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Reading various news stories about an upcoming agreement on long-term military and economic commitments between the White House and the Maliki government in Iraq, details of which have not been made public, I think I am seeing the outlines a very clever trick. I have not seen any news outlet put these story-lines together, so I will do so here.
(White House Photo of President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki signing the 2007 Declaration)
On Nov. 26, 2007, President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki signed a “Declaration of Principles for Friendship and Cooperation.” The Declaration laid out long-term security and economic ties between the two countries. Neither the U.S. legislature nor the Iraqi parliament ratified the Declaration — it was a unilateral move by the leaders of the two supposedly democratic countries. Details of that Declaration are to be codified by both the U.S. and Iraqi governments by July 31 of this year.
Both the U.S. legislative branch, led by Democrats, and the Iraqi parliament have objected, considering the long-term agreement to be both illegitimate — since the respective legislative branches were not given a vote — and too far-reaching.
Now here is the clever move. Neither the Iraqi parliament nor the U.S. Congress would agree to sign-off on the details of the Declaration as signed by Bush and Maliki. But the Bush White House and the Maliki executive have broken the 2007 agreement into two seperate documents. Together, if codified, they would seem to constitute a treaty — that is, something that according to the U.S. Constitution the U.S. legislature would have to sign, and something that, in any case, the Iraqi parliament would not agree to. Taken seperately, though, neither of these two documents constitutes a treaty.
Those two documents are called “The Status of Forces Agreement” and “The Strategic Framework Agreement.” Maliki is asking the Iraqi parliament to ratify the first. The White House has indicated it will ask the U.S. Congress to ratify the second. In each case, the legislative body in question has reasons to do so. But neither would agree to the other if given the chance. We can diagram the clever trick like this:
Okay, so what’s this all about?
In the press, we typically read about these upcoming agreements as if they were one single agreement — an agreement that must be signed by July 31. For example, we’ve read in the past few days about Sadrists in Iraq marching in protest of the agreement. Time Magazine:
By MARK KUKIS/BAGHDAD
Saturday, May. 31, 2008
Iraqi Shi’ite militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr has long been one of the galvanizing figures for opposition to the U.S. presence in the country. Friday’s massive street protests against Washington’s plans for a long-term strategic agreement with Iraq, along with his followers’ call for a public referendum on the issue, were further evidence of this. But opposition, or at least skepticism, towards the U.S. appears to be spreading through the ranks of Baghdad’s political establishment, even among partisans the United States hopes to win over.
But in fact the pending agreement is actually two seperate agreements, as is sometimes noted. Washington Post:
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008; Page A04
— snip —
The first is a “status of forces agreement,” or SOFA, defining and protecting the legal status of U.S. military personnel and property in Iraq. Negotiated and signed under executive authority, it is a binding commitment but does not require congressional approval.
Among aspects unique to the proposed SOFA, Senate Democrats said, are that it would allow U.S. forces to unilaterally initiate military operations and to detain Iraqis, and would immunize civilian U.S. contractors from prosecution in Iraq.
The second agreement is a long-term “strategic framework” the administration has said will establish “cooperation in the political, economic, cultural and security fields.” A “statement of principles” that Bush and Maliki signed in December said the framework, which they plan to sign by July 31 to take effect Jan. 1, included “security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace.”
And here is AP making the same distinction:
By Robert Burns
The Associated Press
Saturday 08 March 2008
The intent is to simultaneously negotiate two parallel agreements. One, known as a strategic framework agreement, would spell out the basis for a long-term U.S.-Iraqi relationship in the political, economic and security fields. Both sides see it as the basis for establishing a normal state-to-state relationship, enabling Iraq to function with full sovereignty.
The other would be what is known as a status of forces agreement, a standard arrangement that spells out the legal basis for the presence of U.S. troops on Iraqi territory and establishes the legal rights and obligations of the troops. The U.S. government has such deals with dozens of other countries.
Now, here is what I take to be an important little detail, that I found at truthout via alternet:
By Maya Schenwar, TruthOut.org. Posted April 18, 2008.
— snip —
Since Maliki and President Bush released a “Declaration of Principles” in November spelling out their vision of postwar US-Iraqi relations, they’ve been immersed in closed-door deliberations on the specifics. During a long string of Congressional hearings, including last week’s testimony from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the Bush administration has reiterated that it does not plan to consult Congress before signing a SOFA. (It has indicated that it may do so for the other prong of its long-term agreement with Iraq – a nonbinding “strategic framework agreement” governing economic and political ties – but has made no commitment on that front.) Meanwhile, both countries’ legislative branches have been vocally challenging their administrations on what they say is a broad overstepping of the bounds of executive power.
Note that from the WaPo article we learn that the Status of Forces Agreement does not require congressional approval. From Truthout we learn that Bush may allow Congress to vote on the Strategic Framework Agreement.
