The US/Iraqi Strategic Framework Agreement and the bona fide causes behind its hold-up

[This article was completed on October 19, 2008.]
The year 2008 is a critical year in the US occupation of Iraq — it is the final year that the Bush administration is in office and Bush has to achieve two of the most important targets of his war before he leaves office.
The first target was the passing of the Iraqi oil law by the Iraqi parliament by a deadline no later then the end of 2006, but it’s evident that two years have passed since the deadline ended and the oil law has still stalled. A law which is intended to guarantee the International oil companies’ (IOCs) control of the vast Iraqi oil reserves, estimated recently to probably be between 200 and 350 billion barrels by the Iraqi deputy prime minister and several Iraqi and international oil experts. I have covered this subject in several of my previous analyses.[1]
The second target is the signing of the US-Iraqi "Strategic Framework Agreement" that will decide the future of the US occupation and of U.S. military bases in Iraq. The Bush administration had aimed to accomplish this by July 31, 2008, as stated in the November 26, 2007 "Declaration of Principles" [2] document signed by Bush and Al-Maliki.
In the first part of this analysis I will examine all the information available on the Strategic Framework Agreement, and then I will turn to the Iraqi reaction, the US response, and the factors holding up approval ..
The only officially issued document available to this date is the November 26, 2007 "Declaration of Principles" document.
All the other documents on the US/Iraqi treaty which I have seen are non official and leaked drafts of the treaty. They include the March 7, 2008 draft [3] which was leaked to the Guardian; the May 8, 2008, notes of meetings in Arabic; and the August 6, 2008 draft [4] which was leaked to the Arabic newspaper (Middle East).
For the most part, the leaked drafts of the treaty together with the majority of the other information which was published in Arabic and English have similarities on the following key points:
1.       No time-table for the complete withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq:
There is no plan to include a fixed timetable for the total withdrawal of all US troops and closing of all their military and air bases in Iraq.
Article 26 of the August draft covers only the likelihood of withdrawal of US troops from the streets of Iraqi towns and cities by June 30, 2009. This article also covers the possibility of the withdrawal of US combat troops (only) by an unspecified date, which is assumed to be around the end of 2011, as stated several times on TV by the Iraqi Prime Minister and other Iraqi government officials.
But there is no talk about any timetable for the complete withdrawal of all US troops and for the closing of all the US bases in Iraq including the five giant air bases which the US has been constructing for the past five years. This is clear indication that the US administration has no intention of withdrawing all their troops or closing all their military bases in Iraq at any time in the foreseeable future.
2.       Control of Iraqi airspace:
Article 9/4 reveals that the US will very likely take full control of all Iraqi airspace for an indefinite period. Other parts of the article such as 9/2 and 9/5 indicate that the Iraqi government will have no authority whatsoever over the movement of US military and civilian planes in Iraqi airspace.
3.       The conduct of US military operations in Iraq:
Article 4 of the August draft gives more details regarding the intention of the US to continue its military involvement in the future, not only in deterring internal threats, but also external threats, as the first part of the article states.  
In addition, article 4/1 has assumed that the Iraqi government will undoubtedly ask for the involvement of US forces in all sorts of military operations to maintain security.
However, the most obvious indication that the US will have a free hand in its military operations and will not be answerable for the killings of any Iraqi civilians in the future is covered by part 4/5 which states, "There is nothing in this agreement that limits either sides’ rights of self-defense."
The past five and a half years of direct US military operations in Iraq have resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, and the vast majority of these US killings were sheltered by the so-called "rights of self-defense."  
4.       Legal Jurisdiction over US armed forces and civilians in Iraq:
Article 12/1 states "The U.S. has exclusive legal jurisdiction over U.S. armed forces and civilians inside and outside installations and areas agreed upon."  In addition, part 12/6 of the article states that "All members of U.S. armed forces or civilians who get arrested by the Iraqi authorities must be surrendered immediately to the U.S. forces authorities." [Note: The English translation in note [4] says "civilian members," but the Arabic refers to ordinary civilians.]
