Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 November 2008
Issue No. 921
Opinion
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

In Focus:

Galal Nassar

Return of the Baghdad Pact

Bush wants to give Iraq one last gift: subservience to an agreement that perpetuates the US occupation and absolves invading and occupying US forces of their crimes, writes Galal Nassar

The US administration is in the midst of a desperate attempt to compel the Maliki government in Iraq to sign a "security agreement" before the end of Bush's term in the White House. This urgency is inspired by the desire to accomplish a number of ends, perhaps foremost among which is the desire to produce a political victory that would revive an element of respect for the outgoing administration whose foreign and domestic policies have come under scathing attack from all quarters of American opinion, including its own Republican Party. It undoubtedly also feels that such a victory would help the Republican Party candidate, John McCain, gain some ground against his rival, Barack Obama, in the presidential elections. But even in the event of an Obama victory, a signed and sealed agreement with the Iraqi government would saddle the Democratic administration with obligations that it would find difficult to wriggle free of, as much as the substance of the agreement may go against the Democratic platform on this issue. In other words, the Bush administration wants to present the forthcoming administration with a fait accompli, regardless of who the next occupant of the White House is.

If the agreement, the cosignatories of which can hardly be said to be equal, is concluded it will effectively end the international mandate over Iraq. Iraq would then be regarded as a "free and independent" nation and Washington would be relieved of the burden of being seen as a colonialist power occupying a founding member of the UN and a current member of the family of nations, in spite of the ongoing and glaring breaches in international law, the UN Charter and the principle of self-determination.

The architects of the agreement and those who are engineering its implementation seem to have deliberately blinded themselves to the fact that it takes little mental effort to realise that, under the reality of occupation, any agreement or understanding signed between Washington and Baghdad lacks legitimacy. Perhaps this is what prompted the Arab Lawyers' Federation to issue a statement condemning the draft security agreement between Iraq and the US out of hand and describing it as a colonialist project that violates the sovereignty and independence of Iraq and that poses a threat to Arab national security.

Indeed, the proposed agreement differs little from the other pacts that the British or French colonial powers imposed on the region in earlier periods. Moreover, as the statement by the Arab Lawyers' Federation pointed out, since the Iraqi government lacks the sovereignty to act autonomously any agreement with the occupying power will lack a legitimate contractual nature. The statement further stressed that the articles of the agreement violate in substance the rules and principles of international law because they specify a timeframe for maintaining an illegitimate foreign military presence in Iraq.

The pressures being brought to bear on Iraq by Washington leave no shadow of a doubt that the Iraqi party is not of equal standing; reminiscent of the roles played by the British high commissioners and French consulates during the era of conventional colonialism. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice waves the stick at the Maliki government and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warns of the "grave consequences" for Iraq that will result if an agreement cannot be reached quickly. In a subsequent statement he cautioned that if an agreement was not reached US forces in Iraq would have to cease all their activities. He thereby placed the Maliki government before two choices: either agree to the status of US forces or renew the UN mandate. Neither choice would keep the occupation forces from staying. The only change would be in the formality of its presence. In light of these threats, some political experts on the Iraqi situation believe that the forthcoming days will bring a renewed wave of suicide bombings and booby trapped cars in crowded markets and the vicinity of mosques and other houses of worship and that these will be used to promote the idea of keeping US forces stationed in Iraq.

However the so-called Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is marketed, its actual provisions betray its true nature. The foreword clearly states that the US would have the right to keep "defence equipment" in the country. In a subsequent paragraph the term was defined to include "systems, weapons, ammunition, equipment, and materials used in conventional wars only, that the US forces need in accordance to this agreement."

Meanwhile, all the text offered to the Iraqi government and parliament (before a few non-essential modifications were incorporated to meet some of the demands of the Maliki government) did not extend beyond vague commitments spread out across 28 articles. General Petraeus, the newly appointed head of US Central Command, expressed the ambiguities surrounding the mechanisms for implementation of these commitments in a nutshell. They will be put into effect "as circumstances permit", he said. The agreement is clearly tailored to the occupier's needs and whatever nods it makes to Iraqi aspirations will require long and arduous negotiations to bring into effect. By signing such an agreement, Iraq will have submitted its land, sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, oil and wealth exclusively to the authority of the occupying power and chained itself to a cunningly devised treaty with devious ends.

