Connect the dots:
- The Bush administration is desperate to transfer sovereignty to someone, anyone, in Iraq by June 30. The date is important because, now that a Constitution, elections, and caucuses are all off the table in the short run, it's about the only shard of the original policy left standing. Also, the administration hopes that letting go (formally) of Iraq can be spun as progress, can be an occasion for bring home a token number of troops, and thus will have dividends in the US's November election.
- A critical part of the neocon's rationale for the Iraq invasion was to set up permanent US bases
- Item: This remains an official objective of US policy.
- There is currently no long-term agreement, commonly called a “status of forces agreement” with any Iraqi authority.
- The current governing council — little of which would survive an election — would probably be willing to sign a status of forces agreement favorable to the US in exchange for an extension of its life into the post-sovereignty period. But the agreement would not be perceived as legitimate (nor would the council).
- If a representative Iraqi government is seated by June 30, it's not at all clear that it would agree to a long-term US presence in Iraq.
- France has signaled that it might be willing to approve a NATO force in Iraq, but that “NATO can only be involved at the behest of an Iraqi government and with the prior agreement of the United Nations.”
Conclusion: As noted in the Dreyfus Report, this is a major looming headache for the neoconservative tendency in US foreign policy. There is now a serious danger that a radical Islamic regime will win a free election. Meanwhile, the US's insistence of the fixity of it's June “handover” date — for all that the handover may be primarily semantic — severely weakens its hand in dealing both with the Governing Council and with opposition figures like Ayatollah Sistani. The Governing Council figures it can demand a hold on power in exchange for a status of forces agreement. Sistani surely figures that time is on his side, reducing his incentive to be cooperative.
Irony: The people in the US who were most vociferous about going into Iraq tend to be those most desperately anxious to find a way out, fast. The people, like me, who opposed the invasion, are now uncomfortable with a premature departure that might either entrench the power of the kleptocrats like Chalabi who suckered in the Bush admnistration and continue to profiteer from the positions our troops created for them. Even worse would be any sort of departure that would cause chaos or empower a militant, regressive, theocratic regime. In the abstract, transferring sovereignty ASAP to the Iraqi people sounds like a really good idea; in practice it seems there needs to be some legitimate institutions to exercise it, and to the extent that those institutions are in fact representative, they may not be very pretty. And the only possible way out may involve some crawling to France and to the UN.