The document does indicate that there are still disagreements from the Iraqi side on these issues, but any recommended changes by the Iraqi government are minor. Both items without a doubt indicate that the US will have exclusive legal jurisdiction over the US armed forces and civilians and that Iraq will have no legal jurisdiction whatsoever over them and they will be immune from Iraqi laws.
5.       Claims for compensation for civilians killed by US troops:
Article 21/1 states, "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 civilians from both sides occurring during their official duties."
No statement could be more obvious; the Iraqi government can not claim for any compensation on behalf of their citizens, even if tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians were to be killed by the US military operations.
6.       Detention of Iraqi civilians by the US forces:
Article 22 covers this subject. It seems that the Iraqi side has succeeded in a partial shifting of the US position on this issue in comparison to what was published by several respectable international newspapers over the past few months.
Nevertheless, the agreement still allows the US forces to detain any Iraqi citizen and interrogate him for at least 24 hours if not more as indicated in Article 22/2 which states that, "All individuals detained by U.S. forces must be prepared to be handed over to the Iraqi authorities within 24 hours." It is quite possible that it could take five or more years to "prepare" any Iraqi citizen to be handed over to the Iraqi authority if he refuses to co-operate with his US interrogators. Indeed, this happened with a large number of cases during the past five years of the occupation. Otherwise why did they insert the word "prepare" into this article?
7.       Exemption of all US armed forces and civilians from all other Iraqi government’s controls:
Article 14 exempts all US troops and civilians from all "Iraqi entering and exiting laws," therefore preventing them from being searched by Iraqi borders guards at any Iraqi official borders or being refused exit/entry as long as they show their US ID cards. This will make Iraq a haven for drugs smuggling for any member of the US forces operating in Afghanistan.
Articles 15 and 16 permit the US forces and their contractors to import to Iraq any foreign goods and to export any Iraqi goods without being searched and without paying any taxes. I am certain that the US armed forces and their civilian members and contractors will not have the same privileges when they enter or exit the US borders.
8.       Iraqi Jurisdiction over US contractors:
The August draft does point towards the Iraqi success in changing the US position on this matter if we contrast it with the earlier drafts or to what was claimed by several international newspapers over the past several months.
Article 12/3 of August draft states that, "Iraq has legal jurisdiction over U.S. contractors and their employees when they break Iraqi laws."
9.       On Iraqi statues under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and Security Council Resolutions 1790 and 661 (August 1990):
It is surprising that the August draft does not mention this subject, in contrast to the March 7, 2008 draft.
On this very important issue I want to highlight two points:
Firstly, Security Council Resolution 661 was imposed on Iraq in August 1990 following the Baathist regime’s military occupation of Kuwait. However, the Iraqi Baathist occupation of Kuwait officially ended when the regime signed its surrender in "Safwan" on February 26, 1991. Even if we have to assume that the Baathist regime’s threat to international peace and security continued after that date, wouldn’t it be obvious that such a threat ended on April 9, 2003, when the US/UK-led occupation of Iraq destroyed not only the Baathist regime and its army, but also all the country’s social and economical infrastructure?
The second point is what was stated in the "Declaration of Principles Document" signed on November 26, 2007, by Iraq and the US.
The document states that, "The Iraqi Government… will request to extend the mandate of the Multinational Force in Iraq under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter for a final time. As a condition for this request, following the expiration of the above mentioned extension, Iraq’s status under Chapter VII and its designation as a threat to international peace and security will end, and Iraq will return to the legal and international standing it enjoyed prior to the issuance of U.N. Security Council Resolution No. 661 (August, 1990)…"
From the wording of this statement it’s clear that since the Iraqi government had already requested back in December 2007 for a final time the extension of the mandate for the Multinational Force in Iraq, both resolutions 661 and 1790 together with the statutes of Chapter VII will end automatically by the December 31, 2008, and therefore this issue has nothing to do with the signing of any new treaty between the US and Iraq.  
