As the Bush administration leaves office it is clear the Iraqi mission is not accomplished. The goals of US power in the region and control over Iraqi oil now seem unattainable. The question now rises over what the new Obama administration represents for the occupation of Iraq, and for the Iraqi government. Leila Fadel, Baghdad bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers warns the blanket support George W. Bush offered the Nouri Al-Maliki government may run out with Barack Obama. US troops act like the most powerful militia in support of Maliki government, thus, these leaders fear what will happen when US troops leave.
Iraq gov’t fear Obama?
Paul Jay, Washington, DC
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to the last in this series of interviews with Leila Fadel. She’s the McClatchy bureau chief in Baghdad. Thank you for joining us again.
LEILA FADEL, BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF, MCCLATCHY: Thank you.
JAY: So let’s say it’s 2011. The Americans’ policy, certainly the Bush administration policy, was long-term, permanent bases; at least a privileged position when it comes to Iraqi oil—and I think early in the occupation there was hopes of actually owning Iraqi oil; and in terms of larger regional interests, showing American strength and certainly leaving behind in Iraq a government that would be considered pro-American. Right now, one doesn’t see any of these strategic objectives being met, which means: Can the US really leave in 2011? And what happens in terms of those considerations?
FADEL: Well, that’s the thing about the agreement, the Arabic version of the agreement, which we translated, that was so shocking was how different it was from the original, the first proposal by the United States. That first proposal caused such controversy because it asked for 58 bases long-term, no end in sight. It didn’t give any dates; it didn’t give any change. Currently under the UN mandate, Iraq is not a sovereign nation. The power players, the power brokers, the king, they’re the American military. They’re the ones that can make and break the law, and they decide: they can go bomb Syria if they feel there’s an important target there—they can do these things; they control the airspace; they can extradite people, take them out of Iraq, if they do something wrong. Right? So, now, with this new agreement, so much will change. Suddenly the Americans can’t just go raid any house in Iraq and take somebody and put them in detention. It’s not allowed anymore. You can’t put people in detention for three years for no reason—no longer possible under this agreement if it’s honored. And the idea that in 2011 everybody has to leave (unless there’s creative interpretation, of course), that means that the idea of keeping a base here, sort of in a friendly nation in the middle of the Arab world, taking the Arab cornerstone, as Iraq is known, and making it into a friend and somebody we can turn to and base ourselves inside has changed. And there is no promise that Iraq will stay a friendly nation once we leave; there is no promise, because they are also friendly nations with what seem to be our bitter enemies in the region, with the American bitter enemies. You know, their friendship with America is as strong as their friendship with Iran, and as important, and that’s why these negotiations are so difficult, because they have to please America and Iran, which is impossible. So, you know, it just really depends. It also depends on our president-elect and what will happen in the United States and how our foreign policy will change. Iraqis say that the face of the American White House changes, but the policy never does.
JAY: So that’s the question: do they have different expectations of Obama or not?
FADEL: I think the Iraqi government is very afraid, very afraid, because under the Bush administration in some ways they had almost a blank-check policy. There are a lot of analysts that talk about how the reason the negotiations went the way they did was because the Americans negotiated as if they were the weaker power, because the Iraqis knew they could call their bluff and say, “Fine, go home,” and nobody would move, and be like, “Okay, let’s negotiate again”; whereas I think Iraqi politicians know that if they did that to the next president, who didn’t come into Iraq and who wasn’t blamed for mistakes and who isn’t carrying the burden of success or failure, they won’t have that. And so I think part of the reason they had to sign this and get it through and everything and get finished [is] because they know under Obama they won’t have that. But they also have other things. Maliki and Obama agree on the date of withdrawal, on those types of things.
JAY: When you say they won’t have “that,” what’s that?
FADEL: They won’t have unconditional support. That’s what they are afraid of, and they’ll tell you that, and they won’t talk to you on the record on it. They are afraid because they had that under President Bush. He had, you know, I think it was daily or weekly conversations with Maliki; he had major diplomats from the United States like Condoleezza Rice saying, “Maliki is our man.” That isn’t necessarily going to happen in the next administration, because as much as Iraq depended on the United States, the United States depended on this government to succeed, they needed it to, because that was their success or failure.
JAY: And Maliki needs the US troops in terms of this rivalry with all the other factions. Right now Maliki’s power is pretty tenuous without the US troops there.
FADEL: Dawa doesn’t have a militia. Who is Dawa’s militia? The United States military. Maliki has a better militia than anybody else. He went to Basra, didn’t tell the Americans, and who came and rescued him? The American military, the strongest military in the world. And so it is very much in his interest to have them as his backers. That’s his firepower. And when they’re gone, his power diminishes quite a bit. Some people say he’s a little bit delusional about that, that he doesn’t realize that. But very much so. I mean, he has that support. And so, come the next administration, will he have that? We’ll see.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us.
FADEL: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us for this series of interviews with Leila Fadel, McClatchy bureau chief in Baghdad.
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