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Daily Column
US Papers Sat: Maliki's demands affected SOFA
Contractors further woes: CIA denies claims made in a book, again
By DANIEL W. SMITH 08/23/2008 01:50 AM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.
The day after the big SOFA announcements, along with a few strong stories about how the Iraq Army is facing the security situation in Iraq, there isn’t a whole lot to choose from, especially since it is Saturday. Still, everyone who published had at least something. No original coverage from Iraq at all, but some interesting stuff from the U.S.

SOFA News
Michael Abramowitz from the Washington Post reports that the insistence by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to set a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal was a key factor in the Bush administration’s stark shift in policy apparently needed to get to the present stage in drafting a status of forces agreement. There isn’t really much in the story that isn’t a recap of yesterday’s news, and it’s nothing that will surprise too many people, but there’s some needed, if somewhat obvious, analysis. For two years, President Bush successfully resisted efforts to set a timeline to withdraw troops from Iraq. But in recent months, pressure from Iraqi politicians appears to have proved too much for the commander in chief. As part of an accord governing the future U.S. presence in Iraq, American and Iraqi negotiators have agreed to withdraw all U.S. combat forces from Iraq by the end of 2011, officials said this week. The Iraqis wanted 2010 to be the "aspirational" date for a U.S. withdrawal but, ultimately, settled on the following year. Still, it may not mean all that much, since White House officials emphasize that the target date of 2011 is "conditions based," meaning it can be rescinded if a future president and Iraqi leader agree that U.S. troops are needed to maintain stability. At any rate, the increasing assertiveness of Maliki, after recent effectiveness of Iraqi security forces, was apparently a brick wall in negotiations. Maliki, who faces a reelection bid next year, has been under pressure at home to show distance from Washington and to demonstrate that the U.S. military presence is coming to an end. Colin H. Kahl, a Georgetown University professor who has been following the negotiations while advising the Obama campaign on Iraq, said that with Iraqi security forces "beginning to find their feet," Maliki has been bargaining harder with the Americans. "The Iraqis had more leverage over us," Kahl said. "The fact of the matter is the Iraqis demanded some timeline for our departure, and the Bush administration acceded to their demands." Steven Simon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations said, “This isn't what the administration was expecting when they went into the process of negotiating these agreements." He added, "Any successful politician in Iraq is going to have to run as a nationalist. The one surefire path to success is to say, 'Yankee, go home.' "

The Wall Street Journal’s August Cole reports that foreign contractors operating in Iraq on behalf of the U.S. could be forced to reorganize the way they do business after a deal with the Baghdad government stands to strip them of immunity from local laws. As in the previous Post article, there’s no breaking developments, but it gives a good understanding of where things stand now, and has some interesting quotes. Immunity from local courts is one of the factors that had permitted the contractors -- which do everything from protect U.S. officials to supply forces with food and fuel -- to swell their ranks and become a pillar of support to the U.S. military there. But the prospect of being held accountable in local courts could lead to higher insurance costs, greater legal uncertainty and difficulties in recruiting workers from abroad, according to industry officials. Such contractors in Iraq have effectively been immune from local law under a provision known as CPA Order 17 that dates back to the U.S. turnover of sovereignty to the Iraqi government in June 2004. But U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have reached an agreement on a security deal for American military forces that provides a framework for a continued presence there and replaces a United Nations mandate that expires at year end. Most contractors work on supplying U.S. forces as part of a for-hire logistics chain that relies heavily on Iraqis and draws in workers from around the world, often because they are paid less. The U.S. Defense Department has almost 150,000 contractors in Iraq, about 63,000 of whom are Iraqis. Security contractors are a smaller subset, but much more politically contentious in Iraq and in the U.S. The prospect of entering Iraq's legal system is one that most foreign contractors dread. Because details of the arrangement are still emerging, the companies still don't know exactly what type of legal situation they will be operating under. "Westerners are very concerned about not having any kind of guaranteed access of Western-style legal due process," said Lawrence Peter, head of the Private Security Company Association of Iraq in Baghdad, which counts more than 40 foreign and local companies among its members. Lee Van Arsdale, chief executive of the security company Triple Canopy Inc., some of whose employees guard Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, said he had always expected that the exemption would end. "My own personal opinion was that immunity turned into impunity, and that was bad for the entire industry," said Mr. Van Arsdale.

Books in the News
Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reports that the CIA more fully denies claims of deception about Iraq, made in Ron Suskind’s best-selling book, “The Way of the World”. Suskind contends that the White House learned in early 2003 that the Iraqi president no longer possessed weapons of mass destruction but went to war regardless. Suskind wrote that the information was passed to British and U.S. intelligence officials in secret meetings with Tahir Habbush, Iraq's spy chief at the time. Moreover, in an allegation that implies potentially criminal acts by administration officials, the author wrote that White House officials ordered a forgery to influence public opinion about the war. The book contends that the CIA paid Habbush $5 million and resettled him in Jordan after the war. Then, it says, in late 2003, the White House ordered the CIA to enlist Habbush's help in concocting a fake letter that purported to show that Iraq helped train Mohamed Atta, the Egyptian-born al-Qaeda terrorist who led the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Such a letter surfaced in Iraq in December 2003, but its authenticity quickly came into question. The CIA and White House denied Suskind's account when the book was first released. But yesterday, the CIA issued a more extensive rebuttal based on what the agency called an internal investigation involving a records search and interviews with junior and senior officers who were directly involved in the agency's Iraq operations at the time. As for the claim that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a letter, the agency said: "It did not happen." Suskind, whose claims are now the subject of two congressional investigations, yesterday continued to stand by his book and accused the CIA and White House of orchestrating a smear campaign. "It's the same old stuff," said Suskind, who said his findings are supported by hours of interviews, some of them taped. "There's not a shred of doubt about any of it."

Max Rodenbeck reviews Kenneth M. Pollack’s new book, “A Path out of the Desert” in the New York Times. Rodenbeck praises Pollack for his general description of the problems in the Middle East, especially how the Iraq war was handled by the Bush administration. Where he falls short, says Rodenbeck, is the solutions don’t all hold water. Also, he writes, “It would have been nice, for instance, had Pollack himself thought harder before arguing, in scholarly papers and his widely read 2002 book, ‘The Threatening Storm,’ that America had 'no choice' but to invade Iraq. That ostensibly sober appraisal, coming from a former C.I.A. analyst, Clinton official and self-described liberal, arguably added more gravitas to the shrill cries for war than any other voice. Pollack has long since confessed to having been wrong about Iraq. ‘A Path Out of the Desert’ includes other mea culpas. 'There has been far too little asking the people of the region themselves what they thought and what they wanted,' he ruminates at one point, though the book offers slim evidence of his having pursued this advice. While the administration that Pollack served gets some light wrist-slapping, it is the following eight years of Bush policy that he calls 'breathtakingly arrogant, ignorant and reckless.' Many of Pollack’s other judgments are as sound as is this criticism of the Bush administration. Since most of the post-cold-war world has stabilized, democratized and prospered, it is probably correct to suggest, as he does, that America should commit itself to helping the messy Middle East come up to par.” Still, how to do it is the question that Rodenbeck wants a convincing answer to. Don’t we all.

Christian Science Monitor,USA Today no Saturday Editions.
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