Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mr. Maliki goes to Washington

Maliki and the Iraqi government need the help of the US, but in Iraq Maliki must assert Iraq's sovereignty and pretend that the Iraqi government are defeating their enemies on their own, without US support.

"As Maliki's power grew, his relationship with the United States became increasingly contradictory. Just as his rise was enabled by U.S. support, his government's dependence on U.S. help -- particularly in the security field -- continues to this day. The Iraqi Army, for instance, still depends on U.S. air support, communications, procurement, and logistics in order to function. But Maliki has never really acknowledged this fact. Instead, he has become more nationalistic and anti-American in his public rhetoric. Although it seemed paradoxical to many observers at the time, during the negotiations surrounding the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Maliki was aggressive in asserting Iraq's sovereign rights. He forced the Bush administration to accept an unconditional timeline for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011 and stated his willingness to accept immediate withdrawal if the United States did not accede to his terms. Since the signing of the agreement, Maliki has touted it as a heroically won expulsion of foreign forces from Iraqi soil. His nationalist stance continues today, as shown by the ostentatious celebrations he organized for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraqi cities on June 30.

Up to a point, the United States has welcomed Maliki's tough stance. One of the main reasons insurgents and violent actors are no longer able to find support among the Iraqi population is that most Iraqis think that the state has returned for good. Maintaining the public image of a strengthening, self-sufficient Iraqi government is thus a security priority for the United States and will be essential for the planned withdrawal of troops over the coming years. Most U.S. policymakers also accept Iraqi political realities, particularly as Iraq heads into January 2010's parliamentary elections, which will be critical for the long-term political future of Iraq. Indeed, the idea that the United States could invade an Arab country, topple its government, and establish a new one that would earn democratic legitimacy and be an ally of the United States was always unlikely given regional political dynamics and Iraq's history, which require some degree of distance from Washington.

Still, behind closed doors, many Iraqi leaders, including the prime minister's advisors, express their desire for a close long-term relationship with the United States. They think Iraq will need U.S. military support well beyond 2011 (requiring a negotiation of a new agreement superseding the SOFA) and would like the very favorable terms on which Uncle Sam provides this support to continue. Moreover, every Iraqi who comes through Washington these days, or who catches the ear of an American in Baghdad, stresses the importance of implementing the strategic framework agreement (SFA), a document committing the United States to support Iraq in economic, diplomatic, cultural, and even security fields. Maliki himself on his current trip to Washington will co-chair, along with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a meeting of the higher coordinating committee for SFA implementation."

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