Iraqi parliamentarians are increasingly concerned
that they are being left out of talks between Iraqi and U.S. officials over
a strategic deal to determine the future relationship between the two countries,
at a time when the U.S. Congress failed to include a provision in a bill to
fund the Iraq and Afghan wars last week to restrict President George W. Bush's
authority to sign such deals.
"We have not been informed about the content of the talks in detail so
far," Abdulkhaliq Zangana, from the Kurdistan Alliance bloc in Iraq's
Council of Representatives, which holds 53 of 275 parliamentary seats, told
IPS in a telephone interview from Baghdad. "There is absolutely no way
that the Iraqi government can make any such agreements without the consent
of Iraqi parliament."
He said, however, that there is a general consensus among Iraqi parliamentary
blocs for such an agreement to regulate "the future relations between
the two countries" but in a way that is "in the interests of both
The Iraqi and U.S. governments have been negotiating for months the formulation
of two agreements, as the UN mandate under which U.S. troops currently operate
in Iraq will terminate in December.
One is known as a Status of Forces Agreement, which sets up the legal basis
for the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. The other one is called a Strategic
Framework Agreement, and would devise a blueprint for the wider bilateral relationship
between the two countries in political, economic, and cultural areas.
As a first step, President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed
an agreement known as the Declaration of Principles last November. The agreement
commits the United States to defend Iraq in the event of any "foreign
aggression" and "external and internal threats."
"Of course, there are a lot of fears inside and outside parliament regarding
the content of such agreements since they deal with strategic, critical, and
long-term issues for Iraq," added Zangana, who demanded a vital role for
the parliament in the negotiating process.
The concerns by Iraqi lawmakers come as their counterparts in Washington are
pressing the administration hard not to sign any deals with the Iraqi government
on defense and security matters without congressional approval.
Despite that, the U.S. Senate failed last Wednesday to include a provision
in a bill to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that would constrain
Bush's power to unilaterally sign any security agreements with Iraq.
The explicitly aggressive tone of the Bush-Maliki agreement on protecting
Iraq against foreign intervention has set off alarms in Washington that the
administration may seek to use it as a cover to attack Iran, which has been
repeatedly accused by U.S. civilian and military officials of destabilizing
In an unexpected move that could further increase tensions, the U.S. military
has established a station near the Iranian border without the consent of Iraqi
authorities, and which sparked Iranian protests, Iran's English-language Press
TV reported in late April.
With a July deadline for the agreements approaching fast, Iraq's clerical
class has become more vocal against the possible deals as well. Iraq's most
powerful religious figure, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, joined other dissenting voices
when he recently said he would not allow Iraq to sign such a deal with "the
U.S. occupiers" as long as he was alive, Press TV reported last Saturday.
Another senior Iraqi cleric, Sayyed Kazem Haeri, had earlier ruled against
the agreements and had said that those agreements would "legitimize"
the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Iraq's ambassador to Washington, Samir al-Sumaidaie, complained, during a
media roundtable at the Iraqi embassy last February, that the controversial
agreements would turn Iraq "into a virtual colony of the United States,"
or present a "formula for stationing permanent American bases" in
the war-torn nation.
While many lawmakers consider the deals to be treaties which under
the U.S. Constitution would require Senate approval the administration
rejects that argument and says they are executive agreements that lie within
the president's powers.
The movement against the deals in Congress has been mainly led by Democrats
who fear Bush's attempts to set the future Iraq policy framework would tie
the hands of the next president who Democrats strongly hope will come from
Describing the move by Democrats as "a continuation of the power game
struggle" between the Republican-held White House and Democratic-dominated
Congress, Kate Gould from the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a
Quaker lobby group, said, "Congress would definitely not approve an agreement
with such a broad-scale military commitment from the U.S. as outlined in the
Declaration of Principles."
"Bush is exceptionally determined to not consult with Congress in matters
where their input has historically been sought," said Gould.