Has George w. Bush really folded his hand? Might John McCain have to oversee the withdrawal/expulsion of American troops from Iraq? The mind boggles at the possibilities.
Iraq's foreign minister says negotiators have hammered out a deal calling for the withdrawal of all American combat forces by the end of 2011.
There are two potential snags. The American committment to depart is "condition based" which seems to leave plenty of wiggle room for claims that conditions aren't quite right yet. The second issue is just what the tens of thousands of troops that remain after the withdrawal of combat troops will actually be doing. They'll supposedly be delegated to training and support duties. Perhaps.
Will conditions be right by 2011 for the withdrawal of American combat forces? Maybe, but don't count on it. The Kurds and the Arab Iraqis are still hanging around the OK Corral where they'll settle the Kirkuk question. The Kurdish Autonomous Region (where flying the Iraqi flag is prohibited) is fiercely determined to establish its claim to Kirkuk and the neighbouring oil fields.
Tensions have been simmering as the Kurd's secret police have been doing a little ethnic cleansing of their own, driving out Arabs and increasing the Kurdish population in advance of a referendum that has already been postponed to avoid an outright clash. Now the Arab and Turkmen population are pushing back.
Kirkuk has always been the 800 pound gorilla of Iraqi unification. It speaks volumes that, five years after the overthrow of Saddam, this critical issue remains unresolved.
Also unresolved are Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia and the freshly armed Sunni militias of the Awakening movement that have allied with American forces to drive out al Qaeda terrorists. Sadr, who is currently laying low, remains a political threat to the Maliki government and its Badr militia. That one is going to have to be sorted out.
And Iraq's Shiite government has now moved on the Sunni militias' leadership. The Baghdad government has issued orders to arrest 650-top Awakening Council leaders. The move is giving American generals fits. They fear the Iraqi move could drive the former Sunni guerrillas back into the arms of the insurgency and undo many of the gains that have resulted in a significant reduction of American casualties.
Many American military leaders admit it was the Awakening movement, not the surge, that has been truly responsible for the decline in American fatalities.