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July 11, 2008

Iraq Poleaxed Political Debate

Roy Meachum

The New York Times reported early this week:

BAGHDAD – Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Malikli publicly confirmed Monday his government was leaning toward a short-term security pact with the United States instead of a broader agreement that would last for years.


The Associated Press carried a later story:

BAGHDAD (AP)--Iraq's national security adviser said Tuesday his country will not accept any security deal with the United States unless it contains specific dates for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces.


In essence, Iraqi top officials said thanks, but no thanks, to Washington's proposals to stick around "as long as it takes." Mr. al-Maliki temporized a tad; he refused to name dates for Western withdrawal. All around him, voices are shouting there can be no legislative approval of a signed deal unless it firmly states the American army must go.


"Our stance in the negotiations underway with the American side will be strong...We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that doesn't have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq,” said Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, the security adviser.


To add weight to the statement, it must be noted Mr. al-Rubaie talked to the press immediately after meeting with the nation's top Shiite cleric: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, as we saw in Iran, outranks the president and prime minister. Shiites believe in total theocracy, which is part of the reason Iraqi Sunnis are the backbone of the insurgency movement.


Not incidentally, published reports warn the U.S. subsidies to Sunnis who agree to fight al-Qaeda are running out. No one has any real idea what will happen to their arms; the millions spent training them would make them prime targets for recruitment by their former enemies. Crossing over they could take the American-provided weapons along. Others have, including the Taliban. Fresh from beating the Soviets, they employed the Washington-furnished arsenal to impose an anti-West totalitarian regime on Afghanistan.


In what seems in this corner to be a rush before Republicans lose control of Washington, the Bush administration let be known they're working, in hand with their Iraqi allies, to hand over the world's third-largest oil deposits to five western corporations.


Without resorting to bidding among the reportedly 45 companies that have expressed interest in the Iraqi fields, their development will be awarded to Total (French), Shell (Dutch), British Petroleum (English), Chevron (U.S.) and Exxon-Mobil (U.S.).


As readers know, protests against the Iraq invasion were fueled to no small degree by fears Washington was really after the country's oil. As gas prices double and redouble, those fears increased; they are strongly reinforced by news the new contracts will be awarded on a no-bid basis. The administration denies it played any role in the deals; admitting only it advised on technical aspects of the suggested contracts.


Few European and Middle Easterners go along with that rationalization. Not susceptible to humanitarian motives, pragmatic minds reason there could be no other justification than oil. The war contributed in a major way to destroying the U.S. economy; it killed over 4,000 Americans plus hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Most of all, Washington's failure to withdraw immediately after Saddam Hussein's fall confirmed suspicions George W. Bush and colleagues wanted oil, above all else.


Is there any wonder Iraqis want to see the backs of American troops, and soon?


Ironically, these stories developed within a week of the Democratic candidate-presumptive waffling on his previously strong position about an immediate withdrawal. Barack Obama later attempted to assuage supporters by stating he still wanted a timetable. The damage was done.


On the other hand, Republican counterpart John McCain could draw no comfort from his rival's dilemma. The pending no-bid oil contracts combined with Baghdad's demands for U.S. withdrawal to condemn hopes the senator might make Iraq the touchstone of his march on the White House.


Mr. McCain's pledge to remain in Iraq 100 years – if that's what it takes to pacify and secure the country – renders him ridiculous. He would make this nation an international dictatorship, rolling over any opinion that does not fit America's.


As readers know, grandson Christopher George Meachum survived a tour in Iraq, but that's hardly enough. I worry about other young men and women, Iraqi and American, caught up in the Washington-made disaster that continues to consume lives and reputations, notably this nation's.


I despair.


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