Change: Obama sending Special Ops troops back to Iraq -- without legal immunity

Legal immunity for American troops was supposedly the sticking point that led to U.S. withdrawal in 2011, of course, which means we’re now headed back in under conditions that would have kept a U.S. residual force in place all along. Obama told Maliki in 2011 that he couldn’t leave soldiers there without a guarantee that they wouldn’t be prosecuted in Iraqi courts. No way, said Maliki. The occupation’s too unpopular; parliament will never go for immunity. Oh well, said O, who was eager to bring everyone back anyway so that he’d have a little extra something to run on in 2012. And now here we are, headed back in — on Malki’s 2011 terms, without immunity.

Maybe it’s destiny for America’s Iraq adventure to end with U.S. troops tried in a kangaroo court by Shiite fanatics, after we went back in to help them.

Yet this time around, Obama is willing to accept an agreement from Iraq’s foreign ministry on U.S. forces in Iraq without a vote of Iraq’s parliament. “We believe we need a separate set of assurances from the Iraqis,” one senior U.S. defense official told The Daily Beast. This official said this would likely be an agreement or exchange of diplomatic notes from the Iraq’s foreign ministry. “We basically need a piece of paper from them,” another U.S. official involved in the negotiations told The Daily Beast. The official didn’t explain why the parliamentary vote, so crucial three years ago, was no longer needed.

Of course, part of the problem in 2014 is that the United States doesn’t have the time to wait for Iraq’s parliament. To start, the Iraqi parliament is in the process of forming a new government. The parliament would have to choose a new prime minister, parliamentary speaker and president before reopening the politically sensitive issue of approving legal protections for the military that occupied the country between 2003 and 2011…

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said, “We are pursuing something in writing. The secretary is absolutely committed to making sure that our troops have the legal protections. He would not do that on a nod and a wink.”

In other words, it’s not so much that Special Ops won’t have immunity as that both sides are now ignoring Iraq’s joke of a parliament and handling things through executive agreement. So much for Iraqi democracy. The White House’s thinking, I guess, is that there’s no need to worry about American troops being tried in Iraqi courts anymore since there’s really no Iraq anymore. The Shiites will have their hands full with Sunni maniacs for years to come; if they put a single U.S. soldier on trial, they’re forfeiting America’s help forever in that war and they know it. Not even a strong interventionist like Rubio in the White House would dare put more servicemen in harm’s way if one of them ends up having to endure a show trial now. Iraq could afford to play hardball on immunity in 2011 when its biggest problem was public upset at the thought of an ongoing occupation. Now their biggest problem is ethnic cleansing. Immunity’s not so important these days.

Also, how likely is it that any of the 300 Special Ops soldiers headed over will end up in a situation where the Shiite government might want to try them? There are three reasons why they’re there. One is to gather intelligence on ISIS positions in case O decides he wants to start bombing. Two is to signal nominal U.S. support for the Iraqi state we helped build and to remind Iran that we’re still capable of projecting force just in case they get too ambitious about pushing the Sunnis back. And three, it seems, is to “advise” the Iraqi military, although after reading the stories in the NYT and WaPo this morning, it seems like there’s not much of a military left to advise.

After tens of thousands of desertions, the Iraqi military is reeling from what one U.S. official described as “psychological collapse” in the face of the offensive from militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)…

“Over time, what’s occurred is that the Iraqi army has no ability to defend itself,” said Rick Brennan, a Rand Corp. analyst and former adviser to U.S. forces in Iraq. “If we’re unable to find ways to make a meaningful difference to the Iraqi army as they fight this, I think what we’re looking at is the beginning of the disintegration of the state of Iraq.”…

“The basic problem with the Iraqi military is that it’s a sectarian force,” said James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq. “That’s combined with the fact that you have sycophantic generals, you have low morale and a Shiite volunteer force. They didn’t do very much training. They don’t have the equipment or skills of the [ISIS] guys.”

Experts told the NYT that the Iraqi army is a “defeated force,” with one estimate claiming that fully a quarter of all battalions have deserted and more than a third of the army’s divisions are “combat ineffective.” Other experts tell Fox News that Iraq has a “limited number” of helicopters and just two planes that can fire Hellfire missiles from the air. That’s why Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, sent down the word for Shiites to start volunteering to defend Baghdad. It’s not purely a matter of sectarian zeal; it’s a matter of the army no longer being equal to the task. And according to another story in today’s NYT, all of this caught the White House very much by surprise: “By the time Mosul, Tikrit and Tal Afar fell this month, it was too late. Like Mr. Bush before him, Mr. Obama misjudged the American-trained Iraqi forces, which melted away in the face of the ISIS advance. The White House was stunned…” (Says Tom Maguire, “They make nice bookends – Bush entered Iraq on the basis of faulty intelligence and Obama exited on the basis of faulty intelligence.”) Eight years of American blood, treasure, and military training went up in smoke in less than three years of Iraq on its own. Is that an argument for why Obama should have pushed harder to keep some U.S. troops in place in 2011? Or an argument for why he should have pulled out even sooner?