Wednesday, December 10, 2008

To Smell a Rat – Status of Forces Agreement Iraq

To smell a rat is to consider the Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) just signed by the Iraqi central government and the US. The agreement at this stage is a piece of paper that provides a legal fig leaf to cover the occupation of Iraq by the US to replace the US/United Nations mandate that expires 1 January 2009. The document's ultimate validity depends on a nation-wide referendum by the Iraqi people scheduled for July 2009.

The fact is that the agreement extended the legitimacy of the US occupation six months, until the middle of next year – politically it keeps US troops in Iraq while GW Bush remains in office until 20 January 2009. It permits GW Bush to play Pontius Pilate and wash his hands of the pending final defeat.

The day the US announced the signing of this interim agreement, two US troops were killed along with 14 Iraqis at a checkpoint in Mosul – a specious document sealed in US and Iraqi blood. Thus far, the agreement has not been presented for public examination. It was briefed as a classified draft document to Congress in October 2006. This is enough to make the hair stand on the back of your neck. What is there to hide, especially since this is an openly signed agreement with a foreign country?

Based on what is being leaked on the document, there appears to be much over with which to be concerned. Let us start with a statement by retired Major General Paul Eaton who publicly indicated that the document permits the US to accelerate or retard the agreement. The date for US-inscribed troop withdrawal is out by 2012 – if that date is retarded, it means withdrawal extends beyond 2012.

That General Eaton made the statement is significant, because he is one of those dissident retired generals who opposed the Iraq war after he retired. Furthermore, he is closely associated to the Obama camp. He never was a member of the retired star officer clique that publicly promoted the Iraq War as Pentagon propagandists or lobbyists for defense contractors.

During the presidential campaign Obama promised a 16-month troop withdrawal from Iraq. Now if you listen to his position on the subject, he makes declarations on all COMBAT troops to be removed during that period – there is a big difference. Army planners quickly admit that troops can be remissioned; that they are turned from combat troops to training and support troops by redefinition... There are estimates that range from 30,000 to 70,000 troops to be re-categorized.

These planners also expect these troops to remain beyond the 2012 target date. So this probably explains General Eaton's retarded troop withdrawal comment. Call this ambiguous spin, or what you wish, but to a majority of Iraqis, it is occupation. In this case, expect blood and dollars to continue to flow, SOFA or no SOFA.

Ratification of the agreement by the the Iraqis was problematic. Out of 499 members in the Iraqi parliament, 275 voted for passage; 91 members did not vote. Sunnis voted for it because they wanted services to be continued by US troops. The powerful Shiite cleric Ayatollah Sistani is not in favor of the SOFA, because the approval is not overwhelming. Shiites from the el Sadr militia have demonstrated against the agreement recently, by burning GW Bush's effigy in a public square. Most experts agree that if the July referendum was not included in the SOFA, its ratification would have failed.

There are other important issues in the SOFA which are embedded points of conflict. If the ratification does not pass in July 2009, all US troops must depart in a year. In November 2008, the US assigned the responsibility to pay 100,000 armed Sunni militia to the Iraqi central government. Payments were reduced from 350 dollars a month to 300 dollars. Payments are intentionally slowed up as the Shiite-dominated central government attempts to reduce the size of the Sunni force. Insurgent activity in Sunni areas is now increasing as the pay lines get longer. Expect this payment arrangement to become atrophied, to be followed by an insurgent explosion in Sunni lands.

This war is not over by a long shot. Hopeless Henry Kissinger, his clone side-kick, former SecState Larry Eagleburger, along with Right Wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh, who all are delighted with Obama's national security team, have publicly praised it. All these people are against withdrawal. So keep your expectations low that Obama will end the war. The war will end for the US only when the occupation ends. The SOFA does not portend this end.

All this SOFA drama is cast in a land of extensive corruption. Iraq follows Somali and Zimbabwe as the most corrupt nation in the world. Just think of the US policy as a bailout for war profiteers to the tune of 10 billion dollars per month. Makes you grind your teeth doesn't it ?

So far it appears that Obama has changed, rather than the US policy in Iraq. Too bad for America, as this continuity in Iraq will undermine most of his attempts to set a new course in US foreign policy. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret.


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