war activists in the United States latch on to the death squad organizers in Baghdad.


St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Jonathan -- t

Here was

On May 10 I sent this to the WaPo editors; it remained unpublished; WaPo then DID write a story with a p 1 tag but has since again relagated this story to the dungeon... the first few sentences of my letter follow:
[Dear Editor]: Governor Tommy Thompson has noted that our administration should respect the wishes of the Iraqi people through their parliament who should be allowed to state whether they want the US to remain. Yet the Post ignores not only Governor Thompson but now ignores actual news about the majority of the Iraqi parliament’s call for a timed withdrawal of US forces.

Today – May 10, 2007- I read an AP article in the International Herald Tribune whose headline was: "Majority of Iraqi lawmakers call for timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops.” I would like the Post to explain why it has refused to print reportage on this AP-wire information since it seems that a majority of both the Iraqi and U.S. elected representatives are facing leaders who are attempting to quash the will of their country’s people.

It seems like a bizarre coincidence that our two countries' leaders are both trying to circumvent the will of the majority in both countries

11:13 AM  

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