The Secret Agreement Is Only A Secret Here

by dday

Two big news stories out today regarding Iraq, one about the past and one about the future. The long-awaited release of the Phase II report showing that the Administration intentionally lied and deceived and misused intelligence in the run-up to the war comes off as kind of obvious, but I suppose it's nice to see in print.

The other report, from Patrick Cockburn in The Independent, discusses the negotiations for a new status of forces agreement that would keep Iraq under indefinite occupation by the United States military.

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 destabilise Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country [...]

America currently has 151,000 troops in Iraq and, even after projected withdrawals next month, troop levels will stand at more than 142,000 – 10 000 more than when the military "surge" began in January 2007. Under the terms of the new treaty, the Americans would retain the long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq. American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law for US troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad government.

The precise nature of the American demands has been kept secret until now. The leaks are certain to generate an angry backlash in Iraq. "It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty," said one Iraqi politician, adding that if the security deal was signed it would delegitimise the government in Baghdad which will be seen as an American pawn.

I respect Cockburn's journalism here, but I think he's a little bit behind the story. In fact, this is the American side of the story and their demands for what they want out of a security agreement, which as I mentioned a couple days ago is already well-known inside Iraq. In fact, in a fascinating session yesterday in front of a House Foreign Relations Subcommitte, two members of the Iraqi Parliament, one Sunni and one Shiite (a member of the Al-Fadhila Party (unaffiliated with Prime Minister Maliki or Muqtada al-Sadr) rejected the US-Iraqi arrangement, demanded a referendum on it from the Iraqi Parliament or the people, and explained to Congress that a timetable for withdrawal would end the violence plaguing the country. They rejected that the surge was in any way responsible for the drop in violence and attributed it to local control, and they insisted that an end to the occupation is the only way for reconciliation to take place.

This is completely in line with the majority of the Iraqi Parliament and the Iraqi people. In fact, Reuters is reporting that they are essentially demanding that we leave.

A majority of the Iraqi parliament has written to Congress rejecting a long-term security deal with Washington if it is not linked to a requirement that U.S. forces leave, a U.S. lawmaker said on Wednesday.

Rep. William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat and Iraq war opponent, released excerpts from a letter he was handed by Iraqi parliamentarians laying down conditions for the security pact that the Bush administration seeks with Iraq.

The proposed pact has become increasingly controversial in Iraq, where there have been protests against it. It has also drawn criticism from Democrats on the presidential election campaign trail in the United States, who say President George W. Bush is trying to dictate war policy after he leaves office.

"The majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms that obligate the occupying American military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq," the letter to the leaders of Congress said.

There is nothing "secret" about this "secret deal" from the standpoint of the Iraqis. They are well aware of it and committed to stopping its progress, protesting it and demanding it be put to a popular vote. Where the Independent article is valuable is if it can bring attention to this issue in the United States (God forbid it winds up in the American media - it's only the confirmation of the 100-year presence John McCain seeks). Members of Congress have already demanded that they be given the opportunity to ratify any agreement made between the US and Iraq. What they can do in addition is stand with the Iraqi people as the Bush Administration tries to bully the deal into place in Baghdad. The only ones doing the heavy lifting on ending the occupation right now are the Iraqis. And they're actually mobilizing almost all factions against this agreement. We can do the same here at home, and it's not enough to wait for a "referendum" on the war in November.

UPDATE: Middle East expert Juan Cole has some more on this, including a historical context.

Former Iraqi finance minister Ali Allawi weighs in on the security agreement. He sets the current negotiations in the historical context of the humiliation Iraqis felt over the 1930 treaty imposed on them by the British Empire as it prepared to give Iraq nominal independence but retained bases and continued to intervene in Iraqi politics. Allawi is a voice of reason and wise US officials would pay special attention to what he has to say here.

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