Top people in the Iraqi government are saying that the deal which Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki has negotiated with the USA for US troops to remain in Iraq after their UN mandate runs out on 31 December now probably won’t be approved.
On 20 October the Iraqi cabinet rejected the text, and on the 24th a leading figures in the government coalition said Maliki would not put the deal to the Iraqi parliament.
The fallback is probaly for a further short UN mandate, six or twelve months. Russia has said that it will not oppose that.
Earlier this year, the USA tried to get Iraq to approve a strong “State of Forces Agreement” which would have made the US military a virtual parallel government in Iraq for the indefinite future.
The Maliki government, however, has gained some weight and confidence, shown also by its decision to award a big oil contract to a Chinese company and the bidding process it started on 13 October for further oil contracts.
In the negotiations it shifted the US some distance from its initial position. The draft text calls for US troops to withdraw to their bases by June 2009 and to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 — both dates subject to extension, but only if the Iraqi government requests it.
The draft would allow Iraq to prosecute US troops except when they’re on US bases or on military operations, strip private military contractors of US legal protection and reclaim control over Baghdad’s Green Zone.
But Iraq has provincial elections coming up in January 2009, and the Shia-Islamist government parties do not want to go to the polls with the handicap of having signed an agreement which endorses the presence of the unpopular US troops. Shia-Islamist groups currently outside the government, the Sadr movement and Fadila, have campaigned against the agreement, though they have not demanded immediate US withdrawal.
Mike Mullen, chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that “there is great potential for losses of significant consequence” if the deal is not ratified, but it may be that behind the scenes the Bush-Cheney administration is happy to leave the mess to Obama or McCain to sort out.
Paradoxically, some of the Sunni Islamists who constituted the main anti-US “resistance” until recently are now supporting the draft deal. They are worried about the consolidation of power in the hands of the Shia-dominated Maliki government, which they see as close to Iran, and they see the US?as a counterweight.
Reidar Visser, an expert on Iraqi Shia politics, reckons: “The end result may well be a deal that is in fact tolerable to Iran in that it keeps US forces bogged down in Iraq and helps the Maliki government with the finishing touches in its project of achieving dominance in Iraq” (www. historiae.org).
Iraq could easily still lurch back from current conditions — hellish, but a bit quieter — to outright communal civil war. Since the Sunni ex-”resistance” al-Sahwa militias, previously paid by the US, came under Iraqi government control on 1 October, the government has moved to arrest and prosecute several leading militia figures. The militiamen see this as a sectarian move.
Sunni-Shia conflict could re-ignite. Government measures have also increased Arab-Kurdish tension. Meanwhile, the government’s actual successes in establishing civil administration are limited.
But the government is a solidly right-wing one. Even if its consolidation brings a more assertive attitude to the USA, it brings real dangers for the Iraqi labour movement. The government has kept Saddam-era laws on the books, making almost all the existing unions formally illegal; it has promised to take a new labour law to parliament, but shows no sign of doing so; it maintains Decree 8750 from 2005, authorising the government to seize all union funds.
The Iraqi Freedom Congress reports big workers’ demonstrations in late October in Alexandria and in Basra, in southern Iraq, over revoked pay rises which the government promised to restore after previous demonstrations, but has not restored.
Democratic self-determination for Iraq, which is possible only on a secular basis; democratic control by the people of Iraq over the country’s big natural resource, its oil; legally-guaranteed rights for the Iraqi labour movement; inflation-protection for pay; work or a living income for the jobless; and emergency expansion of public services — these are the demands that point a way out.