A SOFA for Iraq: How Long Will We Stay

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Presently the only legal justification for the US occupation of Iraq is the UN Security Council mandate. In 2006 and again in 2007 the elected Iraqi Parliament attempted to block the extension of the mandate but were “cleanly excised” from the legislation process.

In 2006 the parliament’s efforts were by-passed by the appointed Iraqi Cabinet. In 2007 their resolution was passed, became law of the land and was received in good order by the UN special envoy, Ashraf Qazi, but never distributed to the Security Council members, as is required under the U.N. resolution that governs the mandate.

However, as per Secretary-General Moon’s report to the Security Council dated Oct. 15, the law that had been passed by the duly elected legislature of Iraq had become nothing more than a non-binding resolution.

The existing UN mandate under which US forces remain in Iraq will expire in December. Let’s take a look at what comes next.  

Two agreements are now under consideration. One is a Strategic Framework Agreement. This is a fundamental contract which creates an “alliance”. Chalmers Johnson writes in Chapter 5 of his book Nemesis that:

these agreements are usually short, straightforward treaties that express “common objectives” related to “national security” and “international threats to peace”.

Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, last November, signed such an agreement which commits the US to defend Iraq in the event of any threat from foreign aggression as well as external and internal threats.

There is concern among lawmakers in both Iraq and in the US. In Iraq:

… parliamentarians are increasingly concerned that they are being left out of talks between Iraqi and United States officials over a strategic deal to determine the future relationship between the two countries …

The explicitly aggressive tone of the Bush-Maliki agreement on protecting Iraq against foreign intervention has set off alarms in Washington that the administration may seek to use it as a cover to attack Iran, which has been repeatedly accused by US civilian and military officials of destabilizing Iraq.

In an unexpected move that could further increase tensions, the US military has established a station near the Iranian border without the consent of Iraqi authorities, and which sparked Iranian protests, Iran’s English-language Press TV reported in late April.

Source

And, in Washington: (from the same article)

While many lawmakers consider the deals to be treaties – which under the US constitution would require senate approval – the administration rejects that argument and says they are executive agreements that lie within the president’s powers.

The movement against the deals in Congress has been mainly led by Democrats who fear Bush’s attempts to set the future Iraq policy framework would tie the hands of the next president – who Democrats strongly hope will come from their ranks.

Juan Cole writes on his Informed Comment site – 25 May 2008:

Iraq’s most revered Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has strongly objected to a ‘security accord’ between the US and Iraq.

The Grand Ayatollah has reiterated that he would not allow Iraq to sign such a deal with “the US occupiers” as long as he was alive, a source close to Ayatollah Sistani said.

A Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA would set up a legal basis for the long term presence of US troops in Iraq. Prior to 9/11 the US had SOFAs with 93 countries. The number today is not known to the public. Chalmers Johnson writes in Chapter 5 of his book Nemesis about Status of Forces Agreements or SOFAs:

…intended above all to put any US forces stationed in the host country as far beyond its domestic laws as possible. What SOFAs do is give American soldiers, contractors, Department of Defense civilians, and their dependents a whole range of special privileges that are not available to ordinary citizens of the country or to non-American visitors. …they are almost never reciprocal-that is, the SOFAs bestow on Americans privileges that are not available to citizens of the host nation if they should visit or be assigned to the United States. The major exception is the SOFA governing NATO, which is reciprocal.

Resentment and continued resistance can be expected if such an arrangement is made. In Nemesis Johnson details the effects on Japan’s relatively small southern-most island of Okinawa which is host to some 37 US military bases, more than 50,000 US troops, military related civilians and military family members.

Juan Cole, in the article referenced above, continues:

The “extraterritoriality” of foreign troops was a common legal feature of colonial arrangements in the region. It was one of the things the nationalist movements campaigned about, and typically they abrogated it as soon as they came to power. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini made the legal immunity of US troops in Iran in the 1960s and 1970s a plank in his platform of revolution against the Shah.

Moqtada al-Sadr has boldly and bluntly made this statement directed at President Bush himself.

I say this to the evil Bush – leave my country.

We do not need you and your army of darkness.

We don’t need your planes and tanks.

We don’t need your policy and your interference.

We don’t want your democracy and fake freedom.

Get out of our land.

With no intentions of sounding like Thomas Friedman, the coming six to seven months will be a critical period in determining the future of America in Iraq. Will the Bush Administration, despite resistance at home and in Iraq, ink agreements with the Iraqi leadership that will permit an extended, if not permanent US presence in Iraq? If so, how will such agreements be accepted by the elected Iraqi Parliament and by the Iraqi people?

How much flexibility would a new Obama administration have in dealing with the situation which would be turned over to them from the outgoing Bush Administration?

The period of the coming months is going to be an anxious and interesting time.

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  1. John Perkins’ popular book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, was published in 2004. He wrote about his work as a “Hitman” in which he helped justify huge World Bank and IMF loans to developing countries for infrastructure projects in which most of the money was funneled back to US corporations.

    In his book he wrote this about Iraq:

    Iraq was extremely important to us, much more important than was obvious on the surface. Contrary to common public opinion, Iraq is not simply about oil. It is also about water and geopolitics…

    Above all else, Iraq presented a vast market for American technology and engineering expertise. The fact that it sits atop one of the world’s most extensive oil fields (by some estimates, even greater than Saudi Arabia’s) assured that it was in a position to finance huge infrastructure and industrialization programs. All the major players-engineering and construction companies; computer system suppliers; aircraft, missle, and tank manufacturers; and pharmaceutical and chemical companies-were focused on Iraq.

