Two days until Iraq takes over the Green Zone

posted at 11:05 am on December 30, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

The status of forces agreement (SOFA) between Iraq and the US kicks into effect on January 1, and with it a significant shift in the relationship between the two countries.  Although US forces will still secure the Green Zone in Baghdad where government and diplomatic compounds are located, the Iraqis will have authority over it rather than the Americans for the first time since the March 2003 invasion.  The Iraqis are delighted, but some Americans are less so:

When the calendar flips to 2009 on Thursday, Iraq’s government will gain control over the Green Zone and its own airspace and some jurisdiction over security contractors under the terms of a deal that will fundamentally change how the United States operates here.

The changes, outlined in a landmark security agreement the Bush administration signed in November, are part of the broadest transfer of responsibilities to Iraqi hands since 2004, when the government regained sovereignty from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).

The most visible changes will take place in the Green Zone, the fortified section of Baghdad that has been the U.S. headquarters since the invasion in 2003.

One change that the Iraqis wanted will create problems for American contractors — and perhaps indirectly for Barack Obama:

Until now, all American contractors have avoided Iraq’s jurisdiction under a rule issued by the CPA in 2004 that said contractors were “immune from Iraqi legal process.”

That arrangement has been deeply unpopular with the Iraqi public since September 2007, when guards from the Blackwater company opened fire and killed 14 Iraqis in Baghdad, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Five of the guards were indicted on manslaughter charges this month.

The SOFA explicitly ends that immunity for contractors working for the military or Defense Department. The agreement says nothing about contractors such as Blackwater that work for civilian agencies such as the State Department — and it is unclear how much their operations would be affected, if at all.

Blackwater and other contractors strenuously objected to that part of the agreement.  They do not wish to rely on Iraqi notions of justice and jurisprudence, especially in certain areas where their contractors have operated to protect American interests.  The State Department has warned the Pentagon and the White House that the Iraqis will almost certainly use that new authority quickly and that American citizens will soon find themselves under arrest in Iraq, which would force the departure of security contractors and others.

Blackwater does a significant amount of work in personal protection, and they usually hire retired or inactive service members for these tasks.  (Full disclosure: a friend of mine worked for a security company in Iraq.)  Their presence allowed the US to complete its mission with better security while deploying fewer troops by paying volunteers to serve through the private sector.  The wisdom of that policy has been under debate and will continue to generate controversy, but the fact is that their sudden departure will require a greater use of American troops to replace them.

Barack Obama promised a certain pace of drawdown during the presidential campaign, especially the primaries, although he retreated a bit on retreat during the general election.  If Blackwater and other security contractors decide to stop doing business in Iraq, the withdrawal will necessarily have to slow.  Troops designated for return home will have to get detailed to protection assignments for diplomats currently protected by contractors; Obama will not have the option of leaving them unprotected.  The other option — hiring Iraqi contractors — could prove disastrous, as the UN discovered when their security personnel helped attack their compound and killed over 20 of its staff.

The Bush administration will probably try to reach a quiet accommodation with Nouri al-Maliki, if one has not already been reached.  If that falls apart, either the State Department and the Pentagon will have to pay astronomic prices for security contractors or the Army and Marines will get longer assignments than Obama suggested.


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The Iraqi Government is now going to get a taste of the consequences of its support of Obama. Hope they have a lot of new body bags ready (sad to say, but true).

eaglewingz08 on December 30, 2008 at 11:09 AM

I’m quite confident that President-elect Obama will draw on his experience as a community organizer, a perpetual candidate for higher office, a law school grad and the toast of the Hip Hop Community/media, to solve this issue.

Let’s face it, he has no idea at all what he’s doing at this point.

NoDonkey on December 30, 2008 at 11:11 AM

“eaglewingz08 on December 30, 2008 at 11:09 AM”

OR, are they ready to kick jihadi ass and take names al by themselves because if they saw anything over the past 4 years it’s that that is the only thing that works?

/perpetual optimist

Buckaroo on December 30, 2008 at 11:12 AM

Maybe Israel can enact regime change in their current war like we did for Iraq & Afghanistan.

jgapinoy on December 30, 2008 at 11:12 AM

Maybe their ready, no one hates terrorists more then Iraqi’s.

rob verdi on December 30, 2008 at 11:14 AM

Obama thinks the Green Zone is a patch of well manicured grass with a hole and a flagstick.

fogw on December 30, 2008 at 11:16 AM

(Full disclosure: a friend of mine worked for a security company in Iraq.)