The agreement preempts a repercussion on the US from its occupation and destruction of Iraq. In stating that the occupying forces are there at the behest of the "sovereign" government of Iraq, it exempts the invading occupying power from having to pay any compensation in the long run and from even having to apologise for the crimes it has committed, which outstrip fascist and Nazi barbarities. The text is more explicit: "Except for contract related claims, both sides waive their rights to request compensation because of any harm, loss, or destruction of property, or request compensation for injury or death of forces members or civilian members from both sides occurring during their official duties."

Article 4 of the SOFA, covering the agreed upon activities of US forces, states that these forces will have the right to deploy land and air forces, detain persons suspected of threatening stability and security, and conduct military occupations. Iraq, for its part, must guarantee the accessibility of US forces and US contractors to the installations and areas agreed upon for use by US forces. It further stipulates that the Iraqi government authorises US forces to practice all the authorities and have all the rights to manage, construct, use, maintain, and secure installations and areas agreed upon.

In addition to US control over all entrances to the installations and areas agreed upon, the agreement states that "vehicles and ships operated by or exclusively for US forces are permitted to enter and exit and move inside Iraq for the purposes of this agreement." The same article also provides that no parties will be "allowed aboard US government airplanes and civilian airplanes contracted with the US Department of Defense and related ships and vehicles without US forces consent, and they cannot be searched."

A particularly interesting provision can be found in Article 12 pertaining to legal jurisdictions. Its intent is clearly to ensure immunity from prosecution for US soldiers, contractors and contracted personnel -- meaning mercenaries. It states, "The US shall have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over armed forces members and civilian members inside installations and areas agreed upon and during the performance of their duties outside the installations and areas agreed upon." Gates took the added precaution to reassure members of Congress that US soldiers would be guaranteed immunity in all circumstances.

Another eyebrow-raising provision gives the US the right to establish military bases to secure links and communications with US forces from Western Europe through Pakistan to the Philippines and Japan. It seems that former US president Jimmy Carter hit the nail on the head when he said, "Those who think that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was purely for oil are deluding themselves." It is as though the Baghdad Pact is in the process of being reborn.

Other provisions are worded in a way that will give successive US administrations the right to create and train untold contingents of multinational troops through various private security firms. These troops will be able to be transported secretly across or within the borders of certain states, undoubtedly with the aims of igniting ethnic and religious strife, promoting the colonial power's interests and otherwise furthering the cause of US global hegemony.

The agreement, if signed, will smooth the way for similar agreements with the other parties that took part in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. British government spokesman John Wilkes said as much: "My country is waiting for the end of the negotiations between Iraq and the US over the anticipated security agreement because the British agreement will be similar to the American one."

Once again, US agencies are trying to secure and expand the scope of their "rights" in Iraq. According to Article 15 of the SOFA, the authorities of both sides will have the right to ask the authorities of the other side to relinquish their jurisdiction over a specific case. It further states, "The government of Iraq agrees to exercise its jurisdiction only after notifying the US in writing within 21 days of the discovery of a crime that it claims to have occurred and stating the importance of exercising this jurisdiction."

As vehement as the Maliki government's objections are to the substance of the draft agreement, its opposition seems to have less to do with the cause of national independence and unity in Iraq than it does with domestic alliances and regional allegiances. The differences between the occupying power and the parties that had originally supported the occupation stem precisely from the divided loyalties of those parties; parties that are currently keeping a close eye on how the current administration is handling its economic woes and trying to assess how the next administration will handle the question of Iraq.

The haze surrounding American plans for Iraq and even domestic policies, the apprehensions of regional powers with regard to a long-term US military presence in the region, and the pressures these powers are exerting on their allies inside Iraq are what account for the delays in concluding the SOFA. Nevertheless, this has not kept some from grumbling against the "ingratitude" of those who are in power in Iraq today. As one of these officials put it, were it not for American tanks none of them would have a foothold in Iraq these days let alone title and rank.

Signing the SOFA and bowing to international or regional agendas will not restore security and independence to Iraq. On the contrary, it will legalise the occupation. Iraq will not know true security and peace until the Iraqi people themselves take hold of the actual reins of power and exercise their right to self-determination in a truly free and sovereign Arab state.

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