Clearing the roadblocks for US-Iraq agreement

To Baghdad, this treaty is the life-saver that will rescue it from the United Nation's Chapter 7 status

Image Credit:Nino Jose Heredia/Gulf News
Gulf News

The US has extended its influence throughout the world with treaties and agreements, thereby securing its status as a major military and political power. And irrespective of the wording of the treaties or accords, the US has categorised its partners into two groups - friends, and subordinates.

Basically, treaties and accords are partnership contracts signed between two countries or more, to mutually safeguard the interests and security of all the parties to the agreement.

In most treaties, there is one powerful partner. There is also provisions for such agreements to include financial, scientific and cultural aid, which is usually availed by the weaker partner in the pact.

The security treaty between the US and Iraq has become a popular political topic for discussion in Iraq and the Middle East, as its signing is round the corner.

Both the Iraqis and Americans have been keen on reaching an agreement on security since the US President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki signed a joint declaration last November. The joint declaration laid down the principles for a broad agreement to be negotiated in 2008 to define the future relationship between their respective countries and guarantee the presence of American troops in Iraq for at least a few more years.

Life saver

The joint declaration called for future political, economic and security relations between Baghdad and Washington to be further negotiated. To Baghdad, this treaty is the lifesaver that will rescue it from the United Nation's Chapter 7 status, a legal designation that has in effect classified Iraq as a pariah state since former Iraqi president Saddam Hussain invaded Kuwait in 1990.

To the current US administration, the treaty will boost the Republican Party's stance and the winning prospects of its presidential candidate in next month's elections. It will also help in assuring the US public opinion about the future of the US troops in Iraq.

The obstructed and often delayed US-Iraqi negotiations were obvious to observers. The disagreement amongst Iraqis regarding the agreement was also noticeable.

As a result, the whole dossier was removed from the Iraqi ministry of foreign affairs and given to the Iraqi prime minister's closest circle.

This stalemate was taken care of by the US by sending Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte on a surprise visit to Iraq. Negroponte met senior Iraqi officials to discuss political, security, and economic progress in the country. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was the major point on the agenda, as Negroponte has long held the reputation of being America's diplomatic strong-arm man.

The US has agreed on pulling out its troops outside Iraqi cities by mid-2009 and a total withdrawal of its forces by the end of 2011.

This move will help in easing worries about the US public opinion and anti-Iraqi sentiments towards SOFA.

The proposed agreement whose terms and conditions are still being negotiated, includes a provision that says the withdrawal could be extended beyond 2011 depending on the security situation.

The military deal also states that some US troops could remain in Iraq to train Iraqi security forces.

As a result, the Iraqi political field witnessed a dual action by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. He turned to the holy city of Najaf for support from Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, and the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Mahmoud Al Mash'hadani. He also allayed the fears of Tehran and Damascus.

The first entities to be effected by the US-Iraqi SOFA are the countries adjacent to Iraq, as the US existence in Iraq will no doubt imply new internal tactics and further adjustments to external policies.

Four of Iraq's neighbouring countries do not have a problem concerning the SOFA, as they are either the US's friends or allies.

On the other hand, certain political forces in Iraq are completely against the agreement because they believe that Iraq would not gain anything from it. There are others who oppose the agreement to express their solidarity with the Iranians who are against it. Still there are some who have reservations on the long term clauses of the pact.

Most of the forces that accept, refuse or have doubts about the SOFA are in a precarious position.

The US occupation in Iraq has created a situation where the conventional political estimation and evaluation have collapsed completely.

Different papers have been mixed and tumbled together, and many elementary concepts regarding patriotism are being misunderstood by these forces.

Those rejecting the agreement are in two different camps: one group will give in and accept the SOFA despite their basic refusal, because they need to be a part of the ruling elite in Iraq and the other group which rejects the SOFA, has been discarded and has no official status in the government, but will accept the agreement because it will preserve the unity of Iraq.

The strongest opponent of SOFA is Iran, which has a powerful influence in the Iraqi political scene.

Iran is also the sole rival of the US in the region. Iran objects to SOFA because it does not want to lose its grip on the Iraqi government and related politics.

The differences between the Iraqi political groups regarding the SOFA is no more a secret, and as each group accuses the other groups of standing with or against Iran, the US started escalating its accusations against Iran as well.

General Raymond Odierno, the commander of the multi-national forces in Iraq announced that Iran was bribing Iraqi parliamentarians to oppose SOFA. Both the US and Iraq are trying their best to keep details about the agreement as diplomatic as possible.

Dr Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer based in Dubai.