Pivotal US-Iraqi Deal Would Leave US Troop Presence in Iraq for Decades
US President George W. Bush made sure of a wall-to-wall Arab audience in Washington on Monday, Nov. 26, when, over a secure video-link, he signed a deal in principle with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki for an “enduring” US military presence in Iraq.
Iraqi officials foresaw a long-term presence of 50,000 US troops – down from the current 170,000.
Negotiations on the shape and size of the long-term US military presence, including military bases outside the cities, must be wrapped up by July 2008, when Washington intends to finish withdrawing the five combat brigades it added in 2007.
The US-Iraqi agreement would replace the UN mandate after its final extension to the end of 2008.
Maliki said in a televised address that the agreement provides for the US to support the “democratic regime in Iraq against domestic and external dangers,” as part of a strategic partnership. The principles provide for US military roles in deterring foreign aggression against Iraq and helping Iraq fight terrorism. Baghdad will encourage foreign capital into Iraq – especially American investments in developing its oil resources.
Three key points emerge from this “declaration of principles.”
1. President Bush needed this document – alongside the Annapolis Israel-Palestinian process – to prevent the policies he set in motion in the Middle East from expiring when his term of office ends. These policies are contingent on a permanent large-scale presence of US military, marine and air forces in the region – guaranteed up to app. 2030.
2. debkafile‘s military sources refer to a master plan disclosed on this site and DEBKA-Net-Weekly in late 2006, whereby more than 100,000 US troops will quit Iraq by the end of 2009, leaving behind 50-70,000 in twenty huge land and air bases. These bases are under construction; they will be secured by broad swathes of space, fortified with weaponry and remote-controlled electronic devices.
The American troops will be responsible for protecting Iraq’s borders from external threats, such as Iraq or al Qaeda, while Iraqi forces will be take charge of security in the cities.
3. US air strength and special forces in these bases will have rapid deployment capabilities for reaching points outside Iraq at need.
4. While this is not spelled out clearly, the declaration offers to reward the US for these defensive arrangements with preferential treatment for American investors in oil and other projects in Iraq. The United States thus plans to retain control over Iraq’s oil resources.
Two flies in the ointment in this deal are noted by debkafile‘s Iraq sources:
First, Americans will want explanations for the decision to keep an enduring US military presence in Iraq. Notwithstanding the recent success of US security strategy, the majority would prefer to see every last US soldier out of Iraq as soon as possible. This is especially so when the improvement may be short-lived and the violence recur.
Second, the Shiite prime minister’s signature on the declaration will not suffice to make it binding on all segments of Iraqi society. It will have to stand up to Kurdish and Sunni Muslim approval in and outside parliament.
Third, as matters stand now, the Shiite-led central government in Baghdad does not call the shots in the Sunni regions of central Iraq or the autonomous Kurdish region in the north.
Many bumps face the Bush-Maliki deal in the eight-month road up to its finalization. And even then, its practical segments will have to be adjusted to the satisfaction of the Iraqi government and the far-from stable conditions operating on the ground.