In the second part of this analysis I will look at how the Iraqi political parties and movements responded and their assessment of the treaty.
The most important Iraqi players are the political parties and movements from all the main three sectors who are part of today’s Iraqi political process.
The first main cluster consists of all the parties who are part of the Iraqi government and are elements of the "Front of the moderates" which was formed back in August 2007.
They include the two Kurdish parties (KDP & PUK), two of the main Shiite movements — the "Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC)" and the Dawa party (the Al-Maliki wing) and the Sunni groups, the Accord Front/Islamic party.
All the political parties and movements of the three sects who are involved in this front and part of the government are ready to accept in varying levels some form of US-imposed treaty. There are some MPs from the Accord front and the Dawa party who are opposing the treaty, but they act as minorities within their parties and do not represent any real threats to the plans.
All the parties within this cluster were behind the signing of the "Declaration of Principles" on November 26, 2007, by Al-Maliki.
In addition to the above parties, we have several groups of MPs who were or still are part of the so-called "Iraqi National Accord" which is headed by Dr. Ayad Allawi, the former Baathist who was appointed prime minister by Paul Bremer, and are very much supporters of the treaty.
The second group consists of the Sadr movement — which is the only powerful group within the political process that utterly rejects the entire treaty — as well as the Fadila party, which does not accept it as it stands.
The third group is the newly formed and US-backed Sunni militias of "Al-Sahwa" or the "Awakening" with over 120,000 armed members who are armed and paid directly by the US forces. The background behind the formation of the Al-Sahwa militias is very lengthy and outside the scope of this study. However, because they are becoming an effective party in the Iraqi political process, no analyst can ignore their existence and their role. It is very noticeable though, that many Iraqi anti-occupational analysts avoid even mentioning their role and significance. In brief, the "Awakening" consists of several groups which for the first four years of the occupation were opposed to the political process, but are now being integrated into it. The formation of the Awakening militias followed secret political negotiations which were on-going since 2006, between the US administration in Iraq and several Sunni groups who were either part of or supporters of Al Qaida or Baathist sectarian groups and were involved in sectarian massacres against Iraqi civilians. There are also other Sunni groups within "Al-Sahwa" who previously fought the US forces in the centre and west of Iraq and who resisted the US occupation. The formation of the "Awakening" is one of the biggest tactical successes of the US administration in the past year. The leaders and the spokesmen for the groups are supporting the treaty in their public interviews with Arabic newspapers and TV shows.
There are other political groups which are opposing the treaty such as the influential Sunni "Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq" (AMSI) who are outside the political process and therefore have a limited role and a small group within the Dawa party headed by the former Iraqi Prime Minister, Dr. Al-Jafari. In addition to these groups there are several lesser known groups within the federal parliament and outside it who are also opposing the treaty.
In this final section I will examine US administration tactics, together with the internal Iraqi causes and external local factors behind the hold-up of the treaty.
During the first quarter of 2008, it became evident that all the political parties and movements who form the government and who have between them the majority in the federal parliament were ready to accept "some form of treaty" which was imposed on at least a number of of them by the US administration.
The signing of the "Declaration of Principles" on November 26, 2007, by the US and Iraqi governments was the first step in this process, and was a clear indication for the US administration as to the way to proceed.
The US administration recognised since the middle of 2007 that they needed to drive for changes to the principles on which the political process was established if they wanted to succeed in their plans.
These tactical changes were on several political fronts. The first was to push for the elimination from the political process of all the parties who were already part of the process but opposed to the US occupation, such as the Sadr movement. Second was to involve in the process the newly formed groups of the "Awakening" which the US helped to create and who support the continuation of the US occupation. This necessitated the call for early local government elections, in order to bring the "Awakening" groups to the heart of the political process and at the same time dividing the Sunni front by presenting the "Awakening" as real rivals to the Islamic party.
