Monday, July 14, 2008

Iraqi SOFA: Out on the Curb?

Even given the enormous and egregious breeches of Iraqi sovereignty that the SOFA the US was trying to force on the Maliki government contained, I must say that I'm surprised--and impressed--that the Iraqis have held up as well as it seems they have, with the Washington Post reporting that a long-term deal may be all but dead.

Really, the only hope Bush and Crocker had of pushing the deal through was without the involvement of either legislature and sans journalistic scrutiny. Once the details of the proposal got out, it was game over. While Bush serves a country with a complacent populace and complicit Congress, Maliki is more beholden to both in his own country. When religious leaders such as al Sistani began coming out in full force against the SOFA, there was no chance he would be able to avoid submission to the legislature, and no chance doing so would result in its adoption.

To recount briefly, the SOFA was essentially a deal wherein the Iraqis would sign up willingly for colonial rule. I say colonial not as a loaded phrase meant to incite, but because under the tenets of the agreement, Iraq would have met every criteria. The US forces would operate completely independent of the Iraqi government, have complete immunity from Iraqi laws, be able to launch attacks from Iraq without notification or permission, and control completely Iraqi airspace. In essence, the exact model of the old British Empire where the Middle East was nominally controlled by locals but was in reality part of British Imperial rule. The British simply found it cheaper to have a third-party do the dirty work.

The SOFA, then, was a signal of how much times have changed. Whereas in Imperial times, the oil was siphoned out without the countries' consent, today the Iraqis are expected to sign their consent for the exact same circumstances. Picture a hangman offering a letter of consent to the condemned while in the noose.

The failure of months of negotiations over the more detailed accord -- blamed on both the Iraqi refusal to accept U.S. terms and the complexity of the task -- deals a blow to the Bush administration's plans to leave in place a formal military architecture in Iraq that could last for years.

The article matter-of-factly blames the failure of the proposal on "the Iraqi refusal to accept US terms," leaving aside any details of those US demands, and for obvious reasons. Those details which are left out, are not simply minor nuances to a larger agreement, but a signing over of Iraqi sovereignty to the US for the indefinite future, not something the Iraqi government, bound by democratic principles, could have signed. The only possibility of success from Bush's perspective, would have been if the Iraqis showed as much disdain for democracy as he does in his own country.

Negotiators expect [the deal] to include a "time horizon," with specific goals for U.S. troop withdrawal from Baghdad and other cities and installations such as the former Saddam Hussein palace that now houses the U.S. Embassy.

The fixed dates will likely include caveats referring to the ability of Iraqi security forces to take over from U.S. units, but without them, U.S. negotiators concluded that Iraqi acquiescence was doubtful. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his political allies have come under intense domestic pressure to reject any perceived infringement on Iraqi sovereignty. Maliki, who last week publicly insisted on a withdrawal timeline, wants to frame the agreement as outlining the terms for "Americans leaving Iraq" rather than the conditions under which they will stay, said the U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because U.S.-Iraqi negotiations are ongoing.

Indeed, Maliki's submission to "domestic pressure" has thrown Bush and McCain for a loop, as they are not sure what a democracy in which the government performs the will of the people looks like.

In effect, Maliki is calling their bluff, as both Bush and McCain have said previously that "when the Iraqis ask us to leave, we'll leave." Now that the time is rapidly approaching, both are scrambling to dissemble, saying that Maliki is "just a politician" and surely wouldn't demand withdrawal before his security forces are ready. That is, before the US has ensured the economic end of the bargain.

The US would also like some more time to influence the October provincial elections, as Maliki still has plenty of work to do before Sadr's faction becomes politically inviable, the unstated goal of his recent pushes in Sadr City and Amara.

The negotiations surrounding the SOFA illustrate quite clearly what the US means by democracy. The tangible disdain that both Bush and McCain have shown for Maliki's willingness to submit his rule to the will of the Iraqi populace indicates that both would prefer a system more like that of the US, where politicians put on a happy face every four years, then spend the inter-nicene period trouncing on the public will. As Dick Cheney infamously quipped, the American public has one chance to voice their opinion, the general election. In between, the country belongs to the victors.

McCain surely knows a thing or two about pandering, but in calling for withdrawal, Maliki is doing no such thing. He is attempting to enforce the will of well over 80 percent of his population. Bush and McCain may call that pandering, but those of us still romantically tied to the events of 1776 call it democracy.


The Iraq SOFA: Not So Comfortable
, June 5
US Holds Iraqi Funds Hostage Over SOFA, June 7
When a Guest Becomes a Squatter, June 15

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