Austin Bay

Two events and one document frame the historical context of two pending agreements that will guide U.S.-Iraqi relations over the next three to 10 years: the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA).

Ink stains mark that first event: Iraq's January 2005 elections. Recall "expert pessimism" dominated the international media's coverage of that election. The election would fail. But it didn't. Despite the dour predictions, millions of Iraqis responded. Voters dipped their fingers in blue ink -- a simple but dramatic way to show they had gone to the polls. An ink-stained finger became a symbol of the individual and social courage it took to start a national democratic political process.

The second event occurred in spring 2008: the Iraqi Army's Operation Charge of the Knights. Declared an immediate failure by an overwhelming majority of the talk show and editorial elites, Knights Charge smashed Shia gangs in Basra and hit Iranian-financed "special groups" throughout southern Iraq.

Knights Charge was a carefully integrated political-military operation. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made it clear Knights Charge was planned and executed by the Iraqis themselves. Maliki and his government know they are waging a political war, and Knights Charge was a military operation with major political objectives. One was to further isolate Muqtada al-Sadr and his Shia thugs. Another key political objective was to solidify Maliki's nationalist credentials.

Iraq Kurds and Sunni Arabs praised Knights Charge. Maliki's Shia Arab-dominated government was targeting and defeating Shia radicals, many of them in cahoots with Iran.

Knights Charge not only demonstrated maturing Iraqi Army capabilities, but it showed the central government was an Iraqi national government.

As for the document behind the agreements: U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546 (passed on June 8, 2004) ratified the general thrust of U.S. political development policy in Iraq and mapped a route to full Iraqi sovereignty. When I reported for duty in Baghdad in May 2004, the first paper on my desk was a draft of Resolution 1546. I thought it read like an open-source campaign plan outlining the interim and often frustratingly incremental successes required to create a democratic Iraqi state. In retrospect, that's precisely what it was.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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