Sea anchoring Iraq
Almost without anyone noticing, the relationship between the US and the Government of Iraq is moving from an authorization under UN Chapter VII to a bilateral agreement between two fully sovereign countries. Chapter VII "sets out the UN Security Council's powers to maintain peace. It allows the Council to "determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and to take military and nonmilitary action to "restore international peace and security".
Late last year, President Bush and Iraqi PM Maliki "signed the declaration of principles during a secure videoconference as part of an effort to move forward 4 1/2 years after a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein. The declaration calls for the current U.N. mandate to be extended one year, then replaced at the end of 2008 by a bilateral pact governing the economic, political and security aspects of the relationship," according to the Washington Post.
According to an email I received summarizing Ambassador Ryan Crocker's press conference on June 5, 2008 "the Iraqis have made clear they do not want to go beyond 2008 under a Chapter VII Security Council [mandate for MNF-I]" and "both governments … would like to get the strategic framework agreements done".
Despite the repeated characterization of the OIF as "Bush's War", and despite arguments that the war is illegal, it can claim legitimacy not only under UN Chapter VII, but an authorization from Congress, and may presently be the subject of a bilateral agreement between an elected Middle Eastern government and the United States.
Crocker said that Iran is doing all it can to scupper the strategic framework negotiations. However, some regional goverments may see it as inevitable. Crocker said that "the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates … just announced that they are returning an ambassador and reopening their embassy."
If current trends continue, there is little chance that Iran can stop the emergence of regionally recognized and stable Iraq. Their best hope is stall until possibly favorable political developments in Washington allow them to effectively raise the issue of Iraqi sovereignty in negotiations with the new administration. A direct challenge is unlikely, since sovereignty was legally returned to Iraq four years ago under UN Security Council resolution 1546.
It is far more likely for opponents to take the view that United States forces are themselves a threat to Iraqi sovereignty, insofar as they retain freedom of action. Expect Iranians to make the argument, fully seconded by the US domestic left, that in order for Iraq to be sovereign America must leave.
That effectively puts Iraqi sovereignty back on the table again, albeit surreptitiously, because Teheran will obviously have the opportunity to re-open its campaign of subversion after America leaves. They have read the history of the Vietnam War as well as anyone. Being in the region themselves, the Iranians will have no corresponding obligation to leave. Therefore, at issue in any strategic framework negotiation will be how much leeway and power Coalition Forces will continue to have in the future. But the other threat to Iraqi sovereignty are regionally sponsored forces just waiting for the US to leave in order to Iraq into another Lebanon. Any stable Iraqi configuration will have enough force to keep the regional bad guys away while being small enough to let Iraq develop independently.
What will be needed is some kind of guarantor force sized large enough to repel any attempts to undermine Iraqi sovereignty, yet unintrusive enough to permit the emergence of a confident and fully national Iraq. It's not an impossible challenge for the US, as postwar Germany, Japan and South Korea proved. But it will probably take a lot of effort and require the commitment of several future administrations, especially given the volatile characteristics of the Middle East as opposed to say, Western Europe. Alternatives such as relying on the UN to provide a guarantor force have been mooted, but the UN record in Lebanon and Kosovo are very poor comparisons to the American record in Germany, Japan and South Korea. Relying on the UN is like relying on an air umbrella to keep out the rain.
My own guess is that the US must eventually replace a direct protection of Iraq with troops by a wider set of pressure points on Iran to keep the Ayatollahs in line. Even after the US troop levels have been been reduced, Teheran should still remain wary of messing with Iraq. Once again, this presumes a long-term commitment to confronting aggressive powers within the region from future US administrations.
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