Why, after so many months, was the US-Iraq security pact approved now? True, the two countries were facing a deadline of December 31, when the UN authority for the occupation expires, but they could have gone back to the UN for a temporary extension or simply signed a bilateral statement not nearly as involved as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)approved yesterday by the Iraqi Cabinet.
Here’s the reason, in my opinion. The election of Barack Obama changed Iran’s calculus, and so Iran decided, very subtly, to shift to neutral on the pact. As a result, many politicians in Iraq who are either influenced by Iran or who are outright Iranian agents now support the pact. It’s an important sign from Tehran to Obama that they’re willing to work with the United States.
For months, the United States has blamed Iran for sabotaging the prospect for an agreement, and there’s little doubt that had John McCain won the election, Iran would have concluded that the likelihood was very high that Iraq would be used as a base for attacking Iran over its nuclear program.
The New York Times mentions the role of Iran in passing:
“Several political analysts suggested that Iranian opposition to the pact had softened because of the American presidential election victory of Senator Barack Obama. He has suggested a more diplomatic approach to Tehran and has described a withdrawal timetable from Iraq faster even than the one laid out in the security agreement, though recently he has qualified that stance.
“‘If George Bush’s presidency were going to continue on through 2012, I think people would be a lot more concerned,’ said Karim Sadjadpour, a Middle East analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ‘Having this administration really lightens the blow for the Iranians.'”
The revised pact is designed to give specific assurances to Iran that Iraq won’t be used as a base to launch an assault on Iran. Ironically, this part of the pact was added after US special forces crossed from Iraq to Syria last month to attack alleged insurgents there. That act, which outraged many Iraqis, only underscored the danger of unchecked US forces based in Iraq. Notes the Times:
“A section of the agreement that Iraqi officials said barred the United States from launching attacks on neighboring countries from Iraq also may have diminished Iranian resistance.
“‘We sent messages to neighboring countries to say, “This is in our interest,” ‘ said Mr. Fayyadh, the Shiite lawmaker. ‘Specifically we spoke to the Iranians and gave them guarantees that “no one will use our country to attack you.” ‘ There was no immediate reaction from Iran to the vote.”
That doesn’t mean that Iran is thrilled about the idea of American troops staying in Iraq for three more years, as the pact provides for. But the pact does restrict the activities of those forces, in a way that makes Iran happy, and it doesn’t preclude the possibility of an even faster pullout, if President Obama decides to do so. But it does allow for US forces to stay in Iraq through the end of 2011, training and supplying the Iraqi armed forces and police, which means that the Iraqi government — led by a strongly pro-Iranian coalition of Shiite and Kurdish parties — will gain strength.