Maliki Government Paves the Way for Permanent US Bases in Iraq

This post, written by Steve Benen, originally appeared on The Carpetbagger Report

Way back in February 2006, Tom Engelhardt noted that the "debate" over permanent U.S. bases in Iraq was practically non-existent. After a search of the LexisNexis database, he explained, "American reporters adhere to a simple rule: The words 'permanent,' 'bases,' and 'Iraq' should never be placed in the same sentence, not even in the same paragraph; in fact, not even in the same news report."

It wasn't too big a mystery -- talk of permanent bases was considered impolite for the political mainstream. It was a subject best relegated to blogs and talk radio. When congressional Dems started taking the matter seriously, congressional Republicans quickly shut down any policy proposals that might limit a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq.

With that in mind, today's news is not at all encouraging.
Iraq's government, seeking protection against foreign threats and internal coups, will offer the U.S. a long-term troop presence in Iraq in return for U.S. security guarantees as part of a strategic partnership, two Iraqi officials said Monday.
The proposal, described to The Associated Press by two senior Iraqi officials familiar with the issue, is one of the first indications that the United States and Iraq are beginning to explore what their relationship might look like once the U.S. significantly draws down its troop presence.
As Spencer Ackerman explained, "Make no mistake: this is Nouri al-Maliki offering the U.S. a permanent presence in return for guaranteeing the security of his government.... In exchange for a platform for the indefinite projection of American power throughout the Middle East, the Bush Administration probably considers protection for Maliki and his coterie to be a small price to pay."

In the AP report, Bush administration officials are downplaying the significance of these developments....
When asked about the plan, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo noted that Iraqi officials had expressed a desire for a strategic partnership with the U.S. in a political declaration in August and an end to the U.N.-mandated force.
"Thereafter then, the question becomes one of bilateral relationships between Iraq and the countries of the multinational forces," she said. "At that point we need to be considering long-term bilateral relationships and we're following the Iraqi thinking on this one and we agree with their thinking on this and we'll be looking at setting up a long-term partnership with different aspects to it, political, economic, security and so forth."
She said any detailed discussion of bases and investment preferences was "way, way, way ahead of where we are at the moment."
...but Iraqi officials are moving forward apace.
The Iraqi officials said that under the proposed formula, Iraq would get full responsibility for internal security and U.S. troops would relocate to bases outside the cities. Iraqi officials foresee a long-term presence of about 50,000 U.S. troops, down from the current figure of more than 160,000.
Haidar al-Abadi, a senior Dawa member of al-Maliki's Dawa party, told Alhurra television that the prime minister would write parliament in the next few days to tell lawmakers that his government would seek the renewal of the U.N. mandate for "one last time."
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