The USA has admitted defeat, for now, in its attempt to impose a “State of Forces Agreement” which would give the US military the powers of a parallel government in Iraq for many years to come.
Instead, the USA plans to get a more informal “memorandum of understanding” with the Baghdad government which will allow US military operations to continue for a while after their UN mandate expires in December 2008. But George W Bush will tip the task of getting long-term guarantees for the USA in Iraq into the lap of the next president.
“In place of the formal status-of-forces agreement negotiators had hoped to complete by July 31, the two governments are now working on a ‘bridge’ document, more limited in both time and scope...” (Washington Post, 13 July)
This development probably reflects more self-confidence on the part of the shaky Iraqi government. In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel (19 July), Baghdad prime minister Nuri al-Maliki has called for US troop withdrawals soon more firmly than ever before.
“Spiegel: Would you hazard a prediction as to when most of the US troops will finally leave Iraq?
“Maliki: As soon as possible, as far as we’re concerned. US presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes...”
On Friday 18 July, the White House announced that the United States and Iraq had agreed to a “general time horizon” for US troop withdrawals as part of the “bridging document” talks. This is about partial, not complete, US military withdrawal, and the “time horizon” has not been made public, but the announcement reflects a shift.
On Saturday 19 July, maybe as a result of Maliki’s firmer stand in the talks with the USA, the Sunni-Arab political bloc led by the Iraq Islamic Party (Iraqi offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) agreed to rejoin the Baghdad government after a nearly year-long boycott.
Maliki also felt confident enough to have the parliament appoint four new people to ministries which had stood vacant since the previous ministers, supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, pulled out last year.
According to the Arabic-language paper Al-Zaman, Iraq’s provincial elections have been postponed from October to 22 December. That gives the Maliki government more time before a probably fraught moment, but also helps Bush and McCain, pushing that fraught moment to after the US presidential elections.
That the USA’s high-handed demands have been rejected is good news. In some ways, that the Baghdad government feels more confident, and less as if it has to agree to almost any US demand because without US troops it will be quickly be swept away, is good news too.
We should remember, however, what sort of a government it is that feels more confident.
It is dominated by Islamic clerical fascists or semi-fascists. It has maintained the anti-union laws from Saddam Hussein’s time; tried (unsuccessfully so far) to enforce them by telling oil industry bosses not to talk to Iraqi oil unions, and threatening to arrest or sack oil union activists; and had Decree 8750, from 2005, empower the government to seize all union funds. In its constitution for Iraq it deleted even the vague clause about the right to strike written into the US-designed Transitional Administrative Law of 2004-5.
Iraq’s labour movement needs our support for its own independent efforts, and to help it take a lead in the struggle for self-determination for the peoples of Iraq.