  2. The language is worrying:

    The movement against the deals in Congress has been mainly led by Democrats who fear Bush’s attempts to set the future Iraq policy framework would tie the hands of the next president – who Democrats strongly hope will come from their ranks.

    I have no doubt that the U.S. elite intends to have a permanent military/commercial presence in Iraq. I don’t buy the assumption that the next president’s hands will be “tied.” If a Democratic president keeps U.S. troops in Iraq against the wishes of the Iraqi people, the Iraqi parliament, the people of the U.S., and world opinion, it will be because he/she wants to, or the powerful interests in the U.S. want it so. Have our hands ever been tied by international agreement, unless it was with a strong adversary?

  3. 1. Has Bushco ever needed a “legal” process to do what they want done? Seems that between now and December, they’ll just write something down and say its so.

    2. The way this is being framed seems to point in the direction of not just keeping the US in Iraq, but of continuing the threat of hostilities towards Iran.

    3. I appreciate your focus on this, especially over the next 6 months. We’re going to need to try to keep an eye on this ball while the media gets completely lost in election coverage.

    Great work TST – thanks!!!

    • kj on May 29, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Excellent essay.  

  4. in the SOFA?  I have to assume Bush and McCain are working together on what to implement in the next 6 months.  I hear generalities from McCain, but forcing him to go on the record with specifics could shed enough light on McCain’s plans (including possible attacks on Iran) to bring people (like Congress) to their senses.  

    • brobin on May 29, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Iraq’s most revered Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has strongly objected to a ‘security accord’ between the US and Iraq.

    The Grand Ayatollah has reiterated that he would not allow Iraq to sign such a deal with “the US occupiers” as long as he was alive, a source close to Ayatollah Sistani said.

    The oil dudes from Tejas will be happy to assist him with this, I’m quite sure…

  5. I think that is probably the big question. It seems that I have heard that the parliament is close to rebelling against al-Maliki, and is also close to breaking up with the Kurds and Sunnis ready to bolt. Would it take much more than an outreach to the parliament to get rid of al-Maliki and form a new government?

  6. It is my pleasure to invite you all to the IRAQ ENERGY EXPO AND CONFERENCE, October 17-19, 2008.

    The year 2008 marks a tremendous new opportunity for investment in Iraq’s upstream and downstream oil and gas infrastructure. To help facilitate this process, the Government of Iraq is working tirelessly to pass the new hydrocarbon law. As a result of this landmark legislation, companies from around the world will be able to participate in increasing Iraq’s oil and gas capacity in the 2nd largest oil reserve in the world. . . . .

    It seems/looks like it is all on an unstoppable course for Iraq!

    October 17th to 19th: Help Stop the Oil Thieves at Baghdad International Airport

    The Google  

  7. but I’d like to bring it to everyone’s attention here.

    Statement by Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions to 2008 Chevron and ExxonMobil Shareholder Meetings, this article may be read at this URL: http://www.zcommunications.org

    From: Hassan Juma’a Awad, President, Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU)

    We call upon the governments, corporations and other institutions behind the ongoing occupation of Iraq to respond to our demands for real democracy, true sovereignty and self-determination, free of all foreign interference.

    Five years of invasion, war and occupation have brought nothing but death, destruction, misery and suffering to our people. In the name of our “liberation,” more than a million of our citizens have been killed or wounded, our nation’s schools, hospitals and other infrastructure have been destroyed, our neighbourhoods have been bombed, our homes have been broken into, our children have been traumatized, many of our family members and neighbours have been assaulted and arrested, our national treasures have been looted, and nearly twenty percent of our people have been turned into refugees.

    The continued occupation fuels the violence in Iraq rather than alleviating it. The occupation has helped to foment and then exploit sectarian divisions and terror attacks where there had been none.

    The Ba’athist legislation of 1987, which banned trade unions in the public sector and public enterprises (80% of all workers), is still in effect and continues to be enforced against us. Our union offices have been raided. Union property has been seized and destroyed. Our bank accounts have been frozen. Our leaders have been beaten, arrested, abducted and assassinated. Our rights as workers are routinely violated. This is an attack on our rights and the basic precepts of a democratic society. It is a grim reminder of the shadow of dictatorship still stalking our country.

    We call upon you and all the world’s peace-loving peoples to help us to end the nightmare of occupation and restore our sovereignty and national independence so that we can chart our own course to the future.

    We demand an immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from our country, and utterly reject the agreement being negotiated with the USA for long-term bases and a military presence. Iraq must be returned to full sovereignty…

    …We seek your support and solidarity to help us end the military and economic occupation of our country.

    We look forward to the day when we have a world based on co-operation and solidarity. We look forward to a world free from war, sectarianism, competition and exploitation.

    May 28, 2008

  8. Moqtada said:

    I say this to the evil Bush – leave my country.

    We do not need you and your army of darkness.

    We don’t need your planes and tanks.

    We don’t need your policy and your interference.

    We don’t want your democracy and fake freedom.

    Get out of our land.

    Maybe someone like Moqtada is needed in America….a “leader” who is looking for money to keep his job.

    GET OUT OF IRAQ!

    Support Moqtada Al Sadr!

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