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Iraq-US Security Agreement: Challenges Ahead

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mahmoud Reza Golshanpajooh

The idea of a security agreement between Iraq and the United States has sparked widespread debates among experts and officials of the two countries as well as some other Iraqi neighboring states in recent weeks. These debates are so diversified that on one side, some people totally negate such a pact exists at all and maintain that it is an invention of media provocations. On the contrary, there are those who by highlighting some of the items in the deal offer their positive and negative analyses over the future impacts of such an agreement on Iraq’s independence as well as its association with the neighboring and regional countries.

The following analysis by assuming the existence of an agreement and the debates surrounding it, underlines a few points concerning the security pact:

Iraqi Outlook

1.    The numerous resolutions passed against Iraq by the United Nations Security Council after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, has put a lot of restrictions on the present Iraqi leaders. On this basis, Iraq is still regarded a country under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and therefore lacks many preliminary tools of an independent and free state at international level for natural interactions in political, economic, military and security fields. It seems that one of the reasons for possible interest of some Iraqi leaders to conclude the pact with the Americans is to pave the way for Iraq to be excluded from the rules of Chapter VII.

2.    Some Iraqi officials believe that a long-term US presence in the country would help its stability. This though could have its roots in assumptions that domestic unrest and tensions with neighboring countries could pose a threat against Iraq.

3.    Apparently, the most important Iraqi opposition to the contents of the security agreement comes from the Shias. It seems there has been no explicit opposition from the Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis. The little opposition from these groups too has nothing to do with the very agreement itself and would apparently stop after elimination of some concerns and ambiguities.

4.    Iraq is an oil rich country and highly depends on the oil income for reconstruction of its disintegrated economy and society.  Certain Iraqi leaders seem to believe that the presence of American bases and its long-term military presence would prepare the ground for economic stability in the war-torn country.

5.    One significant point to ponder upon here is that certain Baathist media in recent weeks while voicing opposition to the agreement have accused the Shias of signing the pact to have their government recognized through association with the international community. These media claim that the only beneficiaries of the agreement would be the Shias and to prove this claim they state that Iran has expressed no formal opposition to the pact so far and this, in their opinion, is a sign that the Shias would benefit from the deal.

American Outlook

6.    On the opposite side, the United States, almost five years since the occupation, is trying to change its present status in Iraq from “military police” to “patron”.

7.    American officials are trying to adjust the domestic pressures over the daily growing costs of their presence in Iraq, particularly that the extent of support by the next US administration for its military presence in Iraq in the wake of the upcoming presidential elections and the possibility of backing of the president-elect for the public opinion who are fed up with the war, is not clear at all.

8.    Some experts maintain that George Bush would like to finalize the security agreement before the end of his tenure. This would not only help promote his tarnished image before the public opinion inside and outside America, but would also prepare a suitable ground for increased support for the Republicans and their candidate John McCaine.

Conclusion

1.    Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) is “an agreement between a country and a foreign nation stationing military forces in that country.” This agreement clarifies the conditions under which the military forces could take action. Issues such as the site of the military bases or the mechanism of the forces’ access to required facilities are dealt with under separate deals. What differentiates SOFA from other agreements is its focus on the legal status of the military personnel and their assets. The question of Capitulation and the competency alone of the courts of the country with military bases to investigate the crimes of the said personnel, is among the legal cases that has always been challenged by the host countries.  The death of two South Korean girls in a car accident by an American soldier and the ruling of an American military court that it was just an accident, payment of compensation and return of the soldier to America without any conviction, was among incidents in 2002 that sparked huge demonstrations in South Korea against the US military presence. At present, the United States maintains the highest number of SOFA agreements with other countries.

2.    If the contents of the security agreement between the US and Iraq is what the media claim to be, the former seems to benefit much more than the latter from the pact.  One point that may cross one’s mind at the first glance is that the tone and content of the agreement could have been deliberately drawn up so negatively and unilaterally by the Americans to leave some room for bargaining with the Iraqis. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the acceptance of this pact under the current conditions and even with some modifications would greatly tarnish the image and prestige of Iraq before the regional public opinion, particularly the Muslims who are so furious over the military and security presence of the US in Iraq.

If this happens, it would cause security concerns for Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria and to a lesser degree, Turkey and even Russia. The control of Iraq’s security and economic pulse by the United States which is a transnational player, in the opinion of many of Iraq’s neighbors, would not produce favorable results. The same goes with the almost two- decade presence of America in the Persian Gulf which has not brought real tranquility and settlement of disputes among the Persian Gulf states. Undoubtedly, the continued American military presence, that too under a legal cover, would benefit the Unites States itself rather than any Muslim state in the region.

3.    It is also true that if leaders of the Muslim states in the region, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, etc. forge a climate of constructive cooperation instead of opposition and rivalry, there would be no room for high maneuvering by trans-regional countries in this energy rich region. It may be said that rivalry among the regional countries is a geopolitical and geo-strategic force but Iran’s good and constructive relations with its most important rival, Iraq over the past few years; as well as the constant efforts of the leaders of Iran and Saudi Arabia to improve ties and remove misunderstandings, casts doubt on “unchangeability” of this so-called historical force.

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