Sunday, June 15, 2008

When a Guest Becomes a Squatter

In what should come as no surprise, the negotiation of the status of forces agreement between Iraq and the United States have reached an impasse. What is surprising, however, is the posturing of Nouri al Maliki, who is dependent on Washington sponsorship for his position, as his approval ratings among Sunnis stands a 8 percent and Shia 52 percent.

"Iraq has another option that it may use," Maliki said during a visit to Amman, Jordan. "The Iraqi government, if it wants, has the right to demand that the U.N. terminate the presence of international forces on Iraqi sovereign soil."

This is almost surely merely for effect, as it is nearly impossible for me to believe that Maliki in private has as much confidence in the ISF as he does in public. But, still, the implications of such a statement are worth examining. For one thing, asking the US to leave would call Bush's bluff on his promise to comply with such a request.

We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It’s their government’s choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave.

If the US, absent a UN mandate and a negotiated SOFA, were to stay, it would in fact be illegally occupying a sovereign company, a situation which surely goes well beyond the well-worn talking points of the current domestic debate.

Already, though, the US has made concessions on the agreement, though not nearly enough to fully bring Iraq back to the table. One of the more egregious affronts to Iraqi sovereignty was a "U.S. demand that would have effectively handed over to the United States the power to determine if a hostile act from another country is aggression against Iraq." That purpose of that clause is not difficult to discern, as it clearly paves the way for the US to go to war against Iran under the pretext of protecting Iraq and without the consult of either the Iraqi government or the US Congress. One wonders how an attack on Iran would affect the mutual defense pact signed between Iran and Iraq last week. [That agreement was conspicuously absent from US media, lest they ruin a perfectly good, if not accurate, running narrative of Iran thwarting the will of the Iraqi government.]

Other concessions include "allowing Iraq to prosecute private contractors for violations of Iraqi law and requiring U.S. forces to turn over to Iraqi authorities Iraqis that the Americans detain."

While it is inconceivable that Maliki would follow through on his statement, it does signal the extent of the impasse over the deliberations regarding the SOFA. Bush will surely find a way to disregard the US Congress, but Maliki will have no such luck with his MPs. All of which makes the four-plus years of hiding its real intentions was a good strategic decision for the Bush administration.



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