MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Maria Appakova) - Iraqis have once again not lived up to U.S. expectations.
The Iraqi Council of Ministers decided to introduce new amendments to the draft of the U.S.-Iraqi strategic partnership agreement concerning the possible withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
This will inevitably result in resumed U.S.-Iraqi talks, despite the fact that recently both parties stated that they had reached a compromise that was to be officially adopted only.
It is likely that finishing negotiations is something the next U.S. president will have to deal with, and Iraqis are anxiously awaiting who will win the White House. Washington seems to be so disappointed that it has dropped hints about suspending its operations in Iraq. But can it allow itself to behave like a petulant girl?
"There is great reluctance to engage further in the drafting process," U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the press. "I don't think that the door has been slammed shut, but I would say it's pretty far closed," he added.
According to Secretary Gates, a failure to reach a new status of forces agreement (SOFA) or renew the current UN mandate for Multi-National Force - Iraq (MNF-I), which expires on December 31, will mean a suspension of U.S. operations in Iraq.
"We basically will stop doing anything," Gates said.
The Pentagon chief also pointed out that he has heard no discussion in the U.S. government of seeking a renewed UN mandate, which would require a vote by the UN Security Council.
"Going back to the UN at this point, there's no assurance that you'd get a clean rollover. So that's not a solution that is free from peril," Gates underscored.
But is it possible that Americans could get so offended that they would withdraw from Iraq, thereby admitting complete helplessness and acknowledging the futility of the military campaign in Iraq? Are they going to give terrorists a chance to settle down in Iraq? Or are they just blackmailing Iraqis, being aware of the fact that the presence of foreign troops is of vital importance to them? Baghdad has been unable to settle security issues itself despite the palpable progress in this area, and the UN mandate expires at the end of this year.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that Americans did indeed attempt to blackmail Iraqis. According to the diplomat, Americans sent Iraqis a clear message: unless the latter signed an agreement with the U.S., they would lose, and the UN Security Council would not renew the mandate for Multi-National Force, since Russia was going to veto the resolution.
Lavrov did not give the names of those who are behind such provocations. However, he does not even need to specify it, provided what Secretary Gates has said. In any case, Moscow assured Baghdad that if it wishes, the UN mandate will be renewed - at least, Russia won't be the one to impede it.
However, Americans are in no hurry to raise this question in the UN Security Council. Staying in Iraq in accordance with an international mandate is one thing, but having a strategic partnership treaty and receiving dividends from it is quite another matter.
Yet Washington has no choice - it cannot take offence at Iraqis and pull out its troops from Iraq. It won't be able to attach the blame for withdrawal to Russia, since Moscow does not mind Americans continuing their presence there for a while, and Russia is not in favor of an upsurge of terror in the region, after all. The long-term agreement between Baghdad and Washington, however, is another matter. Moscow, which has its own interests in the Persian Gulf region, cannot help reacting to the document. However, it is obvious that it is not Moscow's stance that makes Iraqis anxiously await the results of the negotiations with Washington.
Only Iraqi Kurds support the current draft of the agreement, which is not surprising - the U.S. has turned into their security guarantor. Muqtada al-Sadr's attitude is also natural - the Shia leader has dismissed the document in principle, urging to pull out foreign military from Iraq immediately. Muqtada al-Sadr has stuck to this position for a couple years, and there is no reason for changing it now. But why is Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who participated in the negotiations with the U.S., against the document?
During a press conference, one of the most influential MPs, Humam Hamoudi, cited the prime minister as saying during the recent intergovernmental discussions over the agreement, "What [the Americans] have given with their right hand they have taken away with their left hand. [...] For example, they said that U.S. forces will withdraw from towns by June 2009 if the security situation permits that. But who will decide that?" Mr. Hamoudi asked on behalf of Iraqis.
These concerns are easy to understand - they regard Iraq's sovereignty, its future. But it took a long time to draft the document, and a lot has been changed. Some of the changes are so drastic that even Congressmen doubt whether Washington will benefit from the agreement.
Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Ike Skelton stated that he is "deeply concerned" with what he heard. Mr. Skelton is referring to the agreement's provisions that have recently leaked to the press, which include, for example, the Iraqi government's ability to put America servicemen and private security companies' personnel on trial for crimes they committed while on leave and outside military bases.
It must be said that if this provision has really been included in the draft, it is quite a victory for the Iraqi government.
Clearly, Baghdad should be satisfied with what it has already gained; even more so because Americans are determined not to allow for concessions anymore. What do Iraqi ministers hope to accomplish by proposing new amendments to the agreement? Are they waiting for a new, more flexible U.S. administration? Or trying to save face in the eyes of their own people, understanding that parliament, where tensions are even more intense than in the government, is likely to turn down the draft?
To some extent, the U.S.-Iraqi cooperation agreement fell victim to inner political chaos in Iraq. In recent years Baghdad has not adopted a single strategically important law; both the government and parliament were on the verge of break-up several times. The U.S. has to deal with the administrative system that it had previously established in Iraq.
Also, according to numerous sources in Iraq, Tehran is behind the Iraqi politicians' sluggishness in their talks with Washington. Nouri al-Maliki, who counts Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia popular leader, among his key opponents, does not want to quarrel with Iran. But you can't have it both ways - satisfying Washington and Teheran simultaneously is a difficult art to master.
The present situation with the agreement could drag on forever. The outcome depends on the relations between the U.S. and Iran, but it is hard to predict their future.
Nevertheless, who knows what the next U.S. president will be guided by: he won't have George Bush's commitments, neither before Americans nor Iraqis. You never know what the U.S. might consider profitable with the economic crisis growing - to return soldiers home or unleash another war in the region.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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