On Tuesday, the Bush administration and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pushed a resolution through the U.N. Security Council extending the mandate that provides legal cover for foreign troops to operate in Iraq for another year.
The move violated both the Iraqi constitution and a law passed earlier this year by the Iraqi parliament — the only body directly elected by all those purple-finger-waving Iraqis in 2005 — and it defied the will of around 80 percent of the Iraqi population.
Earlier in the week, a group representing a majority of lawmakers in Iraq’s parliament — a group made up of Sunni, Shiite and secular leaders — sent a letter to the Security Council, a rough translation of which reads: "We reject in the strongest possible terms the unconditional renewal of the mandate and ask for clear mechanisms to obligate all foreign troops to completely withdrawal from Iraq according to an announced timetable."
We don’t know if it was even read by members of the Security Council, but we do know that it, like previous communications from the Iraqi legislature, was completely ignored.
James Paul, director of the Global Policy Forum, which follows the United Nations’ intrigues, said that while "there’s concern in many delegations at the United Nations about what is going on," Security Council delegates "are under instructions from their governments to lay low and pass the U.S. resolution." According to Paul, the move "shows the despotic power of the U.S. government to force everyone to knuckle under, no matter how much the law is violated."
It was an egregious assault on Iraq’s nascent democracy, as well as its supposed "sovereignty," and can only encourage more bloodshed. Yet the commercial media has so far ignored the story entirely, reporting only that "Iraq" had requested that the mandate be renewed.
The real picture is dramatically different. Just as some congressional Democrats in Washington have tried desperately to limit Bush’s ability to maintain troops in Iraq forever — inserting various conditions into the endless series of supplemental spending bills that have financed the occupation — and been thwarted by the administration, so too has a majority of Iraq’s parliament come out against renewing the mandate without attaching conditions to it, including a requirement that the United States set a timetable for withdrawal.
That’s a process story, unsexy by definition, but that doesn’t change its importance. This move speaks to the degree to which occupation and democracy are mutually exclusive, and to how Bush and Maliki must run roughshod over the Iraqi legislature (not to mention the U.S. Congress), sacrificing opportunities for political reconciliation along the way, in order to maintain an almost universally despised American military presence in the country.
The U.N. mandate
The U.N. mandate provides vital political cover for the occupation. The Bush administration has ignored or violated much of the international law governing the conduct of an occupying power. As Orwellian as it is, the United States, having bombed the hell out of Iraq, invaded it with a huge mechanized army and installed a government that exists wholly within the confines of its sheltered "international zone" — the "Green Zone" — and now maintains that its troops are in the country by the invitation of that government. The United Nations’ mandate is a key part of maintaining that fiction.
Last year, at Maliki’s request, the Security Council renewed the U.N. mandate suddenly, surprising many of the Iraqi lawmakers we reached in Baghdad at the time. Dr. Alaa Makki, a Sunni MP representing the Accord Front, asked that we send him a copy of the U.N. resolution and Al-Maliki’s letter since he had no clue about the machinations that were going on between the PM and the Security Council. Hasan al-Shammari, a Shia parliamentarian with the Al-Fadhila party, told us by phone: "We had a closed session two days ago, and we were supposed to vote on the mandate in 10 days. I can not believe the mandate was just approved without our knowledge or input." Dr. Hajim al-Hassani, a secular MP and the former speaker of the parliament, also didn’t know that the mandate had been renewed until receiving our call. "We were supposed to have a meeting with the Prime Minister and other top officials in the parliament during the next couple of weeks to decide what to do with the mandate," he said.
A majority of Iraq’s legislators viewed the renewal as unconstitutional. While article 80, section 6, of the young constitution gives the cabinet the right to "negotiate" and "sign" international agreements and treaties, article 61, section 4, reads: "A law shall regulate the ratification of international treaties and agreements by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Council of Representatives." Like the U.S. system, the executive branch can only negotiate international treaties; the legislature has to ratify them.
At the time, Maliki argued that while he respected the powers given to the parliament, the U.N. mandate didn’t count as either a treaty or an agreement, and therefore didn’t require a nod from the legislative branch.
Hoping to avoid a repeat of the PM’s maneuvers this year, the Iraqi legislature has tried to put its foot down and assert its rights under the country’s constitution. First, at the end of April, 144 members of the parliament — a majority — sent a nonbinding letter to the members of the United Nations Security Council and to the United Nations secretary general condemning last year’s "unconstitutional" renewal and calling for a timetable for foreign troops to withdraw from Iraq.
The Parliament then went a step further at the end of May, when 140 of its members co-sponsored a resolution requiring Maliki to get parliamentary approval before renewing the mandate this year.
Here the story gets a bit legalistic, but bear with us. The resolution was submitted on May 27. During the session, Al-Mashhadani, the head of the Iraqi parliament, refused to allow a vote on the measure, sending it instead to the parliament’s legal committee for review (also known as "sending it to die in committee"). On June 5, however, Al-Mashhadani bowed to pressure and allowed a vote on the resolution, which passed by an 85-59 margin. Maliki’s cabinet then had a choice of vetoing the law or sending the resolution to the federal court for review.
