When US and Iraqi officials said on August 25 that they had agreed a text for the long-awaited treaty covering a full withdrawal of US troops by 2011, it should have been a major political story. The fact that it wasn’t reflects certain political realities that make the treaty virtually worthless. The first of these is that the draft still needs to be approved by both governments; the second is that the text itself has deliberately been made so vague that it can be interpreted in almost whatever way anyone wishes to interpret it,; and the third is that a great deal can change in three years, and everyone knows that an agreement made in 2008 will have limited relevance in 2011.
The Bush administration and the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki both have an interest in agreeing a text as soon as possible, Bush so that he can claim some sort of success before leaving the scene, and Maliki in order to try and avoid having to leave the scene. But what both know is that the so-called “withdrawal” of US troops is in fact a sham. For one thing, the talk is only of the withdrawal of “combat” troops; once they are redesignated as non-combat troops, they will be allowed to stay. Secondly, the majority of American forces in Iraq are now mercenaries (“contractors”) rather than regular forces; and thirdly, the key US interests in Iraq are economic and political rather than military, and will no doubt be protected by whatever settlement is reached by 2011.
Domestic political opposition notwithstanding, and regardless of who wins the US presidential elections in November, the US is unlikely to give up the economic prizes for which it has fought so hard over the last six years.