The Iraq Study Group will deliver its report to US President Bush this morning. It is expected that the report will advocate a change of policy in Iraq, which can include troops reduction as well as looking to Iraq’s neighbors for assistance.

In the wake of the forthcoming report, President Bush has suggested that his policy in Iraq will be one of perseverance. Different reports have surfaced suggesting that the US President is unlikely to accept big changes in Iraq. However, it remains to be seen what the recommendations actually are and what the President’s reaction will be.

At the same time, Bush’s new man, Secretary of Defense nominee Robert Gates has made statements about the US not winning the war in Iraq. In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Gates suggested training more Iraqi forces. This seems to be part of the US’ new strategy in Iraq; President Bush has said in a meeting with Iraqi PM Maliki that he is unsatisfied with Iraq tackling sectarian violence. This means that the US is expecting Iraqis to take on more responsibilities in providing security within the country. It is also a policy that is very much aligned with the US’ ally in Iraq, Britain.

For several weeks, Britain has advocated gradual troops withdrawals from Iraq, even suggesting that its troops may be out of Basra province by next spring with Iraqi security forces assuming responsibilities for safety in the area. Also, Britain has looked to significant troops reductions within the next year. If this policy is advanced, the US will be put into a stranglehold position because it simply cannot sustain its current Iraq policy without British participation.

In that sense, President Bush may accept the idea of eventual troops withdrawals, even if he’s not ready to commit to set deadlines.

But President Bush is unlikely to welcome the prospect of working with Iraq’s neighbors, Iran and Syria. The US and other UN Security Council members once again did not agree on the types of sanctions Iran should receive for its nuclear activity. Syria has been in the spotlight, because of the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, with some accusing Syria of involvement in the murder.

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UK Timetable for Iraq

October 25, 2006

More confirmation today that the UK is planning an Iraq exit within a year, something that became evident last week. A US official has mentioned “a year, give or take a few months” as the British timetable.

Meanwhile, US General George Casey has said that Iraqi forces could be ready to provide security for the country within 12-18 months, indicating that the US would follow the British in leaving Iraq.

This goes to confirm all the diplomatic signals from last week that were recorded on this blog.

Iraq’s Deputy PM Saleh has called for the world to not “cut and run” from Iraq. The fact that such statements are being made means that the likelihood of an exit from Iraq is more and more present and real.

All of last week, the US and the UK have been sending diplomatic signals indicating that there will be a change of policy. Today’s statements by Barham Saleh confirm all those signals. So George W. Bush and Tony Blair may say they’ll “stay the course,” but in reality, plans may be changing.

This is why the Saleh’s visit to London was so important for Iraq and why the deputy PM is taking every opportunity to talk to news media and blatantly state that an exit will not be acceptable.

UK to Stay the Course for Now

PM Blair’s office made it clear today that the UK will get the job done in Iraq and will not pull the plug.

At the same time, Iraqi Deputy PM Saleh has said that 8 or 9 provinces could be under Iraqi control within the year, indicating that there will be a mission adjustment for the UK (and US?) troops.

Partitioning Iraq

The most pressing question right now, though, is the question of partitioning Iraq. It keeps on surfacing in news stories. It’s hard to imagine a Kurdish north become its own autonomous region, without the Kurds making irredentist claims in other countries (Iran, Turkey) — in that sense, the scenario is unlikely. And bearing in mind the idea that Syria and Iran may be asked to help regulate the Iraq situation, one cannot imagine the Iranians being in favour of a Kurdish area.

Dividing Iraq into Sunni-Shi’a lines is also problematic — how much of the Revolution will Iran want to export into the Shi’a region of Iraq? The Iraqi Shi’as have traditionally not aligned themselves with Iran (as Iran had expected during the Iran-Iraq war) and have identified themselves as Iraqis. If the country is partitioned, then this could change.

This is probably why the US has not favoured a partitioning yet. The UK is saying that the question is up to Iraqis.

Tony Blair is meeting with Iraqi officials and is set to press them on demonstrating that Iraqi security forces can take over the British-controlled areas. The British PM is, after all, seeking an exit from Iraq.

The UK’s involvement in the Iraqi endeavor has gone hand in hand with the US’ War on Terror. Without a doubt, the British would have never gone into Iraq without the participation and encouragement of their American allies. Could the UK’s plans to withdraw from Iraq within a year mean that the US will be doing the same? We will not know until the midterm elections pass, but the US has been sending enough diplomatic signals to suggest that this might be the case. This weekend we heard that President Bush is apparently ready for a change of strategy. Today, a huge error was committed by a US official who made comments about the US handling of Iraq and later retrieved the statement. The questionable comments suggested that the US handling of Iraq was full of “arrogance and stupidity.”

When those kind of comments get out, you know something is in the air.

And times are changing.