Thursday, June 5, 2008

The "Strategic Alliance" Between the US and Iraq

When the United States deploys its troops to a foreign country, the framework of the relationship between the two countries is stretched across what is called a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that codifies the particulars of the relationship.

It should come as no surprise that the SOFA between the US and Iraq is a political document, split into two parts, that is being crafted to achieve two goals--to make as permanent as possible the involvement of US troops in Iraq in order to ensure the legacy of George Bush does NOT hinge completely on Iraq and to help John McCain get elected President.

Alexander Cockburn explains:

A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.

The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabili[z]e Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.

But the accord also threatens to provoke a political crisis in the US. President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. But by perpetuating the US presence in Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw US troops if he is elected president in November.

There is no basis to declare victory in Iraq--the government cannot stand without US assistance and US assistance is killing Americans virtually every day. There is simply no reason to honor any agreement Bush makes with Iraq. There should be a Senate vote on this treaty, but because the administration refuses to call it a treaty there won't be. It avoids the necessary review in the Senate that would ensure that the American people have a say in what is decided.

And what's sad is that the Grand Ayatollah of Iraq has more say in the matter than the US Senate:

Al-Hayat writing in Arabic reports that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (the leading bloc in parliament and keystone of the government of Nuri al-Maliki) is saying he spoke to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani about the security agreement with Washington. He says that Sistani laid out four points to which any such agreement must adhere:

-National sovereignty
-National consensus
-Parliamentary approval of it

Al-Hakim met with Sistani Wednesday evening, along with some journalists. The journalists reported that the grand ayatollah stressed national Iraqi unity in the face of challenges, expressed his concern about the lack of services for citizens, including electricity and water, and said the water shortage was especially harming farmers. He also urged haste in the rebuilding of the Askariya Shrine in Samarra.

Al-Hakim said that his own party felt the current American draft detracts too much from Iraq's sovereignty and fails to protect Iraqi wealth. He said that Sistani did not go into details but stressed general principles. He maintained that in general Sistani shared the concerns of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

As usual, Joe Biden was all over this from get go:

“Last November, the President of the United States and Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq signed a ‘Declaration of Principles,’ which set out a framework for our countries to negotiate, by the end of July of this year, agreements governing cooperation in political, economic and security spheres. Among other things, the Declaration contemplates ‘providing security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq’ and supporting Iraq ‘in its efforts to combat all terrorist groups,’ including Al-Qaeda, Saddamists, and ‘all other outlaw groups regardless of affiliation.’ In other words, all the folks fighting in Iraq and killing each other.

“This sends up not just one, but many red flags with me and many other Americans. We’ve pledged we’re not only going to consult when there is an outside threat, but also when there is an inside threat. We’ve just witnessed when Mr. Maliki engaged in the use of force against another Shia group in the south, is this an inside threat?

“We will hear today about the two agreements that the Administration is negotiating with Iraq which were anticipated in the November Declaration. On Tuesday, Ambassador Crocker told us that these agreements would set forth the ‘vision’ – his phrase – of our bilateral relationship with Iraq.

“One agreement is a ‘strategic framework agreement’ that will include the economic, political and security issues outlined in the Declaration of Principles. The document might be better titled ‘What the United States will do for Iraq,’ because it consists mostly of a series of promises that flow in one direction – promises by the United States to a sectarian government that has thus far failed to reach the political compromises necessary to have a stable country.

“We’re told that the reason why we’re not continuing under the UN umbrella is because the Iraqis say they have a sovereign country. But they don’t want a Status of Forces Agreement because that flows two ways. The Administration tells us it’s not binding, but the Iraqi parliament is going to think it is.

“The second agreement is what Administration officials call a ‘standard’ Status of Forces Agreement, which will govern the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, including their entry into the country and the immunities to be granted to them under Iraqi law. Unlike most SOFAs, however, it would permit U.S. forces – for the purposes of Iraqi law – to engage in combat operations and detain insurgents. In other words, to detain people that we think are bad guys. I don’t know any of the other nearly 90 Status of Forces Agreements that would allow a U.S. commander to arrest anyone he believes is a bad guy.

The American people don't have a say, and, apparently, the Iraqi people won't have much of a say either. Ali Allawi, the former Finance Minister of Iraq, writes:

In 1930 the Anglo-Iraqi treaty was signed as a prelude to Iraq gaining full independence. Britain had occupied Iraq after defeating the Turks in the First World War, and was granted a mandate over the country. The treaty gave Britain military and economic privileges in exchange for Britain's promise to end its mandate. The treaty was ratified by a docile Iraqi parliament, but was bitterly resented by nationalists. Iraq's dependency on Britain poisoned Iraqi politics for the next quarter of a century. Riots, civil disturbances, uprisings and coups were all a feature of Iraq's political landscape, prompted in no small measure by the bitter disputations over the treaty with Britain.

