As we know from The Godfather -- that seminal work of American political philosophy which serves as the Bible for policy-making in the Bush Administration -- a horse's head in the bed can be highly effective tool in difficult contract negotiations. Last Friday, Bush went his fictional mentors one better in the "negotiations" over an agreement setting out the public terms of a de facto permanent American occupation of the conquered land: he laid the corpse of a kinsman on the doorstep of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
McClatchy Newspapers reports that U.S. Special Forces launched a deadly raid in al-Maliki's home province -- which has supposedly been returned to the full control of the Iraqi government. Without any warning to Iraqi forces, the American unit stormed the rural town of Janaja at dawn on Friday with 60 troops and in the course of the raid killed Ali Abdulhussein Razak al Maliki, one of the prime minister's many relatives in the area, where he was born and where his tribe is based.
No Iraqi authority was notified of this heavily armed raid -- complete with jets and helicopters -- on supposedly "sovereign," supposedly Iraqi-controlled territory. Certainly the prime minister himself knew nothing of the impending attack on his hometown. And once the operation was over, Iraqi military officers -- trained, funded, armed and embedded with U.S. forces -- said that "the Americans had acted on faulty intelligence."
The raid comes at what appears to be a delicate juncture in the on-going talks to establish a "status of forces agreement" for the American military presence in Iraq. Iraqi government officials have publicly balked at some of the most howlingly sinister, moustache-twirling proposals of the Bush Administration: 5o American bases! Complete legal immunity from Iraqi law! Right to launch deadly attacks anytime, anywhere in the country! Right to launch attacks on other nations from Iraq! Total control of Iraqi airspace! and so on. The Bush Administration has made a show of "recalibrating" some of its demands and, in the end, will probably modify a few of them: 30 permanent bases, say, instead of 50, or, as has already been suggested, putting Iraqi guard posts outside the gargantuan U.S. military plantations and pretending they are actually Iraqi bases with a few invited guests inside.
But the openly stated goal of the Bush Faction -- even before they seized power in 2000 -- has always been to reduce Iraq to a client state with a permanent American military presence and a kicked-down "open door" for exploitation by Western corporate interests. This overarching goal of the entire American enterprise in Iraq has been abundantly clear from the very beginning. That's why the occupation has seemed so haphazard and chaotic: because the Bushists literally don't care how the deal gets done -- as long as they get what they want in the end. The details -- nor the human cost -- of installing and maintaining a pliable "government" in Baghdad didn't matter: sectarian war, painting schools, rampant terrorism, passing out candy, mass roundups, civics lessons, the decimation of whole cities, building a soccer field, surges, ceremonies, a million people dead -- who cares? Try anything and everything, as long as you keep your eyes on the prize: a client state and forward bastion in the American empire of military bases -- with the second biggest oil reserves in the world.
In the al-Maliki government, the Bushists have their best shot at nailing down the ultimate prize down at last. So it's going to be hardball in the "negotiations" of the "status of forces agreement" (which even the corporate media recognizes as a transparent sham to avoid a Congressional vote on America's acquisition of a new colony. Although given the track record of the Democratic "opposition," it's hard to see why the Bushists would be too worried about pushing a formal treaty down the collective throat of Congress. Can't you hear Barack Obama now, announcing, in solemn tones, that although he does not agree with every aspect of the Iraq treaty, "it represents the best hope for bringing this tragic conflict to a close, ensuring the future of the Iraqi people and honoring the sacrifices of our fallen soldiers. Therefore I will support this measure.")
As Kurdish legislator Mahmoud Othman noted, the raid was a "big embarrassment" for al-Maliki, "because he was in that area two days before the incident, telling his people that we are the masters in our country and the decisions were ours to make." Clearly, the attack on al-Maliki's hometown and the killing of his kinsman were intended to send a double message. First, that any notion of Iraqi "sovereignty" is and always will be a joke, whatever pious verbiage gets spouted for the rubes back home. And second -- well, it goes something like this: "Hey, Nouri, see Cousin Ali here? You're next, pal, if you don't play ball!"
No doubt there will be a passing "political crisis" in Iraq over this hit job -- as there have been about so many other incidents before, from Haditha to Ishaqi to the Blackwater killing spree -- but it won't matter in the end. The cobbled-together conglomeration of collaborators and corruptocrats in the Baghdad "government" know they cannot survive without direct and massive American military support. The most they can hope for is to kick the negotiations down the road a bit, and see if they can get a slightly better deal from the next administration in Washington. (Obama, being such an "anti-war" candidate and all, would probably settle for, oh, 25 long-term "leases" on military bases for the tens of thousands of troops he intends on keeping in Iraq to carry out "counter-terrorism operations," train Iraqi forces and provide security for "American interests" throughout the land, including the bristling, sprawling "Fortress America" embassy in the heart of Baghdad.)
But Friday's operation was a strong indication that the Bushists might not be willing to let al-Maliki dally too much longer over an agreement. To avert once more to that seminal work: either al-Maliki's brains or his signature will be on that sheet of paper before the final credits roll.
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This story was published on June 30, 2008.