THE wrangle that is going on between the United States and the Iraq occupation government of prime minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki over the nature of the future U.S. presence in Iraq is a farce.
What makes it worse is that both sides have been pretending it isn't.
The problem is presented by the fact that the current U.S. presence in Iraq is made as legal as any unprovoked invasion and five-year-plus occupation can be made by a U.N. resolution that expires at the end of this year.
The Bush Administration wants to maintain some cover for the continued presence of some or all of the 155,000 U.S. troops there, at least until it can pass the ball to the next administration.
One means to do that would be to seek at the United Nations an extension of the current mandate. But to do so could get really messy, given that virtually the rest of the world is opposed to continued U.S. occupation of Iraq. Apart from the decimated, now laughable "coalition of the willing," unless other U.N. members believed sincerely that a new American government was irrevocably committed to closing this unfortunate page of history, the United States would have great difficulty selling a new resolution covering the U.S. presence in Iraq.
Thus, instead, the U.S. government is "negotiating" a treaty to stay with an "Iraqi government" whose existence depends on America and its troops.
The United States needs to pretend that the al-Maliki government is an independent force if it is to continue to maintain that it has created a democratic government in Iraq. It also needs to maintain the pretense if Mr. Bush's government still has it in mind that it will one day hand over the governance of Iraq to the al-Maliki or a successor government.
Mr. al-Maliki, in an effort to bolster his authority be able to talk with the leaders of Iran and other neighboring states with a straight face, is pretending to hold firm against some of the more outrageous demands and infringements on any pretense of Iraqi sovereignty that the Bush Administration is demanding. These include a reported 50 permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, and continued U.S. control of Iraqi air space, continued freedom for U.S. forces to mount attacks and otherwise operate free of Iraqi authority in Iraq. Independence?
Surely it is time to stop pretending. The United States occupies Iraq, for as long as Washington wants to.
Mr. al-Maliki's regime is a dependent occupation government, no more, no less. Mr. al-Maliki has now said the negotiations are at an impasse. He at least - unlike Mr. Bush - may have decided to stop pretending that this is a negotiation between two independent governments.