Showdown at the SOFA Corral
ABC News reports from Iraq this afternoon:
Thousands of Iraqis filled the streets of Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood this afternoon to demonstrate against a long-term United States presence in Iraq, the first significant anti-American rally in the massive Shiite slum in more than two years.
As American helicopters hovered overhead, young and old men and even children flowed out of their weekly Friday prayers and began burning American flags and chanting "no, no to America" and "yes, yes to independence."
The residents carried posters of Moqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric whose Mahdi Army has fought against U.S. soldiers and who is accused of carrying out much of the violence here. Two days ago Sadr called on supporters to rally against an agreement currently under discussion that could allow the U.S. to build permanent bases in Iraq and grant American citizens in Iraq immunity from prosecution.
. . . Sheikh Mohannad Al-Gazawi, the imam who led Friday prayers during 105-degree heat, told attendees that the agreement "aims at paving the way for a 99-year period of American control of Iraq."
. . . The protestors carried signs that called the long-term agreement "worse than the occupation itself" and a "war declaration against the Iraqi people."
. . . "The reasons for the peaceful demonstration were not made obvious," the U.S. military said in a statement.
Which goes to show that denial isn’t just a river in Egypt — it flows through the Green Zone in Baghdad as well. But it’s not just Sadr and his supporters who are unhappy, as the New York Times notes in a story on their website:
Aides to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq, have also expressed concerns about the negotiations . . . [and] some other Iraqi lawmakers are raising questions about the timing of the deal.
One American official in Baghdad said that the Iraqis appeared to be unwilling to make any concessions before the country’s provincial elections later this year to avoid seeming, to Iraqi voters, — to be too accommodating to the occupying forces. “They are playing hardball right now,” the official said.
The recalcitrant Iraqi politicians include some of our erstwhile closest allies:
Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish lawmaker, said many Iraqi leaders were being kept in the dark about the security pact, which he thinks should not be completed until after the American presidential elections in November.
. . . Even one of the prime minister’s closest allies, Ali Adeeb, a senior member of Mr. Maliki’s Dawa Party, expressed similar reservations.
“This agreement is between Iraq and the United States president, and the American policy is not clear,” Mr. Adeeb said. “Therefore, we can wait until the American elections to deal with a Democratic or Republican president.”
Get the feeling that maybe they’d prefer to deal with
someone sane Barack Obama rather than another Republican president reading from the neocon playbook?
The Washington Post noted this morning that "the war in Iraq has moved back to center stage in the presidential election," but that "the war is more a wild card than a slam dunk for either side." That’s even more true if you consider what more Iraqis might do to make their preferences known between now and November.