Iraq-US Agreement: The Inevitable Option!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Javid Ghorbanogli

The Iraqi parliament is leaving behind the most tumultuous and nail-biting sessions these days. An agreement passed by the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki after 10 months of debates between American and Iraqi statesmen and sent to the parliament for final adoption.

Much can be said and even books can be written about the agreement. This writing however does not intend to make a comprehensive review of the deal but to take a cursory look at its content and draw a realistic conclusion of the options in front of a country which has been under foreign occupation since 2003 and after the fall of the Baathist regime.

1.    The agreement compiled by the Americans almost a year ago to legitimize their prolonged stay in Iraq was finally approved by the Iraqi government after numerous changes, which was the outcome of 10 months of intensive and very complicated diplomatic talks between the two sides. Obviously, insertion of certain articles in the agreement to ensure the independence of Iraq was the result of resistance of the Iraqi government and political forces and at the top of them the firm, logical and realistic stance taken by the religious authority Ayatollah Sistani. During its occupation of Iraq, the US had created very influential and powerful lobbies among all the religious and tribal groups, including Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, Arabs and Turkomens, however, the vigilance of Ayatollah Sistani and Iraqi statesmen as well as pressures by other powerful groups blocked the way to Washington in accomplishing its goals and in forcing the government and the parliament to endorse the agreement in its initial form and content. The Iraqi government has said “what we have achieved today is definitely not we wanted but with regard to the situation in Iraq and the problems it is facing it is an acceptable accomplishment.” This is a logical stance taken in line with the realities of a country comprising diverse tribal, religious and political groups which is under occupation of 150,000 foreign troops.

2.    The United States as the winner of a war that has overthrown an unrestrained dictatorial regime and replaced it with a democratic government would naturally expect huge political and economic concessions. Launching permanent military bases, maintaining a long-term military presence and getting concessions for security and judicial protection of its personnel are among the privileges Washington has been seeking. A glance at the fate of defeated countries in World War II and the US relations with them (Japan & Germany) demonstrates some realities which are the natural outcome of wars. Sixty years have passed since the defeat of the Allied forces but the US still maintain a military presence in Japan, Germany and Korea. Japan did not have the right to own a regular army until a few years ago and the US is still in charge of Japanese security. After the fall of Saddam Hussein the US officials made it clear time and again that Washington had no plans to fully withdraw its military from Iraq and will keep its troops inside Iraq as long as necessary. According to the agreement supported by the Baghdad government the American troops should leave Iraq by the end of 2011. Meantime, an article in the same agreement stipulates that the US should recognize the right of the Iraqi government to demand a US troop pullout before the 2011 deadline. Although other incidents may occur in Iraq till 2011 and other governments in Baghdad may sign different accords with Washington but by assuming these possibilities in the future one cannot question the present achievement.

3.    Although Ayatollah Sistani made no direct and open intervention in the negotiations about the agreement with US but reports on his meetings with Iraqi leaders indicate that he has stressed in case the majority of the government and parliament endorsed the text of the agreement he would not oppose it. In the meantime, the Iraqi religious authority has called for full disclosure of the contents of the agreement and warned against its possible incompatibility with the sovereignty of Iraq. An analysis of the behavior of Ayatollah Sistani over the years after liberation of Iraq from under the yoke of Saddam will show that he would intervene in the government decisions whenever he felt the independence and sovereignty of Iraq were jeopardized and the opinion of the majority of the people overlooked. Meanwhile, a cursory look at the contents of the agreement will indicate that the conditions (or viewpoints) of the religious authority have been fulfilled. Evidently, materialization of these terms in conditions that Iraq is under occupation and an uncalculated withdrawal of foreign troops would be tantamount to resumption of power by Baathist remnants and extremist groups following the line of al-Qaeda and Taliban and this would create a situation more dangerous than the status quo, this is considered a big accomplishment.

4.    Over the 10-month talks, the Iraqis succeeded in making important adjustments in the accord which the Americans were reluctant to accept. Almost all key US officials traveled to Iraq over the past year not once but repeatedly to promote their goals. Washington used every means to intimidate Iraqi officials and domestic political groups. It accused Iran of paying bribes to Iraqi MPs to oppose the agreement and invaded Syria on the pretext of al-Qaeda representatives in its soil. Nonetheless, the Iraqis were able to get big concessions from the US and force the country to change the strategic accord whose security dimensions dominated other aspects to an agreement on US troop withdrawal. Based on this agreement, the US agreed to pull out its military from Iraq by 2011; there would be no judicial immunity for American military; arrest of any Iraqi citizen and inspection of places should take place with authorization of Iraqi officials; and American forces stationed in Iraq would have no right to use the Iraqi soil for striking at neighboring countries.

5.    What would happen if Iraq refused to sign the agreement? The most important challenge of the Iraqis at present is for them to get out of UN Chapter VII which is an outcome of Saddam’s aggression against and occupation of Kuwait followed by 1st and 2nd US wars against Iraq which led to the fall of Saddam. But despite the overthrow of Saddam regime the country continues to be administered under Chapter VII of the United Nations. All the Iraqi oil revenues are managed and spent under the UN supervision and based on a program formulated by the international body. In short, despite the fact that five years have passed since Saddam’s overthrow and coming to power of a democratic government in Iraq the country still had a de facto sovereignty. It was very significant for the Iraqis to come out of this situation. It goes without saying that materialization of this situation would not be possible at the UN Security Council without the US consent. In fact, part of the intimidation used by Washington to force Iraq to sign the agreement came from this front. On the other hand, the deadline set by the UN for the legal presence of the American troops in Iraq expires in December 2008. The Americans had threatened if Baghdad failed to sign the agreement they would pull out their forces from critical cities and regions of Iraq and halt their air, logistic and training support for the Iraqi troops.

6.    Iraqi MPs will make a final decision on this matter. With regard to a decision by Ayatollah Sistani not to oppose the agreement approved by the Iraqi government earlier this month and considering the makeup of the political forces in the parliament, the deal is expected to be adopted by the house though not with consensus. It is nature of democracy for opponents and proponents to debate an issue and make a final decision by respecting the view of the majority.

The important point after adoption of the agreement is the vigilance of the Iraqi government and people concerning the gray items in the accord: cases to be negotiated with the Iraqi government within the time span 2008 (the date of approval) and 2011 (the date of US troop pullout). This is a very important matter in a country like Iraq which witnesses unexpected events every day. Let’s not forget that the autonomous government of Iraqi Kurdistan had threatened that if the central government in Baghdad refused to sign the agreement it would allow American military to set up bases in Kurdistan.

Undoubtedly, the best option for the Iraqi nation after liberation from criminal Saddam’s despotism is democracy and utilization of Iraq’s resources for the cause of welfare and non-acceptance of such an agreement. But as it was said above, with Iraq under foreign occupation, the restriction imposed on the country by the UNSC resolution due to Saddam’s madness, diversity of political forces with differing and influential political inclinations, and more importantly the power of terrorist groups in disturbing internal stability, the signing of the agreement seemed to be an inevitable option for Iraqi statesmen.


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