Monday, November 17, 2008

WHAT DOES THE IRAQ TERMINATION ORDER REALLY MEAN?

Noah Shachtman, Wired - Iraq's cabinet approved a pact that allows American forces to stay in the country for three more years. But after that, the G.I.s are gone -- "a full withdrawal of American forces from the country by the end of 2011," is how the New York Times describes it. "The Iraqis have forced an end to the war," adds Spencer Ackerman. . .

But there's still wiggle room. . . Check out these comments from Iraqi Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, speaking to reporters. . .

In one breath, al-Dabbagh says the December 31, 2001 date "is not subject to conditions on the ground. It is a fixed and final date." But in the very next sentence, he notes, "at that time, the government will have the opportunity to decide which kind of agreement it will have with the United States, but not this agreement - [it will have to be] another agreement according to what the legitimate [Iraqi] government of the time deems fit."

Al-Dabbagh struck a similar tone later in the press conference, when he said:

"It is now time - after the improvement in the security situation - for the Iraqi side to take on the responsibility progressively and gradually, a process that ends, as the agreement states, on 31 December 2011 or on a date the Iraqi side believes it is ready and its forces are able to assume full responsibility for security.". . .

While this agreement does call for G.I.s to be out by the end of 2011, a well-informed source says, there's nothing stopping the Iraqis from drawing up another document, down the road, that extends U.S. forces' stay. Now, maybe that second agreement will never be written. Maybe an Obama administration will find no reason to prolong the Iraq conflict -- even if it's allowed to do so, on paper. Or maybe U.S. troops will continue patrolling Iraq, more than eight years after this war began.

Juan Cole says the agreement (which still has to be approved by Iraq's parliament) provides flexibility -- in the other direction. Iraqis could end the war earlier than 2011. "Some Western observers have assumed that the 2011 date is non-negotiable once the agreement is signed, but that is not true," he writes.

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