Full disclosure My husband works for Dyna Cor. The military is stretched, and they can’t complete the missions, they have been tasked. With out civilian contractors. Does anyone remember when George W Bush tasked Bob Gates with adding 80,000 new troops? How is that going? My husband is retired military so who at the Administration-Executive level is shooting the Pentagon in the foot? Someone signed off on this.

Dr Evil on December 30, 2008 at 11:25 AM

sshhhhhhhh

tomas on December 30, 2008 at 11:27 AM

It looked good on paper.

/s

geckomon on December 30, 2008 at 11:42 AM

Let’s face it, he has no idea at all what he’s doing at this point.

NoDonkey on December 30, 2008 at 11:11 AM

As long as boys can marry boys, babies can be aborted up to the moment of birth and the American people can’t afford to buy gas for their vehicles, Obama’s core constituency won’t care if he ever knows what he’s doing.

tgharris on December 30, 2008 at 11:42 AM

“As long as boys can marry boys, babies can be aborted up to the moment of birth and the American people can’t afford to buy gas for their vehicles, Obama’s core constituency won’t care if he ever knows what he’s doing.”

Yes, the White House Press Corps is pretty loopy.

NoDonkey on December 30, 2008 at 11:48 AM

NoDonkey on December 30, 2008 at 11:11 AM

Obama wasn’t responsible for deciding our military contractors should be vulnerable to the tender mercy of Iraqi law. IIRC, sharia is part of their constitution. Bush is responsible.

a capella on December 30, 2008 at 11:50 AM

Time to start a committee to figure it out…. If I were a Blackwater contractor I would be on the next plane out.

DL13 on December 30, 2008 at 11:53 AM

Obama thinks the Green Zone is a patch of well manicured grass with a hole and a flagstick.

fogw on December 30, 2008 at 11:16 AM

yeah on Oahu

johnnyU on December 30, 2008 at 11:55 AM

“Obama wasn’t responsible for deciding our military contractors should be vulnerable to the tender mercy of Iraqi law. IIRC, sharia is part of their constitution. Bush is responsible.”

Where exactly did I say he was responsible for that?

My point is that on January 20th, this unaccomplished, inexperienced, likely corrupt lightweight is in charge.

Blaming Bush won’t bring home the bacon.

Bambi will actually have to do more than read speeches off of teleprompters. Think he’s up to it?

NoDonkey on December 30, 2008 at 11:57 AM

A connect the dots kind of question –

1) Last week it was all the news that the primary television and print press were bugging out of Iraqi over the horizon. Much fanfare. Reason — nothing happens here anymore.

2) This week we have news that the the SOFA takes effect Jan 1 and the green zone will be managed by Iraqis. The Green Zone of course was where most of the press holed up for the last 5 years.

Coincidence? I think not. The chicken s@#$.

Dr. Dog on December 30, 2008 at 12:02 PM

I’m delighted at the “change”. I hope every contractor bugs out en masse.

Let the UN protect the diplomats and MSM. I only hope they bring back Kofi Annan. He did such a swell job overseeing troops in the field.

Laura in Maryland on December 30, 2008 at 12:35 PM

I am emotionally finished with Iraq. Our Glorious Leader will accelerate our troop withdrawal on the basis that we cannot afford to fight an unpopular war under current economic conditions. Our “defeat” in Iraq will then be blamed on Bush. Problem solved!

Outlander on December 30, 2008 at 12:38 PM

Bambi will actually have to do more than read speeches off of teleprompters. Think he’s up to it?

NoDonkey on December 30, 2008 at 11:57 AM

I don’t know. I do know the Iraqis will be eager to flaunt their new authority and American civilians will be targeted for the sake of internal Iraqi politics. Obama has been given the opportunity to avoid blame when that happens.

a capella on December 30, 2008 at 12:57 PM

“I don’t know. I do know the Iraqis will be eager to flaunt their new authority and American civilians will be targeted for the sake of internal Iraqi politics. Obama has been given the opportunity to avoid blame when that happens.”

And that matters why?

The election is over. Obama won.