The third was the intensification of the US propaganda regarding the imminent Iranian threats to Iraq. This tactic was part of the US moves against the Iranians, not only in Iraq, but in the entire area, as Iran had become a real threat to the US and Israeli plans, not only in the Gulf but in the whole of the Middle East. In addition this would allow the US to divert the awareness of the Sunni community in Iraq away from the real threat facing them from this treaty, towards an illusionary danger from an "Iranian threat," therefore exploiting the sensitivity of this sectarian issue.
By March 2008, the US administration moved to the final stages of the plan by setting up the military attacks on the Sadr movement, and to a lesser extent, on the Fadila party, in order to restrict the Fadila party and to eliminate the Sadrists from the political process. They needed to eradicate the Sadr movement because they were the only powerful political group within the political process who entirely rejected all the US administration’s plans.
At the same time they sent Dick Cheney to Iraq with his March 7 draft of the treaty to impose it as quickly as possible on the Iraqi government whilst the military operations (which were planned in advance against the Sadrists) were about to start and Maliki’s government was looking for more military support from the US/UK administrations.
He proposed to the Iraqi parties in the government that this is not a treaty but only a "status-of-forces agreement" and therefore there is no need for it to go to the Iraqi federal parliament for approval, as all it would need is the approval of the Iraqi cabinet and the US President.
But when the scale of the severity of the US demands within the March draft was revealed, it astonished most politicians and observers not only in Iraq but in the whole of the Gulf and Middle East area. The draft was then leaked in April inside Iraq and reached the Shiite religious leaders in Najaf and outside Iraq to the Iranian government and in Europe to the Guardian which they published on April 8, 2008. [3]
Within a very short time the information on the draft treaty started reaching wide sectors of Iraqi society and public opposition to the treaty started to grow.
So what are the major factors which have contributed to holding up the treaty for the past six months and are continuing to do so today?
The first was the objection of the Shiite religious leaders "Marja’iya" in Najaf to the US demands in the March 7 draft.
The information leaked to the Iraqi and Arab media including what was published in the Arabic newspaper "Al-Hayat" on the Sept. 29, 2008, and several Arabic TV stations indicated that the Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani had objected to the US demands and insisted that any treaty with any foreign country should, first, have the approval of all sectors of Iraqi society and, second, should be put to the federal parliament for approval in accordance to the Iraqi constitution, and, finally, he went as far as to call for a referendum on it. Other leaked information stated that Al-Sistani refused to receive a copy of the March draft from Muwaffaq Al-Rubai, the head of the "Iraqi National Security Council" when the latter visited him in April, and Al-Sistani even refused to discuss with him any points of the treaty. The leaked information also said that Al-Sistani had snubbed both the Shiite Prime Minister Al-Maliki and the Shiite Vice-President Adil Mahdi following their support of the draft. All the above leaked information became public knowledge in Iraq and has been reported as authentic fact on several Arabic TV stations including the Iranian "Al-Alam" and Al Jazeera.
Al-Sistani’s stand on the treaty provided indirect help to the Sadrist’s movement who called for public demonstrations every Friday in several Iraqi cities and towns in opposition to the treaty, increasing the movement’s public support. Also many Iraqi Shiite civil society organisations together with other non Shiite organisations began to organise large public meetings in opposition to the treaty.
Al-Sistani’s stand was a real blow to both of the Shiite parties in the government — "SIIC" and Dawa — and to the US plan as a whole. This is understandable since both "SIIC" and the Dawa party are sectarian Shiite and religious organisations and are therefore unable to maintain their diminishing public support if they are seen to be contradicting the Shiite Marja’iya’s will. They always maintained that they have the Shiite Marja’iya’s support in what they were doing, and to act to the contrary would be political suicide for them. But on the other hand, for both of them to defy US pressure to accept the treaty is a position they can not sustain if they want to stay in power.
