Monday, December 02, 2013

In Iraq, insurgency continues plague fledgling government; should be a warning to Afghan government to accept US aid at face value

The Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq, signed by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and President George W. Bush in 2008, established a clear withdrawal plan for all “combat” forces by December 31, 2011. There was, however, an understanding among many U.S. officials that a renegotiated agreement would have to be made so that American forces could stay in order to continue the development of the Iraqi Security Forces.
In 2011, the U.S. made repeated statements that it would continue to assist the Iraqi government if a small force were allowed to stay behind and the Iraqis seemed to genuinely appreciate the offer. Yet as the months went by, and the number of troops Washington was willing to keep in country dropped, the certainty of an American troop presence became unclear to both the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

By mid-October 2011, however, little headway had been made in establishing an agreement over what future American troop presence would look like in Iraq. The deal-breaker was over legal protections for American troops. Allowing foreign troops legal immunity was seen by many Iraqis as a sacrifice of their sovereignty and a continuation of the American occupation. Incidents such as the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and the Haditha massacre were still fresh in the minds of many Iraqis, and they and their leaders wanted American troops subject to Iraqi law. No American commander wanted to run the risk of one of their troops ending up in an Iraqi courtroom if they were forced to defend themselves.

Even if these legal issues had been resolved, there was little political capital in either country to back continued American involvement in Iraq. Both President Obama and Prime Minister Maliki had staked their political fortunes on campaign promises to end American occupation, and in withdrawal President Obama could claim he “ended the war in Iraq” and President Maliki strengthened Iraqi sovereignty.

So, on December 16, 2011, the last American troops left Iraq, save for some 160 Soldiers attached to the U.S. Embassy. Since then, the country has quickly slid back into sectarian violence and insurgency. Last month, sectarian violence and terrorism killed 659 Iraqis and injured almost 1,400, according to casualty figures released by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq. This year, 7,157 civilians and 952 Iraqi security forces have died in sectarian violence, according to U.N. figures.

As we approach the expected withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan at the close of next year, the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai faces similar choices as the Iraqi government did in 2011. Karzai is in a much better political position than the one Maliki found himself in two years ago. President Karzai's own Loya Jirga, or Counsel of Elders, has urged him to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) which will allow for a continued American troop presence in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Maliki lacked Parliamentary support in general for any continued American presence, especially one in which they viewed as a continued infringement of Iraqi sovereignty. These same issues have been brought up, but with much more success in Afghanistan. There, American troops would still retain immunity, but be highly restricted in their interactions with local Afghans. The servicemen and women continuing on in Afghanistan would be based at a few large, secure forward operating bases, and their primary mission would be the training and equipping of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

Under the BSA, U.S. troops may remain in Afghanistan in a support role for the next decade and possibly beyond. However, it could be terminated if need be, by mutual agreement or with two years’ notice from either party. President Karzai is still holding out for more legal concessions, a halt to American raids on Afghan homes, and a release of Afghan prisoners being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

Some have argued that President Karzai's opposition is an act of saving face since his last term is to end by mid-2014. They say he wants his legacy to be that he stood up to the Americans and got the best deal for the Afghan people. He says that he wants to wait until his successor is in office, because whoever that is will have to deal with the ramifications of the agreement, not Karzai himself. Still others argue that he is worried about a resurgence of violence, as the Taliban have stated that any continued American presence will mean more attacks. Prime Minister Maliki also faced similar threats from the Sadrist militias in 2011. President Karzai, unlike Prime Minister Maliki, has Iraq as an example and a warning. He has gotten the majority of the concessions demanded by the Loya Jirga, and their support and demands that he sign the document. What he seems to lack is either the backbone or forethought to what he risks should the Americans leave Afghanistan to its own fate.

No comments: