Monday, November 3, 2008

Friends like these

America doesn’t know how alone it is in Iraq

By Patrick Cockburn

"Over the past five years, America and its Iraqi allies have pointed triumphantly at a series of spurious milestones meant to mark turning points on the road to stability and security. But the ongoing stalemate over a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which the Iraqi government refuses to sign despite intense American pressure, marks a true turning point in the conflict: it is a clear sign that American political influence in Iraq is weaker than ever.

It is the first time that an Iraqi government has rebuffed the US on a crucial issue since the invasion of 2003. The agreement, the subject of prolonged and divisive negotiations since March, was rejected by the Iraqi cabinet and is unlikely to be submitted to parliament in its present form. The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, who could not have obtained nor held his job without American backing, says he will not sign it as it is......

The Kurds say privately that Maliki is overconfident. This may be so, but he has a strong hand. It is too late for the Americans to try replace him. He owes his greatest triumph – facing down the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al Sadr in Basra, Sadr City and Amara earlier this year – as much to Iranian restraint of the Sadrists as to American military support. It would be dangerous for him to make an enemy of Iran by signing a deal to which they are vehemently and openly opposed........

The danger in Iraq is that neither McCain nor Obama seem to understand how far the US position in Iraq has weakened this year or why Iraq refuses to sign the security accord. The overselling of the surge as a great victory means that few Americans see that they are increasingly without allies in Iraq. The US no longer makes the political weather there. No matter who inherits the White House, American military retreat is now inevitable. The only question that remains is who will hold power in Baghdad after they have gone."

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