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October 23, 2008

Final Text of Iraq Pact Reveals a US Debacle


by Gareth Porter

The final draft of the US-Iraq Status of Forces agreement on the US military presence represents an even more crushing defeat for the policy of the George W. Bush administration than previously thought, the final text reveals.

The final draft, dated Oct. 13, not only imposes unambiguous deadlines for withdrawal of US combat troops by 2011 but makes it extremely unlikely that a US non-combat presence will be allowed to remain in Iraq for training and support purposes beyond the 2011 deadline for withdrawal of all US combat forces.

Furthermore, Shiite opposition to the pact as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty makes the prospects for passage of even this agreement by the Iraqi parliament doubtful. Pro-government Shiite parties, the top Shiite clerical body in the country, and a powerful movement led by nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that recently mobilized hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in protest against the pact, are all calling for its defeat.

At an Iraqi cabinet meeting Tuesday, ministers raised objections to the final draft, and a government spokesman said that the agreement would not submit it to the parliament in its current form. But Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told three news agencies Tuesday that the door was "pretty far closed" on further negotiations.

In the absence of an agreement approved by the Iraqi parliament, US troops in Iraq will probably be confined to their bases once the United Nations mandate expires Dec. 31.

The clearest sign of the dramatically reduced US negotiating power in the final draft is the willingness of the United States to give up extraterritorial jurisdiction over US contractors and their employees and over US troops in the case of "major and intentional crimes" that occur outside bases and while off duty. The United States has never allowed a foreign country to have jurisdiction over its troops in any previous status of forces agreement.

But even that concession is not enough to satisfy anti-occupation sentiments across all Shiite political parties. Sunni politicians hold less decisive views on the pact, and Kurds are supportive.

Bush administration policymakers did not imagine when the negotiations began formally last March that its bargaining position on the issue of the US military presence could have turned out to be so weak in relation with its own "client" regime in Baghdad.

They were confident of being able to legitimize a US presence in Iraq for decades after the fighting had ended, just as they did in South Korea. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had declared in June 2007 that US troops would be in Iraq "for a protracted period of time".

The secret US draft handed to Iraqi officials Mar. 7 put no limit on either the number of US troops in Iraq or the duration of their presence or their activities. It would have authorized US forces to "conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain certain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security", according to an Apr. 8 article in The Guardian quoting from a leaked copy of the draft.

When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded a timetable for complete US withdrawal in early July, the White House insisted that it would not accept such a timetable and that any decision on withdrawal "will be conditions based". It was even hoping to avoid a requirement for complete withdrawal in the agreement, as reflected in false claims to media Jul. 17 that Bush and Maliki had agreed on the objective of "further reduction of US combat forces from Iraq" rather than complete withdrawal.

By early August, however, Bush had already reduced its negotiating aims. The US draft dated Aug. 6, which was translated and posted on the internet by Iraqi activist Raed Jarrar, demanded the inclusion of either "targeted times" or "time targets" to refer to the dates for withdrawal of US forces from all cities, town and villages and for complete combat troop withdrawal from Iraq, suggesting that they were not deadlines.

When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Baghdad Aug. 21, the United States accepted for the first time a firm date of 2011 for complete withdrawal, giving up the demand for ambiguous such terms. However, the Aug. 6 draft included a provision that the US could ask Iraq to "extend" the date for complete withdrawal of combat troops, based on mutual review of "progress" in achieving the withdrawal.

Because it had not yet been removed from the text, US officials continued to claim to reporters that the date was "conditions-based", as Karen DeYoung reported in the Washington Post Aug. 22.

The administration also continued to hope for approval of a residual force. US officials told DeYoung the deal would leave "tens of thousands of US troops inside Iraq in supporting roles...for an unspecified time". That hope was based on a paragraph of the Aug. 6 draft providing that the Iraqi government could request such a force, with the joint committee for operations and coordination determining the "tasks and level of the troops..."

But the Oct. 13 final draft, a translation of which was posted by Raed Jarrar on his website Oct. 20, reveals that the Bush administration has been forced to give up its aims of softening the deadline for withdrawal and of a residual non-combat force in the country. Unlike the Aug. 6 draft, the final text treats any extension of that date as a modification of the agreement, which could be done only "in accordance to constitutional procedures in both countries".

That is an obvious reference to approval by the Iraqi parliament.

Given the present level of opposition to the agreement within the Shiite community, that provision offers scant hope of a residual US non-combat force in Iraq after 2011.

Another signal of Iraqi intentions is a provision of the final draft limiting the duration of the agreement to three years -- a date coinciding with the deadline for complete withdrawal from Iraq. The date can be extended only by a decision made by the "constitutional procedures in both countries".

The final draft confirms the language of the Aug. 6 draft requiring that all US military operations be subject to the approval of the Iraqi government and coordinated with Iraqi authorities through a joint US-Iraqi committee.

The negotiating text had already established by Aug. 6 that US troops could not detain anyone in the country without a "warrant issued by the specialized Iraqi authorities in accordance with Iraqi law" and required that the detainees be turned over to Iraqi authorities within 24 hours. The Oct. 13 "final draft" goes even further, requiring that any detention by the United States, apart from its own personnel, must be "based on an Iraqi decision".

The collapse of the Bush administration's ambitious plan for a long-term US presence in Iraq highlights the degree of unreality that has prevailed among top US officials in both Washington and Baghdad on Iraqi politics. They continued to see the Maliki regime as a client which would cooperate with US aims even after it was clear that Maliki's agenda was sharply at odds with that of the United States.

They also refused to take seriously the opposition to such a presence even among the Shiite clerics who had tolerated it in order to obtain Shiite control over state power.

(Inter Press Service)

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  • Leon Hadar is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan). He is the former United Nations bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post and is currently the Washington correspondent for the Business Times of Singapore. Visit his blog.

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