Iraq Splinters on Security

Greg Bruno
Council on Foreign Relations
Thursday, June 12, 2008; 2:52 PM

Five years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, factions in Iraq's parliament continue to squabble over oil, borders (UPI), and ballots (CNN). But on at least one important matter -- security deals between Washington and Baghdad -- Iraqis are increasingly in agreement. Opposition to the pacts is growing across Iraq's sectarian divide, as Sunni lawmakers, Shiite clerics, and some militia leaders have come out against U.S. proposals. Issues separating the sides include what role the United States should play in defending Iraq; its efforts to confront terrorist groups; and legal protections for U.S. troops and contractors.

But it would be an exaggeration to call this a unified Iraqi political front; motivations for challenging the deals are as varied as the factions are diverse. Some Shiite parties appear to be capitalizing on a "growing nationalist backlash" (Abu Muqawama). Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who says the deal would be "humiliating for the Iraqi people" (KUNA), has led a split (al-Hayat) of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Islamic Da'wa Paty, forming his own coalition. Ali al-Adeeb, another Da'wa party leader, contends the proposed agreements would "impair Iraqi sovereignty" (McClatchy) if U.S. demands for basing requirements are met. In the end, growing domestic pressure may force the Maliki government and its principle supporters to seek an extension of the UN mandate (WashPost) that authorizes the U.S. military presence. The White House wanted an inked agreement by the end of July.

Sunni concerns about the deals are more opaque. Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle East affairs with the Congressional Research Service, says some Sunni factions favor a long-term security arrangement with Washington -- in part because of assistance Sunni provinces received to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq, as this Backgrounder explains. But Sunni members of the Iraqi parliament have also fanned out across Washington to express frustration with the negotiations. During congressional testimony on June 4, Sunni political leader Khalaf al-Ulayyan, who heads the National Dialogue Council, called for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal to be included in the negotiations. "I believe most Iraqis are interested in a timetable for the withdrawal, which allows time to rebuild the Iraqi forces," said Ulayyan. The Sunni leader and his Shiite colleague, Nadeem al-Jaberi, presented U.S. lawmakers with a letter signed by a cross section (Washington Independent) of Iraq's parliamentarians all making the same claim.

Left to mediate is Prime Minister Maliki, who is walking a diplomatic tightrope between supporters in Washington, Baghdad, and Tehran, which has close ties to the prime minister. Maliki and President Bush signed a "declaration of principles" in November 2007 that broadly outlined the long-term security issues the two leaders aimed to settle. But during a state visit to the Iranian capital on June 8, Maliki made clear he is sensitive to Iranian concerns. Maliki pledged that Iraq would not become a launch pad (Reuters) for an attack on Iran, a vow that did little to comfort (Tehran Times) Iran's hierarchy.

It remains far from certain whether Iraq's politicians will support or reject the security conditions sought by the United States. Ali Allawi, Iraq's former finance minister, writes in the Independent that the only remaining institution with the power to block the agreement -- the Najaf religious establishment -- thus far has not come out clearly against the deal. Iraqi political analysts tell that Shiite opposition may be little more than pandering in advance of provincial elections this fall. CFR Senior Fellow for National Security Studies Max Boot says approaching Iraqi elections are likely contributing to the logjam, but so is "growing Iraqi complacency." Recent Iraqi military successes may have convinced Maliki "he doesn't need the Americans after all," Boot writes in the Los Angeles Times. For the United States, Iraq's domestic stalemate could significantly alter future military operations in the country. If a deal isn't brokered by the end of the year, Washington could technically be forced to choose between withdrawing or staying in Iraq illegally. But few military scholars expect such a stark choice, even if the Iraqi impasse goes unresolved. Stephen Biddle, CFR's Senior Fellow for Defense Policy, says any number of scenarios can keep U.S. troops in Iraq in medium-term future.

© 2008