As Iraqi political forces significantly realign their allegiances, leaders have agreed to negotiate a deal to allow some US troops to remain in Iraq beyond December 2011.
Although the Iraqi security forces are capable of maintaining internal security, they are still many years away from developing a force that is capable of defending Iraq from external threats. The Iraqi security forces will require significant amounts of equipment and training assistance over the next five to 10 years in order to achieve this.
The status of forces agreement (SOFA) under which US forces operate was signed in 2008 and runs out in December 2011. A new agreement is required if US troops are to stay beyond 2011. The US currently has 44,000 troops in Iraq. As far back as April 6, former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered a message to Iraqi leaders that they must decide as soon as possible if they want US troops to remain beyond the December deadline. However, political disagreement within the Iraqi parliament had prevented a decision from being reached.
On Aug. 3, following four hours of closed-door talks led by President Jalal Talabani, an agreement was reached by Iraqi leaders to negotiate a deal to allow some US troops to remain in Iraq beyond the end of 2011.
Political realignment: Allawi in, Sadr out
In order to reach the agreement, a significant realignment of political forces within the Iraqi parliament seems to have taken place.
The deal brought former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and his Iraqiya party into the governing coalition in order to support the agreement. The deal included the activation of a national security council that he is to head. In addition it calls for Allawi’s party to choose a new defense minister (in charge of the Iraqi Army) in exchange for Mr. Maliki and his allies choosing the interior minister(in charge of the Iraqi Police). Those powerful posts have been vacant because of political disagreements since the governing coalition was formed in December. With Allawi’s backing, Prime Minister Maliki now has enough support for the agreement to be passed by parliament, even though the Sadrist bloc opposed it and has been a significant force blocking it.
The Sadrist bloc was an essential part of Maliki’s governing coalition, which was put together after Maliki’s State of Law party won fewer seats than Allawi’s Iraqiya party in last year’s parliamentary elections. The Sadrist bloc, with about 10 percent of the seats, became one of the kingmakers in parliament during the deadlock that followed and played a major role in finally electing Maliki to his second term as prime minister. But, yesterday, the head of the Sadrist bloc walked out of the meeting in protest over the agreement. The Sadrist bloc considers the US to be an occupying force and has threatened to return to violent opposition if US troops remain in Iraq.
So now “all political leaders have agreed on the US training mission in Iraq except the Sadrists, who have some reservations,” said President Talabani.
“One reason that we were encouraged by what has happened last night and frankly what has happened recently in the political give-and-take here is that there seem to be broad partnerships in political coalitions emerging that take tough decisions,” said a US embassy official, according to the Christian Science Monitor report.
An agreement to negotiate an agreement
A new SOFA agreement between Iraq and the US is not a done deal. This is just the start of negotiations, and a number of significant details still need to be worked out.
A possible agreement could include a drawdown from the current 44,000 US troops to between 3,000 and 6,000 troops that would take place by the December 2011. These remaining troops would stay in Iraq until 2015, with a possible extension to 2020.
The goals of the remaining US troops could include:
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