Gareth Porter noted in an article published on the Global Research website that despite claims mad e by some US officials that the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq was a success, it was actually the result of “a clever strategy of deception and diplomacy adopted by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in cooperation with Iran.”
“[US] Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s suggestion that the end of the US troops presence in Iraq is part of a US military success story ignores the fact that the [former US President] George W. Bush administration and the US military had planned to maintain a semi-permanent military presence in Iraq,” he added.
Porter stated that the central element of the Maliki-Iran strategy was the common interest that Maliki, Iran and the Iraqi anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr shared in ending the US occupation.
According to the article, Sadr had promised to support Maliki provided that the latter showed commitment to obtain a time schedule for US withdrawal from Iraq.
As a result, he added, a draft national reconciliation plan, which circulated among Iraqi political groups in early June 2006, included agreement on “a time schedule to pull out the troops from Iraq.” Maliki wanted foreign troops reduced by more than 30,000 to under 100,000 by the end of 2006 and the withdrawal of “most of the remaining troops” by end of the 2007.
Bush, however, rejected the idea of a withdrawal timetable after a quick trip to Baghdad and senior administration officials began leaking to reporters plans for maintaining “a near-permanent presence” in Iraq, including the control of four major bases.
It was then, Porter says, that Maliki sent Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari to Washington to dangle the bait of an agreement on troops before then Vice President Dick Cheney.
Zebari urged Cheney to begin negotiating US military presence in order to reduce the odds of an abrupt withdrawal that would play into the hands of the Iranians.
Maliki’s National Security Adviser Rubaie also told then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in September 2007 that the Iraqi prime minister wanted a “Status of Forces Agreement” (SOFA)” that would allow US forces to remain in Iraq.
Confident that it was going to get a South Korea-style SOFA, the Bush administration gave the Iraqi government a draft on March 7, 2008 that provided for no limit on the number of US troops or the duration of their presence.
Sadr’s Mahdi army then indicated its indignation at a possible agreement between Iraq and US with its forces taking up positions in Iraq’s southern port city of Basra.
Iran then entered the game to prevent, in cooperation with the Iraqi government, possible US military operations against Sadr’s Mahdi Army and to reach an agreement with Sadr on ending the Mahdi Army’s role in return for Maliki’s assurance to demand complete withdrawal of US forces.
Tehran also intervened to help the Iraqi government to negotiate a ceasefire with Sadr. The timing of each political diplomatic move by Maliki, Porter noted, was determined in discussions between him and top Iranian officials.
Just two days after returning from a visit to Tehran in June 2008, Maliki complained publicly about US demands for indefinite military presence in the country and in July, he openly demanded the complete withdrawal of US troops on a timetable.
Although Bush was shocked at first and decided to reject withdrawal demand, it did not take long before he realized that the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who was then far ahead of Republican John McCain, would accept the same or an even faster withdrawal timetable.
As a result, Bush decided in October to sign the draft agreement pledging withdrawal of all US troops by the end of 2011.
The US military’s ambitious plans to use Iraq to dominate the Middle East, Porter concluded, were thus foiled by the Iraqi government and the US officials were clueless about what was happening until it was too late.