Iraq Pact Challenges Antiwar Movement

What does the
US-Iraq Security Pact
mean for the antiwar movement? It certainly
may cement an American perception that the war is finally over,
stranding the peace movement as public opinion turns its attention to
the economy and the Obama administration.

The agreement forces the Bush administration and Pentagon to back down
from long-held positions, especially over deadlines. The barracking of
American troops in remote areas by June 2009 will be a retreat from
offensive operations. More important, the language of the agreement in
Arabic stipulates that all American forces, not merely combat units,
will be withdrawn by 2011.

If these terms are maintained, President-elect Obama will be acquiescing
in a doubling of his sixteen-month deadline for withdrawal of combat
troops, but also for the first time accepting a date for removal of the
so-called residual American forces--since "all" means all
counter-terrorism units, advisers, trainers and back-up forces that
could total 50,000 or more.

Because shrugging off treaty obligations is a custom of state, only
informed publics and alert parliamentarians in Washington and Baghdad
can ensure that these agreements are implemented.

This is not "out now," but that was never possible politically or
militarily. It's not literally "ending the war in 2009" as Obama
promised. But this pact is officially known as "the withdrawal
agreement" to all proud Iraqis. Read carefully, it is an agreed-upon
2009 timetable for ending the war, the occupation, the troop presence
and closing the military bases in three years.

What's wrong with this picture?

First, it is too slow. Only a few weeks ago Prime Minister al-Maliki was
praising Obama's sixteen-month timetable. Obviously something or someone
got to him. American Embassy officials, according to press accounts,
were buttonholing Iraqi parliamentarians in the hallways in the days
before the final vote. There are no registered lobbyists or even
lobbying laws in Baghdad.

Second, one can predict with certainty that there will be pressures to
extend the occupation despite the pact, using "instability" as
justification. Fully and truly ending the occupation is simply not an
option in the mentality of the national security bureaucracy.

The reason for this goes beyond a chronic mendacity and trail of broken
treaties. The balance of forces in Baghdad rests entirely on the
American occupation, and always has. Described by Stephen Biddle, an
adviser to General David Petraeus, in 2006 articles in Foreign
, the US occupation purports to protect the Iraqi Shi'a
regime of former exiles from a coup d'etat, while also presenting
itself to the insurgent Sunnis as the only protection against the
vengeful repression of the majority Shi'a.

The Sunnis' Fate

It is unpredictable how a gradual American withdrawal might alter this
balance of power. It could simply leave a US-backed sectarian Shi'a
police state in Baghdad, holding 40-50,000 Sunnis in detention. "The
Sunnis are roadkill," according to an American official quoted last week
in the Los Angeles Times. That is why the non-binding side
agreement pledging amnesty for Sunni political detainees is of great
importance--if it is enforceable. The continued granting of funds and
relative autonomy to the 99,000 former Sunni insurgents, who the
Americans currently pay not to shoot our troops, is equally
important--as are restored employment opportunities for former

The provincial elections now set for January could consolidate Sunni
power bases in at least three provinces where they have been
disenfranchised since 2005. The referendum on the pact scheduled in six
months provides greater leverage for two opposite poles of discontent
with the occupation--the minority Sunnis and the much larger number of
Shi'a followers of Moktada al-Sadr, whose demand is to accelerate the

Here at home, the agreement will force the antiwar movement into
careful consideration of a broader agenda. Unless the pact is violated,
it is difficult to imagine hundreds of thousands demonstrating to bring
the troops home in 2010 instead of 2011. There will be continued
attention to implementing the pact and pressuring for human rights
standards in Baghdad, but the steady return of thousands of American
soldiers will send a powerful message to most Americans that the Iraq
War is ending, perhaps not soon enough, but ending nonetheless.

But it is possible to imagine broad and intense public support for a
movement questioning Obama's multiple wars--Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan,
not to mention Iran and the Israel-Palestine conflict--as unwinnable
quagmires that alienate countless Muslims and cost over $200 billion
annually that taxpayers cannot afford amidst a collapsing economy. In
this different framing, the antiwar movement could include the Iraq
withdrawal and diplomatic solutions in Afghanistan and Pakistan within a
new progressive agenda demanding a turn away from policing a world of
quagmires to addressing our spiralling economic, trade, healthcare and
energy crises.

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