Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Next Agreement

Prime Minister Maliki says that our troops will leave Iraq at the end of 2011--period:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled out the presence of any U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of 2011, saying his new government and the country's security forces were capable of confronting any remaining threats to Iraq's security, sovereignty and unity.

Mr. Maliki spoke with The Wall Street Journal in a two-hour interview, his first since Iraq ended nine months of stalemate and seated a new government after an inconclusive election, allowing Mr. Maliki to begin a second term as premier.

He seemed firm:

"This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed."

I don't buy that statement. Well, I buy it--he means it now because he needs anti-American and pro-Iranian people in his coalition who absolutely insist on it--but while the current agreement is sealed, there could be another that keeps us in Iraq after 2011. We are needed for too many critical functions that Iraqis cannot yet take over for the issue to be sealed. Maliki even raised this possibility:

But Mr. Maliki said the only way for any of the remaining 50,000 or so American soldiers to stay beyond 2011 would be for the two nations to negotiate—with the approval of Iraq's Parliament—a new Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, similar to the one concluded in 2008.

That deal took a year of protracted negotiations in the face of vehement opposition from many among Mr. Maliki's own Shiite constituency, and no repeat is expected.

Mr. Maliki and U.S. officials have refrained for the most part from raising the issue publicly during the months of political wrangling in Baghdad, as Mr. Maliki negotiated with potential coalition partners, many of whom have adamantly opposed an extended U.S. stay.

No repeat can be expected any time soon. But the logic is clear that we are needed. Maliki will need to fully sideline the Sadrists, but with those troublemakers apparently kept out of key security posts, I'd guess that is more likely than watching all our forces leave in one year.