According to Article 73, section 3 of the constitution, if neither of those actions are taken, then a law passed by the parliament is "considered ratified after 15 days from the date of receipt." The legislation was neither vetoed nor sent to the judiciary for review, so, according to the Constitution, it was duly passed and became binding under Iraqi law.
A few days later, Hoshyar Zebari, the minister of foreign affairs, was called to a hearing at which a member of the parliament’s legal committee posed a question. "A few days ago," said Omar Khalaf Jawad, an MP from the secular National Iraqi Dialogue Front, "the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution that obligates the cabinet to receive approval from the parliament before renewing the occupation forces’ mission. What steps have your ministry, or the Iraqi cabinet as a whole, taken to inform international entities and countries with forces in Iraq about this resolution, so that we will be sure the resolution will be respected and implemented?" Zebari assured the parliament that its legislation would be disseminated to the appropriate parties and respected by the prime minister and his cabinet.
But, four months after that hearing, in an off-the-record conference call with most of the Security Council’s 15 delegates and a number of Sunni, Shiite and secular Iraqi MPs, two unexpected discoveries came to light.
First, the delegates were informed that a report submitted by the secretary-general contained some crucial factual errors. The SG’s report said that the parliament had "passed a nonbinding resolution on 5 June obligating the cabinet to request parliament’s approval on future extensions of the mandate governing the multinational force in Iraq and to include a timetable for the departure of the force from Iraq." On the call, the Iraqi lawmakers explained to the delegates that the resolution was a binding law and that it did not contain a request to include a timetable. One of the MPs attending the meeting from Baghdad clarified: "All that the resolution requests is that the Iraqi parliament be allowed to practice its constitutional rights."
The second and more shocking discovery of the meeting was that the letter sent in April by the 144 members of Iraq’s parliament had never been delivered to the Security Council delegations. Some of the Iraqi MPs confirmed that they had handed the letter to Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the United Nation’s special representative for Iraq (Qazi later insisted that he had indeed delivered the letter to the Security Council members and to the secretary-general).
The next day, the Iraqi MPs took it upon themselves to notify the Security Council delegates that any request to renew the mandate that is "issued by the Iraqi cabinet without the Iraqi parliament’s approval is unconstitutional." It added: "The Iraqi parliament, as the elected representatives of the Iraqi people, has the exclusive right to approve and ratify international treaties and agreements including those signed with the United Nations Security Council."
At the end of November, Foreign Affairs Minister Zebari was again called to testify before the Iraqi parliament. He promised, unequivocally, that any request to extend the mandate "will not be presented to the U.N. Security Council prior to its submission to the Iraqi parliament for deliberation."
But that wasn’t to be. In the letter sent this week, Iraqi lawmakers’ demand was unambiguous: "We ask the Security Council not to accept any letter requesting renewal that is not ratified by the parliament. Such a letter would be deemed illegal and unconstitutional according to the laws of Iraq," it read.
No debate was held in the Iraqi legislature, and on Tuesday the Security Council voted unanimously to renew the mandate.
Iraqi lawmakers not the only ones getting the runaround
Our sources in the United Nations told us to expect a vote towards the end of the week, and we were caught by surprise when it was held Tuesday.
The timing appears to have been a response to senior members of Congress picking up on the Iraqi legislature’s efforts to put conditions on the renewal. In a letter sent to Condoleezza Rice on Dec. 5, Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., chairman of a House subcommittee on foreign affairs, noted the Iraqi parliament’s legislation and warned that ignoring its prerogatives might lead to a broader perception that the occupation is "illegal, illegitimate and evidence of a desire for the long-term basing of our military officials in Iraq."
On Wednesday, Delahunt held hearings on the renewal (at which one of this article’s authors, Raed Jarrar, testified). We can’t say for sure if the attempt to get these issues into the record on Capitol Hill had to do with the vote being moved up to Tuesday, but the fact that the mandate was renewed, suddenly, just one day before Congressional hearings were held suggests that there was an effort to create "facts on the ground" that would effectively sideline legislators’ interest in the matter.
What this story reveals, again, is that U.S. "interests" — that is, the interests of the U.S. foreign policy elite — which include establishing a permanent foothold in the Middle East and exerting influence over the political and economic course Iraq takes in the future, are paramount, and that any talk of democratizing missions or "liberating Iraqis" has never been more than political theater.
The renewal is the latest in a string of instances in which the Bush administration and its allies in Iraq’s executive branch have shut down a nonviolent, political avenue for Iraqi citizens to resist the presence of foreign troops in their country. By denying them those avenues, Bush and Maliki have effectively done what they accuse advocates of withdrawal of doing: "emboldening" violent insurgents and getting more innocent Iraqis and more U.S. troops killed.
One can only wonder, now that the United States has "liberated" Iraq from Saddam Hussein, just who will liberate Iraq from the United States?