Two key pledges made by the George W. Bush administration
on military bases in its negotiations with the government of Iraq have now been
revealed as carefully-worded ruses aimed at concealing US negotiating aims from
both US citizens and Iraqis who would object to them if they were made clear.
Recent statements by Iraqis familiar with US demands in negotiations on the
US-Iraq "strategic framework" agreement have highlighted the fact
that administration promises that it would not seek "permanent bases"
or the use of bases to attack Iran or any other neighboring countries were deliberately
misleading. The wording used by the Bush administration appears to have been
chosen to obscure its intention to have both long-term access to Iraqi bases
and complete freedom to use them to launch operations against Iran and Syria.
When Defense Secretary Robert Gates first informed the public about US aims
in negotiating Jan. 24, he renounced the aim of "permanent bases"
in Iraq. Gates said the US-Iraq agreement "would not involve we have
no interest in permanent bases." The same day, State Department spokesman
Tom Casey, asked if the agreement would include any reference to "permanent
bases", replied, "We're not seeking permanent bases in Iraq. That's
been a clear matter of policy for some time."
Casey went on to say, "No, the agreement is not a basing agreement."
In Congressional testimony Apr. 8, Ambassador Ryan Crocker said the agreements
"will not establish permanent bases in Iraq and we anticipate that it will
expressly forswear them."
These public reassurances, moreover, mirrored the actual language used in the
US draft of the agreement given to the Iraqi negotiators. A draft dated Mar.
8, which was leaked to The Guardian's Seumas Milne and reported Apr. 8, includes
the statement that the United States "does not desire permanent bases or
a permanent military presence in Iraq."
That commitment, which seems definitive at first glance, actually incorporates
deliberate ambiguity on at least two different levels. The term "permanent
military base" appears to represent a substantive legal term, but in fact
is a completely misleading term.
When Democratic Sen. James Webb asked the State Department's David Satterfield,
"What is a permanent base?" Satterfield tried to avoid answering the
question. But Assistant Defense Secretary Mary Beth Long was more responsive.
She said, "I have looked into this. As far as the department is concerned,
we don't have a worldwide or even a department-wide definition of permanent
Webb then observed, "It doesn't really mean anything," to which Long
replied, "Yes, senator, you're right. It doesn't." She added that
"most lawyers... would say that the word 'permanent' probably refers more
to the state of mind contemplated by the use of the term."
Iraqi officials quickly figured out that the real significance of the draft's
wording on access to military bases was that it contained neither a time limit
on access to Iraqi bases nor any restrictions on the US to "conduct military
operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons
Authorization for such operations was called "temporary", but the
absence of any time limit makes that seemingly reassuring term meaningless as
The Bush administration's renunciation of "permanent bases" was a
ploy to lull the key committees of the US Congress on an issue which had aroused
many Democratic critics of the war, who had repeatedly used that term in demanding
a legal commitment on the issue.
The administration also used such ambiguous language to help the Iraqi government
sell the agreement to Iraqi nationalists who object to long-term US bases
in their country. Thus as early as last December, Iraqi National Security Adviser
Mowaffaq al-Rubayi declared in a television interview, "The Iraqi people
reject the presence of permanent bases in Iraq" and reassured Iraqis that
the government would not accept such bases "in any form whatever and will
not approve, and I believe the Council of Representatives will not approve it."
As Iraqi sources have now revealed to Western reporters, however, the US
has proposed access to dozens of military bases without a time limit that would
be technically Iraqi bases but which would actually be fully under US control.
The ploy of turning over legal control of US bases to a client regime is
one that US administrations had used on at least two previous occasions to
get around legal/political problems associated with continuation of US base
In the 1973 Paris peace agreement that ended the Vietnam War, the US pledged
to dismantle all of its military bases in South Vietnam within 60 days. But
it had already secretly transferred the deeds to the bases and equipment to
the South Vietnamese government and then had them "loaned back" to
the United States. US officials then claimed that there were no US bases
Because of nationalist opposition to US military bases in the Philippines,
the United States gave nominal "sovereignty" over the bases to the
Philippines in 1978 and put a Philippine officer in nominal command of each
base, while insisting on US "effective command and control" as well
as "unhampered military operations."
Another issue on which the Bush administration inserted language in its draft
to suggest a major concession to Iraqi political sensitivities while keeping
its own freedom of action is the US use of Iraqi bases to carry out military
operations against another country. That was an obvious red line for the al-Maliki
regime and its ally, Iran. Prime Minister al-Maliki's spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh
insisted last January that US troops must "not be used against [Iraq's]
neighbors," because, he said, it could put the country's security in jeopardy.
Dabbagh said this one the principles that Iraqi negotiators would seek to spell
out in the agreement.
The Mar. 7 draft includes a statement that the United States "does not
seek to use Iraqi territory as a platform for offensive operations against other
states." That commitment leaves plenty of room for the Bush administration
to argue that it is responding defensively to an Iranian threat to its troops
or other interests.
Iraqi negotiators were well aware of the ambiguous nature of the US language.
And a US demand for control over Iraqi airspace below 29,000 feet, reported
by more than one Iraqi official in recent weeks, fueled intense suspicions of
the administration's intentions.
"Senior Iraqi military sources" were quoted by GulfNews as saying
the agreement gave the United States "the right...to strike, from within
Iraqi territory, any country it considers a threat to its national security."
That interpretation was based on the absence of specific language ruling out
US military operations without the prior consent of the Iraqi government.
It now appears that the Bush administration's ambitions to establish a legal
framework to legitimize the occupation before the end of Bush's term will be
frustrated by strong opposition to the pact from pro-Iranian Shiite political
parties on whose support the al-Maliki regime depends. The government is under
strong pressure from legislators belonging to al-Maliki's own Dawa Party and
the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq to scuttle the pact, and wait for the next
US administration before negotiating on the status and role of US forces in
(Inter Press Service)