As for the US administration, they recognise from their past five years experience that there will be no US/Iraqi treaty without the Shiite "SIIC" and Dawa party.
The second factor holding up approval of the agreement is Iran. There is a lot of confusion surrounding Iranian policies in the area and in Iraq.
We first have to recognise that Iran is like any other country: its first priority is its national security interest. Iran is surrounded today by US forces from all sides, so the US threat to Iran is very real.
In order to understand Iranian policies in Iraq, we first need to analyse in brief the strategic interests that dictate their policies, as Iran is a country with a well established policy making organisation. Iran is the largest and most powerful country in the oil rich Arabian/Persian gulf. Since the victory of the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran always considered the US as the "Great Satan" and Israel as its principal enemy in the Middle East. Iran constructed all its polices based on this view. All US administrations and Israeli governments have considered the Iranian revolution as their main enemy and the major obstacle to their policies. 
So we should not be surprised to see that the whole of the Iranian political establishment from top to bottom vigorously oppose the US plans to impose their treaty on the Iraqi people. Iran recognises that if the US succeeds in establishing permanent military bases in Iraq, as the drafts of the treaty seems to indicate, then this will present an immense danger to their national security interests.
Since the leaking of the March draft, Iran has succeeded in building a very thriving media campaign against the treaty and particularly in Arabic where it reaches all sectors of the Iraqi society, since Iraqis who oppose the treaty do not have such wide media ability to reach as far as the Iranian Arabic TV stations can do. There is no doubt that this is helping all the Iraqi political parties and movements who are opposing the treaty and not just the Shiites. It is also very likely that the Iranians have put a lot of pressure on any political organisations that they do have a relation with to oppose the treaty. But isn’t all of that in the Iraqis’ interest no matter what kind of disagreements some of us might have with other Iranian policies?
Finally the vast majority of the Arab Sunni people of Iraq have a very deep Arab nationalist historic background which created a very huge dilemma to the leaders of the Sunni parties in the government. Whilst these leaders do want to accept the treaty in order to please the US administration and stay in power, on the other hand they cannot come out completely in the open and declare their acceptance of it. So they divert the attention of the ordinary Sunni by raising their sectarian fears from the Iranian influence in Iraq. With the help of the US anti-Iranian propaganda and large amounts of Saudi money, some of the Sunni leaders openly talk about an "Iranian occupation" of Iraq, and others have gone as far as saying that the "Iranian occupation" of Iraq is more dangerous than the US treaty. Such statements are very often heard today on several Saudi-financed Arabic TV stations including the Saudi owned "Al Arabia" and the Baathist controlled "Al Sharqia."
1.       From examining the key points of the leaked drafts of the US/Iraqi treaty, it is very hard to believe the claims of the US administration and the Iraqi government that the treaty will not jeopardise the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Iraq.
2.       The call for the treaty is exclusively part of the US administration’s agenda which they want to impose on the Iraqi government as a replacement for the existing UN Security Council resolution 1790 which will expire automatically by December 31, 2008, in order to move to the third phase of their occupation of Iraq.
3.       Apart from the two Kurdish parties (KDP & PUK) who seem to be very keen to pass the treaty, none of the other parties in the government, namely the Shiite "SIIC" and Dawa party and the Sunni Accord Front/Islamic party, are eager to sign such a treaty. They are, however, ready to accept it as a result of their weaknesses, sectarian competition for a larger piece of authority and their inability to resist US pressure and threats if they want to stay in power. Other reasons are due to some ideological and sectarian views of some of them as we previously examined in more detail.
But at the same time it’s very evident that none of these parties want to be seen as being "out front" or "alone" in accepting the treaty, as none want its name to be printed in the history as a traitor to the nation.