Iraq is now faced with a reprise of that treaty, but this time with the US, rather than Britain, as the dominant foreign partner. The US is pushing for the enactment of a "strategic alliance" with Iraq, partly as a precondition for supporting Iraq's removal from its sanctioned status under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. It is a treaty under any other name. It has been structured as an alliance partly to avoid subjecting its terms to the approval of the US Senate, and partly to obfuscate its significance. Although the draft has not been circulated outside official circles, the leaks raise serious alarm about its long-term significance for Iraq's sovereignty and independence. Of course the terms of the alliance for Iraq will be sweetened with promises of military and economic aid, but these are no different in essence from the commitments made in Iraq's previous disastrous treaty entanglements.

The Bush administration has set 31 July as the deadline for the signing of the agreement. Under the present plan, the draft of the agreement will have to be brought to Iraq's parliament for approval. Parliament, however, is beholden to the political parties that dominate the present coalition, and there is unlikely to be substantive debate on the matter. The Shia religious leadership in Najaf, especially Grand Ayatollah Sistani, has not clearly come out against the agreement, although his spokesmen have set out markers that must be respected by the negotiators. The Najaf religious hierarchy is probably the only remaining institution that can block the agreement. But it is unclear whether the political or religious leadership are prepared to confront the US. President Bush, with an eye on history, is seeking to salvage his Iraq expedition by claiming that Iraq is now pacified and is a loyal American ally in the Middle East and the War on Terror.

It is only now that Iraqis have woken up to the possibility that Iraq might be a signatory on a long-term security treaty with the US, as a price for regaining its full sovereignty. Iraqis must know its details and implications. How would such an alliance constrain Iraq's freedom in choosing its commercial, military and political partners? Will Iraq be obliged to openly or covertly support all of America's policies in the Middle East? These are issues of a vital nature that cannot be brushed aside with the Iraqi government's platitudes about "protecting Iraqi interests". A treaty of such singular significance to Iraq cannot be rammed through with less than a few weeks of debate. Otherwise, the proposed strategic alliance will most certainly be a divisive element in Iraqi politics. It will have the same disastrous effect as the treaty with Britain nearly eighty years ago.

The late Steve Gilliard wrote at length about the historical precedents, but here's a great excerpt from the history of the British occupation of Iraq that rings true today:

Above all, reliance was being placed on the new military technology to magnify manpower. It had been pushed forward rapidly by the Great War, which in this way fortified imperialism as much as in other ways it weakened it. During its course electrified as well as barbed wire was made use of on a turbulent section of the north-west frontier. The armoured car showed its paces in the Afghan war, though only available in limited numbers, `It possessed great fire power and mobility’, the army reported, `while offering a small and almost invulnerable target to the enemy.’ `Motor machine-gun batteries’ were also now in service. A grander chariot of wrath was the tank, an avatar of the elephant of older Indian warfare. But the true deus ex machina was the aviator, who had made his appearance in various colonial theatres during the Great War. . . .

To empire men of [General L.C.] Dunsterville’s generation, aviation promised, as his book makes clear, to be the trump card, the perfect means of keeping colonial peoples on the strait and narrow path. In the government this view had champions in [Colonial Secretary Lord] Milner and [Secretary for War and Air Winston] Churchill. . . The aim was to turn Iraq, whose defence was being entrusted to the RAF, into a showpiece of the new philosophy

It was in new territories where colonial rule had as yet no infrastructure that air forces could be looked on most of all as a short cut to control. In Iraq the British Mandate found few welcomers, and there were complications both in the north, where oil was expected, with Kurdish rebels, and in the south with Wahhabis, Muslim zealots raiding across the nebulous border from the new neighbouring kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A variety of operations were soon being undertaken by the RAF, on its own or in conjunction with ground forces under its direction. They were breeding a new type of soldier, a technician in uniform. A good specimen was the L.A. Simmons who joined the RAF as a 'skilled driver' in 1923, and spent 'two and a half quite unforgettable years' with armoured car units in Iraq, before moving on to Egypt. He rose to flight lieutenant. The army was not concerned to notice that it had some enquiring minds now in the fold. No one told Simmons and his friends that they would be getting out of a train at Ur of the Chaldees. 'There was little or no "Briefing" in those days, eveyone was kept in the dark about what was going on.' He arranged to have newspaper cuttings sent out from home, in order to get some clue to what he was doing.

His No.4 company of armoured cars had its base at Hinaidi, close to the capital of Baghdad. Far-ranging patrols were carried out, by sections each of four cars, four Fords with Lewis guns, and a tender with radio and provisions. A car had a crew of five, all of whom had to be able to drive it and to handle any of its weapons. 'Our "armoureds" were greatly respected everywhere', he wrote. When men on the ground spotted the enemy in too much strength for them to tackle they radioed for planes to come and bonb him.

Airstrikes--the best way to make sure one does NOT win the hearts and minds of the people. It was true in the 1920s and it is true today.

The legacy of the Iraq War must be something entirely belonging to President Bush and none of the decisions, agreements or documents he has signed should be honored--a break with precedent, of course, but, then again, the Bush Presidency has never honored precedent. NONE of the things that were decided or negotiated were done under legitimate Congressional oversight and nothing was done in the best interests of the American people.

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