Problems of Security Agreement Between the US and Iraq

Abdel Wahab Badrakhan: Problems of Security Agreement Between the US and Iraq

  • 23 June 2008

The draft security agreement between Americans and Iraqis was supposed to remain classified until it had reached its final stages, and was ready to be submitted before Iraqi parliament. Nobody  was expecting any problems. Kurds had no objections to virtually any of the US demands, and had no reservations about continued US occupation or the long-term presence of its forces. Iraqi Sunnis, who have seen their  situation change dramatically in recent months, also believed that an extended presence of American forces was in their interest, at least until a new and more effective arrangement for their participation in the political process was devised. Even the Shiites, who suddenly became apprehensive of a rapid deterioration in their relations with the occupying power, wants to secure their gains under the US occupation.

Yet, the draft put forward by US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker to Iraqis proved not only lop-sided but even provocative for most Iraqis. It seems that some elements in the Iraqi administration had no option but to leak some of the contents in Crocker¿s draft to gage the reaction on Iraqi streets, as well as of the regional and international community. Furthermore, Nouri Al-Maliki made an unexpected move by soliciting support from other external powers against the occupation forces. However, his visit to Iran was not aimed at challenging the US, but came about after the occupying power had willingly given its assent for it. The trip was aimed at settling issues related to the agreement, rather than obstructing it or jeopardizing it. However, the leadership of the Islamic Republic clearly discouraged Al-Maliki from signing any agreement with Americans. This is somewhat surprising, as an extended presence of US forces in Iraq lies in Iran's interest as opposed to allowing the troubled country to slide helplessly toward an uncertain future.

Predictably, Iran made the most of the controversy in order to prove that it was the other pole around which Iraqi affairs revolved. Thus, an uproar was created in the media against the agreement, which forced Americans to go on the defensive and issue clarifications, and even announce limited concessions. However the leaked contents of the draft clearly exposed America¿s true intentions. The security agreement appeared redundant as the US could have continued operating in Iraq the way it is doing now¿in fact the way it has been operating since 2003¿by simply making certain piecemeal revisions in the methods it employs in treating its guests at its highly secure private prisons.

Despite all pronouncements  and protestation of US spokesmen, almost all the leaked information that was broadcast and analysed by the media proved to be true. Soon US officials tried to reassure Iraqis by saying that the draft was still open to revision based on negotiations. Still, all that was claimed about the setting up of military camps and bases has was found to be true, along with reports about "immunity" for US soldiers from prosecution in Iraq. The draft also purportedly contains immunity for those companies that have been given contracts by the US military for providing security, civil, logistics and military services and equipment. The agreement reportedly gives sweeping powers to US forces for the setting up and management of  private prisons and for carrying out arrests. It was also found that the draft gives US forces the right to launch attacks on any country from Iraq that the US may deem as posing a threat to international or regional security, or against the government and constitution of Iraq. Thus the draft agreement allows Americans to launch attacks from the Iraqi territory and make us of Iraqi land, sea and airspace for launching military strikes. The draft also states that the US would exercise control over Iraq's Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Interior and intelligence agencies for ten more years, with a view to train and revitalize Iraqi forces. The proposed agreement even grants the US control over the kind of weaponry Iraq would be allowed to purchase and deploy, and purportedly states that prior consultation with and approval of the US would be necessary in this regard.

On the presence of US forces in Iraq, the draft apparently envisions long-term and indefinite presence, and states that a possible withdrawal of forces would depend on a variety of factors: improved performance of Iraqi security establishments and Iraqi military, political reconciliation, improved security situation, eradication of terrorism, an end to the threats posed by neighbouring countries, as well as the disarming of Iraqi militias. The draft does not mention anything about accepting any Iraqi political consensus for a withdrawal of US forces. Thus, the text of the proposed agreement seemed to address US interests more than the situation in Iraq and its prospects in the future.

Despite the fact this agreement was meant to introduce measures that would improve the Iraqi security situation, its stated provisions give the impression that any such improvement would, at best, be marginal. It seems to be an attempt to bind the Iraqi government, military and security forces to long-term commitments and obligations. The US has ensured that it enjoys ample room for maneuver through this draft agreement, but leaves the Iraqi government in a straitjacket. The document seeks to give Americans the right to interfere in all aspects of administrative decision-making and almost full control over the activities of political parties, whether they are engaged in the political process or not. It is true that Iraqi government was initially pushing for an early ratification of the security agreement. However, it might now prefer deferring its implementation if they are forced to accept it under pressure.

For the very first time after occupation, Iraqi government seems to be seeking an Arab military presence in Baghdad. If it were to request Arab states to intervene,with due US approval and a nod of approval from Iran, it would suggest that efforts are underway for Iraqi Sunnis to rise from their present level of instituting "awakening councils" to establishing government councils. However, the provisions of the draft security arrangement suggest that it limits any possible room for Arab influence in Iraq.

Based on this premise, we find an emerging Arab and Iraqi interest in forging an agreement on some sort of Arab presence in Baghdad for ending the occupation and for starting a process of reconciliation and normalization within Iraq. However, this agreement should not become another scheme for perpetuating and legitimizing the occupation. There are obviously several reasons for Arab absence from the Iraqi scene, like the Jordan embassy and the Egyptian diplomat incidents, as well as the continuous threats received by several Arab countries planning to establish their embassies in Baghdad. Interestingly, even those who had earlier sought to throw Arabs out of the Iraqi political equation have now changed their positions and have started believing that an Arab presence is in their interest, as many Arab capitals that suspected Iran's involvement in shooing them away from Iraq tried to wield influence  by supporting certain terror groups, or at least hid themselves behind them.

A well-informed Arab diplomat believes that Iran might be actually encouraging Al-Malki's government to open up to Arabs, in contrast to its earlier tactics of preventing Arab involvement in Iraq. However, the diplomat still wonders why Iran is opposing the proposed security agreement, as continued US occupation of Iraq would give Iran greater room for maneuver in Iraqi affairs. Moreover, if American were to withdraw its forces from Iraq, then the situation would force Iran to assume more responsibilities than it would be capable of handling on its own. The Arab diplomat expects the next phase to be critical for Iranians and even for the Iraqi Shiites because this phase would clinch the deal for them and determine the future course of Iraq; particularly the issue of federalism, as even the Sunnis have not opposed it in its entirety but have expressed willingness to consider what they could gain from it.

The uproar that followed the agreement has forced America to go on the defensive, while Iranians seem to have gained the upper hand. If the security agreement merely seeks to maintain status quo, then it would be meaningless as everyone knows even now that US is the undisputed occupying power that can carry out their actions with impunity. If signed, the proposed agreement would only provide an illegitimate but legal cover to Americans, with the partial approval of Arabs, for carrying on their activities undeterred. Moreover, Americans would continue to obstruct any emergence of a "political consensus" in Iraq that might aim at forcing them to leave.