In case you’re wondering why Congress would sign the Strategic Framework Agreement: oil. Part of the original 2007 Declaration gave the US preferential access to Iraqi resources and contracts. CBS News, from back when Bush and Maliki signed the 2007 Declaration:
Bush-Maliki Deal To Help Form “Enduring Relationship” Including U.S. Military Role In Country
BAGHDAD, Nov. 26, 2007
— snip —
Two senior Iraqi officials familiar with the issue say Iraq’s government will embrace a long-term U.S. troop presence in return for U.S. security guarantees as part of a strategic partnership. The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the subject is sensitive, said U.S. military and diplomatic representatives appeared generally favorable, subject to negotiations on the details, which include preferential treatment for American investments.
Preferential treatment for U.S. investors could provide a huge windfall if Iraq can achieve enough stability to exploit its vast oil resources. Such a deal would also enable the United States to maintain leverage against Iranian expansion at a time of growing fears about Tehran’s nuclear aspirations.
The economic aspects of the 2007 Declaration are bound up in the Strategic Framework Agreement — the one Bush might allow the U.S. Congress to ratify. I take it that many, many U.S. Congresspersons would find it advantageous to do so.
On the other hand, the Status of Forces Agreement encompasses those aspects of the Bush-Maliki agreement that Democrats in the U.S. Congress do not like. From back in January, here is Senator Webb and Representative Delahunt objecting to the military commitments in the 2007 Bush-Maliki Declaration.
By THOM SHANKER and STEVEN LEE MYERS
Published: January 25, 2008
Representative Bill Delahunt, Democrat of Massachusetts, said that what the administration was negotiating amounted to a treaty and should be subjected to Congressional oversight and ultimately ratification.
“Where have we ever had an agreement to defend a foreign country from external attack and internal attack that was not a treaty?” he said Wednesday at a hearing of a foreign affairs subcommittee held to review the matter. “This could very well implicate our military forces in a full-blown civil war in Iraq. If a commitment of this magnitude does not rise to the level of a treaty, then it is difficult to imagine what could.”
Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, who raised concerns in a letter to the White House in December, said the negotiations were an unprecedented step toward making an agreement on status of forces without the overarching security guarantees like those provided in the NATO treaty. He added that the Democratic majority would seek to block any agreements with the Iraqis, unless the administration was clear about its ultimate intentions in Iraq.
And here we see what the Iraqi parliament is objecting to, International Herald Tribune:
By Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Stephen Farrell Published: May 30, 2008
— snip —
Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish lawmaker, said many Iraqi leaders were being kept in the dark about the security pact, which he thinks should not be finalized until after the U.S. presidential elections in November. He also suggested that negotiations should not resume until after the expiration at year end of the United Nations charter that provides the framework for the occupation. Otherwise, he said, Iraq’s position is too weak to negotiate effectively.
“The negotiations now are not equal, and the results will be more for the benefit of America,” Othman said. “To have a long term agreement with the Bush administration, which has five months to go, is wrong. The Iraqi government should wait for the new American administration and then have an agreement with it.”
This gets a little complicated. The Sadrists protesting in the streets and, one assumes, Iraqis in general, are not happy with the Status of Forces Agreement aspect of the overall deal, since the Status of Forces Agreement grants immunity to U.S. troops and contactors from Iraqi law. However, the parliamentarians appear to be balking primarily at the economic neo-colonialism inherent to the other half: the Strategic Forces Agreement — and that’s the one it looks as though Maliki will not let them vote on.
The Status of Forces Agreement itself, of course, is giving the Iraqi parliamentarians headaches with their people, but they appear to be willing to sign it . . . as long as they can do so after the provincial elections later this year (same link):
Indeed, some top members of the Shiite and Kurdish coalition that has always formed Maliki’s deepest base of support are now having reservations about agreeing to a new security pact until after Iraq holds parliamentary elections later this year, lest they appear to Iraqi voters as too compliant to American demands.
In any case, it appears that the Iraqi government is trying to keep a lid on the aspects of all this that they think they will have to agree to.
By LEILA FADEL | McClatchy Newspapers
May 31, 2008
— snip —
Iraqi officials worry that current negotiations would force Iraq into a deal that would give immunity to American military personnel and security contractors if they killed civilians and that would allow the United States to detain Iraqis indefinitely.
Iraqi officials said they had been instructed by American officials not to discuss the details.
So, in general:
Status of Forces Agreement: replaces the UN authorization for coalition presense in Iraq after 2008; grants immunity to US forces and contractors from Iraqi law.
Strategic Framework Agreement: appears to contain the agreement to defend Iraq from external aggression but also creates economic advantages for the US that Congress will have a hard time turning down.
Both of these agreements are rather shrouded in mystery at the moment. What I noticed, and tried to stress in this diary, is that they are two seperate agreements, now. Together, they constitute a massive grab for executive power and would be rejected by both the US and Iraq. Taken seperately, they are less blatant, and it appears that Bush and Maliki are hoping they can slip parts of them through.