Iraq's Welcome Resistance to a US Occupation Agreement
Date 2008/6/9 15:10:00
Paris, June 5, 2008 – The American presidential candidates are in place and the campaign-before-the-campaign begun. A crucial part of it concerns Iraq withdrawal.
Political debates on subjects like this are necessarily framed as if they deal in policies and promises that can be carried out, and they make an implicit assumption of U.S. omnipotence. This is keenly the problem concerning Iraq's future. Barack Obama says he will bring American combat troops out of Iraq within sixteen months. John McCain says he may keep them there as a security force for a decade or more.
Obama is committed to looking for negotiated solutions rather than throwing America's weight around -- of which there has recently been a great deal, usually to negative effect. McCain gives the Bush administration reply that talking implies appeasement.
The fact is that neither of them is likely to decide how long American forces stay in Iraq. The Iraqis will do that. And that is exactly what the United States should want.
The United States has a choice between two contradictory policy objectives. The first is to get Iraq's affairs and Iraq's future into Iraqi hands just as fast as possible. The only permanent security for them will be security they provide for themselves. Nobody is threatening to invade or attack them. This means the United States should get out.
The alternative to getting out is to turn Iraq into an American satellite state.
America's legal right to remain in Iraq runs out at the end of this year, when its UN Security Council mandate ends. The American missions in Baghdad have for many months been pushing hard for a new security agreement that will authorize the U.S. to stay on indefinitely.
It would authorize the U.S. to keep the huge "non-permanent" but "enduring" bases that have been built there, and the Green Zone embassy – the largest in the world – with its many appendages and territorial extensions.
It would give the U.S. sovereign authority over military operations inside and outside Iraq. It would formally grant American troops, officials, and selected civilian contractors exemption from Iraqi criminal, civil and military law. It would allow the U.S. to seize and hold Iraqis prisoner. It would, if the United States has its way, throw open the economy to American corporations, again operating under American rather than Iraqi regulation.
It would be a grant of extraterritoriality, an exemption of the United States and its agents and army from the sovereign authority of the Iraqi state. To minimize the implications of this, Washington refers to it as a banal "status of forces" agreement of the kind the U.S. regularly negotiates with the governments of countries where it has bases or stations troops.
This is not true. A status of forces agreement deals with authority of U.S. military commanders within their bases, and defines what is under national authority and what under U.S control. It deals with military operations but also with who is responsible for the trial of military drunks and rapists.
Such a treaty exists with Italy, but an Italian court has been trying in absentia a score of identified CIA agents for kidnapping an Italian resident off the street, transporting him to a U.S. base in Italy, and then to a third country where the victim claims that he was tortured. Italy says this was outrage to Italian sovereignty, and an interference in Italian justice.
That trial wouldn't be possible in Iraq under this treaty. The U.S. wants very wide powers in Iraq and a large place in Iraq's economy and in its energy trade. It wants its bases and its Green Zone installations to become what in 19th century China was recognized as an international zone or foreign quarter, exempt from Chinese law and with its own police, courts, and customs controls. It wants a grant of sovereignty.
L. Paul Bremmer tried to establish such an arrangement before Iraq's elections. The Iraqis resisted then, the politicians, and more important, the powerful unions who work in Iraq's oil industry. They resist any foreign control of Iraq's energy resources.
The Bush administration is now pushing to get the agreement passed before it leaves office. The Pentagon in particular wants to bind Iraq to these terms, since for it, indefinite occupation and sovereignty over the bases is what the war, strategically, has been all about. It is part of Defense Department long-term security policy.
However opposition is increasing, even among the Shiite-Kurd coalition that is Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki base of support. It's insisted that nothing be done before parliamentary elections later this year, and a great many Iraqi politicians sensibly say that nothing should be done before the American presidential election shows which way American foreign policy is headed. Some Sunni leaders want the U.S. to stay, for Sunni security. Some others want a popular referendum on such an agreement, which probably would mean rejection.
The most important objection is to an agreement made while Bush is still president, and it would be wise for the two presidential candidates to say publicly that they repudiate a Bush effort to tie their hands on Iraq. The fact that Iraqis are saying the same thing proves that a healthy political process has begun there, which is good news.
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