It was widely anticipated that in its last days in office the Bush Administration would entrench the occupation of Iraq to ensure that Barack Obama’s team could not "cut and run". However, last week under the authority of President Bush, the US completely capitulated to the Iraqi Government, making unprecedented concessions that Obama may not have even considered.
This week, Blogwatch runs its eye over the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), a full translation of which can be found here at McClatchy.
While the US has SOFAs with many nations, the official translation of the Iraq-US SOFA is telling: "Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq On the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities during Their Temporary Presence in Iraq."
Approved by the Iraqi Presidential Council (which includes the President and the two Vice Presidents) last Thursday, the agreement sets a withdrawal date of 31 December 2011. US combat troops must withdraw from all cities and towns as early as 30 June next year. There’s unlikely to be opposition from Obama who has expressed his aspiration to have combat troops withdrawn within 18 months of his January inauguration.
Sceptics might object that this withdrawal merely refers to the occupation force, and that US troop bases will remain in an independent Iraq. Not according to CNN’s Bureau chief in Iraq, Australian Michael Ware, who states:
"There’s absolutely no provision for any kind of residual or garrison force."
Ware continues: "The Government that started this war has all but ended America’s capability to fight that war by signing this agreement."
"There isn’t any hope for [a]Japan post World War II, a South Korea, a Germany. The Iraqi Government said it doesn’t want that. And indeed, in one of the crucial clauses of this agreement, there was a small door that was being kept open to say, the next Iraqi government could look to extend this agreement or could alter it."
"Well, certain factions within the Iraqi Government here related to Iran, made it very clear that that clause had to be dropped, and it was."
According to MusingsOnIraq, Iraq has "also got the [US] Administration to agree to Iraqis checking American cargo and mail coming to Iraq, ending immunity for foreign contractors and security guards, having a say over intelligence gathering and US military operations, control over the Green Zone, requiring American soldiers to get an Iraqi warrant to conduct searches, not allowing the US to use Iraq to attack any other country." Significantly, this would make the US attack on Syrian territory in October illegal as well as any future strike on Iran from within Iraq. It means "turning over anyone arrested to the Iraqis within 24 hours, and control of Iraqi air space."
The document paves the way for greater integration of both the "Sunni awakening" and Shi’ite "tribal councils" into the Iraqi security forces. Both groups have been accused of having sectarian motives. Richard Dreyfuss of The Nation quotes in his blog a "highly placed Iraqi source":
"Maliki is building up his tribal councils in order to support Dawa [Maliki’s ruling party]. He’s putting his people in place everywhere. He’s fired all of the inspector generals that checked his power in the ministries, replacing them with loyalists. He’s cleaned up the oil ministry, and put his people in there. And he’s lining up support among the generals."
The support of the secular, nationalist Sunnis was needed to pass the act, and it was they who managed to gain the greatest concessions from both the US and their Shi’ite rivals. Some of the estimated 25,000 Sunnis held by the US and Iraqi Government in jail will receive amnesty; friendly Sunni militiamen will be offered positions in the army and public service and most importantly: the Status of Forces Agreement will be put to a referendum in July of next year.
The management of public opinion is therefore even more important. The US Government is selling the package as an honorable withdrawal that will ensure stability; the Iraqis are selling something quite different.
It might be thought that Iraqis would be thankful for these concessions and the imminent decline of the American occupation. The fact is, the UN mandate in Iraq expires at the end of this year and had SOFA not been signed, US troops remaining in Iraq in 2009 would have done so illegally.
Shi’ite cleric Muqtadar Al-Sadr has staged continuous mass demonstrations against the Iraq-US SOFA on these grounds and is the only major Iraqi leader to totally oppose the legislation.
IndyBay reports that about 2000 Syrian-based Iraqi refugees also staged a protest against the Iraq-US military pact saying that the agreement would place Iraq under US domination. A group of Sunni religious leaders in Iraq, the Association of Muslim Scholars, accused the Sunni Accordance Front, a party which supported the pact, of "selling Iraq" and also denounced the deal as "legitimising the occupation".
Judicial immunity for foreign security contractors appears to have already ended for five Blackwater employees charged this week with 14 counts of manslaughter, as well as weapons violations and attempted manslaughter. However these charges were not laid under SOFA. Instead, IPS reports that the charges were laid under the US Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, passed to help stem the nation’s crack epidemic. This legislation calls for 30-year prison terms for using machine guns to commit violent crimes of any kind, even where drugs are not involved.
Ultimately the fate of Iraq will rest with the Iraqi people. Iraqi journalists with McClatchy canvassed public opinion around the country on the day parliament voted on the issue.
Ismael al Basri of Basra said: "I reject this pact totally and the parliament today made a great mistake by approving it. Deals have been done under the parliament building. We know that thousands of people reject this treaty. The American benefits are achieved by this pact and I don’t see any benefits for the Iraqi people. It is a long-term occupation for this oppressed country."
On the other hand, Karim Chackayoi, a 50-year-old Baghdad governmental employee expressed support for SOFA: "I am for approving this pact because it is the only way to Iraq out of the (United Nations mandate) and bringing back the sovereignty to Iraq. It is the only to have the foreign troops out of the country, and it will give Iraq a path to rebuild the country and the society itself. If we don’t have it, we’ll have a security gap, which will be so dangerous and it will encourage the neighboring countries to interfere in Iraqi affairs."
Sabah al Shejiri, a 34-year-old Baghdad taxi driver argued that the Agreement was tantamount to support for the occupation: "I’m not really happy with the approval of the (security agreement). In fact I’m really sad because we signed on the occupation. I don’t believe the (security agreement) will be good for Iraq. The political blocs signed it just for their own interests. The agreement has no interest for the future of Iraq."
"We Iraqis have no opinion and we cannot effect anything," said Lamyaa al Kafaji, working for the Iraqi government in Baghdad. "The United States specified some points and the United States had an aim and it did it. Now they have the agreement. The Government accepted to work with the Americans. So the best apology for the people is to start the rebuilding of Iraq. The agreement for the (security pact) will be useful. At least the Americans will try to fix and build some of the destruction they caused."
Others, like Ghasan Mohammed of Dihok, hoped that SOFA would eventually lead to peace in Iraq: "I am with this agreement, especially that this agreement will block the way of those who call themselves a resistance to the occupiers because we will have this agreement and the troops won’t stay in Iraq. We’ll have the same situation as many Arab states do, as they have bases for the Americans."
SOFA does provide a clearer timetable for withdrawal and from 1 January 2009, limitations on the operations of US forces, foreign contractors and not least of all, American drivers.
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