Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ooops! We Forgot to Renew Our War, and It Expired.

Because we have one more week of election insanity, and nothing I say or do now in that regard will help either my mental health or yours, dear Readers, I figure it's time to turn the attention outward to what's going on in the rest of the world.

Flying completely under the radar this week, the story that would be the top story of the week if we weren't picking a new president, is this one: The security agreement between the US and Iraq (called the Status of Forces Agreement or, SOFA) which allows the United States to maintain troop presence in Iraq, is set to expire on December 31, 2008. Presented as a "fete accompli" last month by the DoD, it turns out that SOFA isn't particularly popular with the Iraqi cabinet.

The primary bone of contention in the agreement is the language that gives US troops and security contractors immunity against prosecution by local Iraqi law enforcement for crimes they've committed. Striking such language from the agreement would mean that US troops who break Iraqi law could go to court and be tried by Iraqi judges and juries. This would make questionable the continued presence of security contractors like Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp, who have been the source of the most complaints from local Iraqis about bad-boy behavior.

Private security forces have been a constant presence in Iraq, filling the gap between the military forces that should have been sent, and the troops that actually were. The one component that has made the surge that everyone who loves the war extols so completely is that private forces have been used in the so-called "Green Zones" to maintain the peace, freeing up US troops to quell disturbances in less stable areas surrounding them.

The trouble is that the contractors are frequently poorly trained and poorly behaved, leading to some serious, occasionally fatal consequences. Several crimes against Iraqi civilians have been reported against members of the private security force, including charges of rape, intimidation, destruction of property, and even murder. Because the current agreement gives troops and the private security forces immunity from prosecution, and the US is unwilling or unable to try the perpetrators themselves, these crimes have gone largely unpunished.

Now that the agreement is up for renewal, it is looking increasingly as if the Iraqi parliament will not accept an agreement that includes a huge, apparently poorly disciplined coalition of privately armed foreign invaders who have what amounts to complete diplomatic immunity. And it has already been made clear that the US will veto any change that they feel puts their troops or private contractors at the mercy of local law enforcement. It is also certain that private security forces would cancel their contracts and pull out of Iraq, rather than put their employees at risk of local prosecution. This list indicates the number of corporations that currently provide some type of security service in Iraq. Estimates of the number of security guards now working in Iraq are somewhere around 146,000, which is more than actual US troops currently serving.

What could this mean, if we ring in the new year with no agreement in place? Well, troops would still be in Iraq, but they would be pulled from the streets and confined to base, while Iraqi police and security forces dealt with the country their own selves. Military brass is convinced that such a move would convince the Iraqis in short order that they are neither ready nor able to control warring Shias and Sunnis alone, and this would force the adoption of the agreement. Currently, violence in what had been controlled territory is on the upswing, including an uprising of Kurdish forces in the the northern city of Mosul who are resisting efforts of Prime Minister al-Maliki to shoulder them out and form the same alliance between his forces and the hard-line Sunnis that has worked so well in the south. The Kurdish have threatened to turn Mosul into a battleground, rather than be shut out of the region. This could lead to a complete destabilization in the entire northern territory.

But what if it does not work that way? What if they get their country back, and it turns out that they are no better or worse off now than they were before? It could prove pretty interesting to see what the US will do if they're sent to their military rooms and not allowed to come back to the party.

Oh, and, uh.. and further complicating the SOFA negotiations? It turns out that your country invaded Syria yesterday. Did you know? Yeah. I'll be dealing with that in a post a little later today. Apparently, George W. Bush has decided he doesn't have anything left to lose -- he might as well just get it all out of this system. Next on the agenda? He's declaring war on MSNBC.

~C~

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