4.       The US administration and the US forces in Iraq are putting enormous pressure on the Iraqi government to get the treaty signed by them. Several respectable international newspapers such as the UK Independent [5] revealed some of these threats, including the threat to freeze the $50bn in Iraqi foreign reserves which the US is currently holding in the US Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The existence of such US threats has been confirmed by the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in his TV interview with the official Iraqi TV station in the first week of October after he returned from his visit to the US.
5.       At the beginning of 2008, the US administration insisted that the treaty did not need the approval of the Iraqi federal parliament and that the Iraqi government’s parties should bypass that body in order to avoid any public opposition. But later they recognised that if they do not bring it to the parliament, the agreement would be considered an "illegal treaty" nationally and internationally as it would contradict the Iraqi constitution. In addition they faced a massive opposition from many political and religious organisations including the Sadr movement and Al-Sistani’s insistence, so they had no alternative but to agree to bring it to the federal parliament.   
6.       The government’s parties are trying all kinds of tricks to get the treaty passed by the federal parliament. They claimed that for the treaty to be passed by parliament it would only need the approval of 50% of the attending members of the parliament. However, the Iraqi constitution states in "Article 61/4" that "All international treaties will require the approval of two thirds of all members of parliament before it becomes a legal law," so the government will need the approval of 184 MPs out of the 275 members. But the government has never been able to get anywhere near that number of MPs even to attend any parliamentary meeting for the past two and a half years! So what is the chance the government will be able to get such a large number of MPs to approve the treaty?
Dr. Al Mashadani, the speaker of the federal parliament (who was nominated by the Accord front to this position) admitted openly during a TV show on October 8 that the government’s parties are facing this dilemma and still can not come to any decision on it, as they will be seen as breaking the constitution if they do so.
7.       The first massive public demonstration in Baghdad on October 17, 2008, in opposition to the US treaty could become the final turning point in the struggle of the Iraqi people to stop the government and the federal parliament from passing the treaty — if the Sadrist’s can bring the majority of the Sunni anti-treaty groups closer to them.
Over a hundred and fifty thousand Iraqis participated in this massive and peaceful public demonstration in Baghdad which was transmitted live to millions of Iraqis by the Al Alam TV station. The demonstration was organised by the Sadr movement with participation from other sectors of Iraqi society, including sections of the Sunni community and representatives of the Christian and Kurdish population. The main objectives of the demonstration were to show the massive public opposition to any treaty with the US, to increase the pressure on the government and to put pressure on some members of the federal parliament to discourage them from voting for the treaty. The demonstration has succeeded in showing that the views of the parties in the government do not represent the views of the vast majority of Iraqis who want them to block the US-imposed treaty. 
8.       So what are the options facing the Iraqi Government and the treaty?
There are several main possible alternatives the Iraqi Government can go for:
a.       The government could go ahead in presenting the final draft of the treaty (which not many have seen to this date, including the majority of MPs) to the federal parliament and asking for the approval of 50% of the members. This is a likely option but will be unconstitutional as this will be in conflict with article 61/4 of the constitution and will not be accepted by many Iraqi political movements and possibly by many international institutions. This will leave the treaty and the government very vulnerable, but the US administration will favour this option.
b.       The Iraqi government could push the US administration for a short term agreement  or what is called a "Bridge Deal" [6] to replace the long term treaty at this stage as Al Maliki  and several other government official called for three months ago, but this option is not acceptable to the US administration.
c.       The US and the Iraqi governments, unable to agree on the treaty or pass it through the federal parliament before the US presidential elections or the end of 2008, might therefore go back to the Security Council and ask for an extension of UN Resolution 1790 for another six months or a year. This is a more likely option due to the continuing internal Iraqi political stalemate.
d.       Finally the Iraqi government could put the treaty to the Iraqi people, by calling for a public referendum on it. This option is called for by a large section of Iraqi society and the majority of political organisations who oppose the treaty. But the US administration will oppose this choice very strongly. 
Munir Chalabi is an Iraqi political and oil analyst living in the UK.

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