Saturday, November 26, 2005

Iraq: it's nearly over but not quite yet

Cole quotes Arabic press reports that representatives of the "guerrilla movement" in Iraq met with the Iraqi political parties, other Arab states, and US intelligence at a conference in Cairo, where they stated their terms. The terms are as follows:
1) working to end the foreign occupation;
2) compensation to the Iraqis for the damages arising from the American invasion;
3) the release of prisoners;
4) building political and military institutions that are not subservient to American and regional influence.
Or to put it another way, this is the beginning of the end. It's nowhere near the beginning of the end of the war, but it is the beginning of the end of our war in Iraq. 1) is clear - get out. 3) is obvious (but not trivial). 2) can be read as blackmail: pay up and we might - might - grant you a relatively orderly departure, rather than insisting on live-broadcast humiliation, burning Chinooks and screaming mobs. 4) is interesting. "Political and military institutions that are not subservient to American influence", I think, means the re-establishment of the old Iraqi army and the order of the boot for Jaafari's government. "Regional influence", I suppose, means essentially the two I's, Israel and Iran - these particular guerrillas are part of what I call NOIA, the New Old Iraqi Army, and they are not keen on Iran at all. And you can forget diplomatic relations with Israel any time before the crack of doom.

This is why I'm anti-timetables. If we say that come what may, in six months' time the last coalition soldier will step over the Kuwaiti border, we have to accept all of these. For example, the terms suggest that we have to depose the SCIRI-UIA from government as they are arguably subservient to both American and "regional" influence. That brings problems - not only were they sort-of elected, they have their own armies and allies, and they are in the majority. Sacking Jalal Talabani from the presidency would also presumably trigger Kurdish secession and all that would follow from it. From a selfish point of view, it would also be militarily foolish.

When we leave Iraq we will go the same way we came, along the motorway (State Highway 8) south from Baghdad past the Shia towns, over the Euphrates, south-west of Basra and eventually to the docks in Kuwait City. This road (it leads on past Baghdad and eventually takes you to Mosul) is the main supply route for the whole coalition force, with a subsidiary air route to Baghdad Airport and the Corps Support Command logistics base at Balad South East airfield northeast of Baghdad. Appeasing the Sunni insurgents would be penny wise, pound foolish if it incenses the Shia, because our line of retreat is through their territory. The 2004 Shia rising effectively bollocksed up the logistics system to the point where the Green Zone was on half rations precisely because that road is where it is.

So that's a term we can't agree to. If we are tied to a specific date, though, we have no choice in the matter. That is the danger of a timetable. If we don't accept, then we still go in six months but we have to retreat under constant attack. And they will get what they want anyway.

Another point on this: as Comments Dan pointed out, British forces are currently covering the southern end of that route and the border with Kuwait. We can't leave until everyone else has, short of leaving the US to negotiate a deal with Iran to get out and accept that the NOIA will do exactly as it pleases, which would be a military disaster, lead to the immediate elimination of the Iraqi government and probable further intervention by the neighbours, and also be equivalent to terminating the Atlantic alliance.

You may be interested to know, according to the Washington Post, that the security situation is now so bad that you cannot move around the Green Zone freely. Perhaps the fear that one day the Zone will fall in some sort of bloody, epic crisis is illusory, an example of how you expect big and dramatic things to be big and dramatic. Maybe it's just going to shrink - presumably we leave when the security perimeter equals the size of John Negroponte's office? More drawdown talk here, although I class this with most of the "withdrawals in six months" stuff. We won't get out until we go, so to speak.

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