Out with the SOFA, In with the MOU

The Washington Post informs us today that George and his pal Maliki have given up on getting a Status of Forces Agreement finalized:

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have abandoned efforts to conclude a comprehensive agreement governing the long-term status of U.S troops in Iraq before the end of the Bush presidency, according to senior U.S. officials, effectively leaving talks over an extended U.S. military presence there to the next administration.

Now they are going to settle for a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU since it’s become clear that Maliki cannot get the Iraqi Parliament to approve any agreement without dates for withdrawal:

Iraqi political leaders "are all telling us the same thing. They need something like this in there. . . . Iraqis want to know that foreign troops are not going to be here forever."

The wording in the WaPo article however makes the exent of that "not…forever" less than clear:

Negotiators expect it to include a "time horizon," with specific goals for U.S. troop withdrawal from Baghdad and other cities and installations such as the former Saddam Hussein palace that now houses the U.S. Embassy.

Will the “withdrawal from Baghdad and other cities” equal withdrawal from Iraq – or a withdrawal to bases – just as the “no permanent bases” means permanent bases “owned” by Iraq and “rented” to an American occupying force?

(Both Badger at Missing Links and Bernard at Moon of Alabama have interesting speculations on the whole timeline issue – here, here and here.)

While some see this new plan as a sign that the GZG has stood up to Bush, the final comment in the WaPo article lays out what is really happening here:

According to U.S. officials, Maliki also hopes that a temporary protocol would circumvent the full parliamentary review and two-thirds vote he has promised for a status-of-forces agreement. "He is trying to figure out, just as we did, how you can set up an agreement between the two and have it be legally binding," one official said, "but not go through the legislative body."

Meanwhile, the press is full of reports that we will pull at least one brigade of US forces out of Iraq – and send more troops to Afghanistan. How welcome this move will be in Afghanistan became more questionable this week as the Afghan government conducted an inquiry into the US bombing of civilians last week.

RAWA has a more detailed account of the air strike:

One of the injured wedding guests brought to the Jalalabad Civil Hospital told Pajhwok Afghan News coalition planes dropped a couple of bombs on the procession on its way back to the grooms residence in Haska Mena district.

A number of people were killed and wounded. Scared survivors ran pell-mell. When dwellers arrived at the scene to shift the injured and collect dead bodies, the US-led forces dropped four more bombs on us, Jamil said while giving an eyewitness account.

Only six of about 40 processionists escaped unscathed in the airstrikes, revealed another man wounded in the second incident of inaccurate coalition bombardment in three days. All but four of the fatalities were women and children, explained Shahikhel, who disclosed the bride and two of her female relatives were among the victims.

The Afghan government investigation has now reported that the actual death toll was 47 – 2 men, the rest women and children (and both the “men” were under the age of 18.)

The nine-man investigation team appointed by the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, found that only civilians were hit during the airstrike.

Burhanullah Shinwari, the leader of the investigation team and the deputy speaker of Afghanistan’s Upper House, said: "We found that 47 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in the airstrikes and another nine were wounded."

With the United Nations reporting in June that “around 700 Afghan civilians lost their lives in the first half of the year in violence, an increase of around two thirds on the same period last year” and the International Red Cross reporting on Wednesday that “At least 250 Afghan civilians have been killed or wounded in insurgent attacks or military action in the past six days” it’s important to remember that at least 64 of those were killed by US air strikes. Afghan media reports that:

AMERICA has moved an aircraft carrier battle group closer to Afghanistan to boost its ability to carry out air-strikes on militants, despite calls from Afghan officials to reduce air-power because of civilian casualties.

The Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and its support ships were sent from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman, reducing the time it takes to reach targets in Afghanistan, US defence officials said on Tuesday.

Someday we may realize that bombing the village to save it does not work – but I’m not holding my breath.

PS – a bit of good news: We’ve gotten word that Zoriah is safely out of Iraq and back in the States.

Video: Afghan children working in brick factory to pay off famly debts – the full report is here.

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