by John Isaacs [contact information]
Published in the Guardian UK on December 2, 2008
The security agreement signed by the United States and Iraq and approved by the Iraqi parliament last week marks the beginning of the end of the American occupation.
It is about time. For more than six years, this war has undermined the American position in the world, trampled Iraqi sovereignty and caused over 4,000 American and 176 British combat deaths – not to mention tens or even hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties.
Robert McNamara’s Vietnam war-era claim that we can see “the light at the end of the tunnel” now appears to actually be true in Iraq.
President-elect Barack Obama, in a December 1 press conference, agreed that the war is in its end-game. The US-Iraq agreement, Obama said, “points us in the right direction. It indicates we are now on a glide path to reduce our forces in Iraq.”
The agreement mandates that “all US combat forces” withdraw from urban areas in Iraq by June 30, 2009, and that “all US forces” withdraw from the country by December 31, 2011. The agreed-to language upholds Iraq’s “sovereign right” to demand the departure of US forces anytime and recognizes the United States’ “sovereign right” to remove its forces earlier than the end of 2011.
This timetable is consistent with Obama’s pledge, stated over and over during the election campaign, to remove all US combat troops within 16 months of taking office in January 2009.
Indeed, the agreement to remove all American forces by the end of 2011 goes beyond Obama’s promises, as he has talked of leaving a residual force in Iraq indefinitely to train and equip Iraqi security forces, fight terrorists and protect remaining American personnel. Obama may well run up against an Iraqi desire to be rid of American troops once and for all.
When negotiations began more than a year ago, those opposed to the continuation of the war feared the worst. It would be, they thought, an attempt by President George Bush to tie the hands of his successor. Anti-Iraq war activists also believed the agreement was an effort to leave a permanent American presence in Iraq with the control of oil substantially in American hands.
However, Iraqi government officials, concerned with the appearance of ceding too much power to the Americans, forced many concessions from the Bush administration. Indeed, the agreement represents a stunning reversal for the Bush administration, which until now rejected any timeline for troop withdrawals and clearly saw Iraq as an outpost and demonstration of America’s military power in the Middle East.
Instead, no matter how Iraq turns out in the end, this war will be marked by historians as a disaster in both conception and implementation.
The beginning of the end of the war does not mean that there will not be many hiccups along the way. While there are fewer casualties than before, there is little doubt that fighting may flare up again. There is still very little agreement on power sharing between the Shias, the Sunnis and the Kurds, and those groups may resume violent clashes in the future.
Moreover, the accord included a number of ambiguities that could grow into sore points. The two countries left vague the freedom of action for US soldiers, future security commitments and the protection of Iraqi assets.
And while the Iraqi parliament, and perhaps the Iraqi people through a future referendum, have been required to approve the agreement before it can go into affect, President Bush refused to submit the agreement for approval to the US Congress.
Still the agreement, combined with the coming to power of a new American president who opposed the war in the first place, means that American military involvement in Iraq is finally coming to an end.