I’m not interested in blame games.

Obama wanted this position and Democrats did all they could to get him in there, god knows why.

Now he’s going to be asked to do something.

This is not the Bill Clinton Presidency, when nothing was happening (or nothing that Clinton wanted to focus on which meant it became a bigger problem later on, anyway).

Obama should DO something here. That other unaccomplished, unqualified idiot he who is going to be our new Sect. of State should DO something.

The time for sitting in the stands and throwing whiskey bottles at the players on the field is over.

Obama and Hillary are on the field now. What are they going to do?

Blaming last year’s team is not an option.

NoDonkey on December 30, 2008 at 1:45 PM

Blaming last year’s team is not an option.

NoDonkey on December 30, 2008 at 1:45 PM

Good luck with that.

a capella on December 30, 2008 at 2:03 PM

“Good luck with that.”

I don’t mean politically, I mean for the good of the country.

Which I’ve been told that Obama and the Democrats are interested in, however difficult that is for me to believe.

The Democrats have what they wanted with pornographic lust – the White House and big majorities in both Houses of Congress.

At some point, even the idiots in the press are going to stop accepting “Bush’s fault” as an excuse.

NoDonkey on December 30, 2008 at 2:07 PM

The State Department has warned the Pentagon and the White House that the Iraqis will almost certainly use that new authority quickly and that American citizens will soon find themselves under arrest in Iraq, which would force the departure of security contractors and others.

Yes.

So was this deal directly brokered by Condi Rice or Gates for GWBush? Absolutely no way would Rumsfeld have signed off like that, and Powell certainly didn’t hang around long enough to have brokered a “time table” deal.

Odd, the above wording, “The State Department has warned the Pentagon and the White House,” as if the White House didn’t sign the deal, and as if the Pentagon isn’t fully aware of the horrible situation they now are inside, no thanks to the brokered deal that GWB must have signed in order to be effective. But GWB would NOT have signed it if any better alternative were possible. Leaving everything completely undetermined and open to Obama to ruin would be worse than this agreement.

SO NOW THE VIETNAM PARALLELISM BEGINS. Our military is neutered of sovereignty abroad by our own government’s agreement and left behind non-allied territorial lines(where’s the treaty that claims military alliance?), left to defend a well intended but most likely puppet government incapable of confronting antagonistic radical forces that are ever prepared to destroy the peace which our military provided. Our military is left behind without its own sovereign installation as our Commander In Chief retires, and the new guy brings his own version of horror for our military in Iraq AND AFGHANISTAN.

maverick muse on December 30, 2008 at 2:36 PM

Contractors with the DOS, including security contractors, are overseas with diplomatic credentials, e.g. diplomatic passport and visas. Therefore they are accredited to the Iraqi government and are untouchable without a decision by the USG to not exercise diplomatic immunity.

federale86 on December 30, 2008 at 6:22 PM

Dr Dog, just a factual correction, which doesn’t affect your main point – the MSM actually was mostly based outside the Green Zone, at least in 04-06. Short-term stays at the Al Rasheed would happen, though with decreasing frequency as conditions there got worse. Newsweek/LAT shared a house near the US embassy annex in the GZ, but even most of them lived outside the zone.

Point is, they each had their own (or group) “little Green Zones” in various places around downtown. And their own security forces – essentially the same as the US State Dept. and reconstruction contractors would use, at least in essence (former military, usually very experienced, often British or South African or Australian).

I have no idea what sort of legal status these sorts of security personnel have in Iraq, now or after Jan. 1. But I’m sure it’s an issue of concern. Though obviously the good old days of chaos, daily kidnapping, etc. are long gone, there is obviously still potential for some of that, and for simple hits, in Iraq.

IceCold on December 30, 2008 at 10:20 PM

Obama to Maliki: Could you PLEASE provide security while I shoot hoops in the Green Zone?

Steve Z on December 31, 2008 at 12:14 PM

I am emotionally finished with Iraq. Our Glorious Leader will accelerate our troop withdrawal on the basis that we cannot afford to fight an unpopular war under current economic conditions. Our “defeat” in Iraq will then be blamed on Bush. Problem solved!

Outlander on December 30, 2008 at 12:38 PM

And history repeats itself, repeats itself, repeats itself…

docdave on December 31, 2008 at 10:16 PM