Sunday, June 8, 2008

Maliki Assures Iran SOFA Not a Threat

Despite of the image propagated by the Bush administration and its media stenographers, the Iraq-Iran relationship is a mutual alliance and not merely one-sided meddling, with Iran aiding assorted rabble allied against the US occupation. It is little surprise, then, that Nouri al Maliki traveled to Tehran this week to assuage Iranian fears of a permanent US presence in Iraq spurred by news of the looming status of forces agreement.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pushed Iran on Sunday to back off its fierce opposition to a U.S.-Iraqi security pact, promising Iranian leaders that Iraq will not be a launching pad for any attack on their country.

The agreement has become a center of contention as Baghdad tries to balance its close ties to Washington and Tehran. Iran fiercely opposes the deal, fearing it will lead to permanent U.S bases on its doorstep in Iraq amid fears of an eventual American attack.

The Iranian fears seem well-founded if current events are any guide, especially given that the proposed SOFA includes freedom of movement for US forces both within Iraq and across its borders. Neither would require the knowledge or consent of the sovereign-in-name-only Iraqi government. It is ludicrous to believe that the US, in the event of an attack on Iran, would hesitate to use some of its 50-base windfall as a launching pad.

The question, then, becomes how can Maliki make any such guarantee to the Iranians? The Bush administration has been eerily silent on the meetings, and the promise. Ostensibly, by refusing to ever acknowledge the cozy relationship between Maliki and Ahmadinejad it can continue to play up the 'special groups' angle, despite its demonstrably farcical premise. If the SOFA were signed 'as is,' Maliki would be helpless in backing up his promise, leaving a parliamentary opposition strong enough to elicit major changes in the terms.

Maliki, however, must side with Washington while still appearing to protect Iraqi sovereignty, a task becoming more difficult daily as his Da'wa Party frays beneath him. Former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari has formed a splinter group, taking MPs with him along the way. Together, they are forming a broad nationalist coalition which will virulently oppose any deal with permanent US bases or freedom of operations for US forces.

Whatever his ability to follow through, Maliki's commitment to Iran is in stark contrast to the picture painted by President Bush.

"Iraq, today, does not represent a threat as it was during the former regime because it has become a constitutional country based on the rule of law," a statement released by his Baghdad office quoted him as saying.

"Iraq is working on developing its relations with the countries of the region on the basis of mutual understanding and cooperation," it added.


Al-Maliki also appeared to signal that Tehran would not be squeezed out by any agreement, saying Iraq's "development and stability will be provided through more bilateral cooperation" with Iran.

For its part, the US again illustrates a brilliant lack of foreign policy comprehension, unwilling to accept that Iraqis would disapprove of a deal making their country a playground for Americans devoid of Iranian influence.

U.S. officials increasingly see the criticism against the security deal as driven by Iran — particularly through al-Sadr.

"The U.S.-Iraqi negotiations (on the pact) concern the American and the Iraqi sides. As we have noticed, the Iranian contribution again is not positive regarding this," U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo told journalists Sunday in Baghdad.

While Sadr surely opposes the relationship, Maliki allies (or non-enemies, maybe) al Sistani and al Hakim have spoken out as well. IHT also reports that the Iraqi National Security Council rejected several drafts of the agreement because of blatant infringements on Iraqi sovereignty. To paint Iran as the only catalyst for opposition fits only one purpose, and it's not "description of reality."

The US has thus far engaged in a little willful ignorance on the role of Iran. By refusing to acknowledge the close relationship with the Maliki government, it can continue to play up the destructive aspects and meddling. But eventually, the reality of the Iraq-Iran ties will have to figure in to foreign policy calculations.

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