Friday, November 21, 2008

Are U.S. troops coming home?

Eric Ruder reports on the details of the status of forces agreement signed by U.S. and Iraqi officials.

U.S. soldiers kick in the door of a building in Buhriz, Iraq ( soldiers kick in the door of a building in Buhriz, Iraq (

“TODAY IS a historic day for Iraqi-American relations,” said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari as Iraq’s government signed a status of forces agreement November 17 that would authorize the continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq through the end of 2011. The agreement now must be approved by a majority of Iraq’s 275-seat parliament, which is expected to happen in the next week.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the agreement ensured that “there shall be no permanent bases for the United States on Iraqi soil,” and that “Iraq will remain a sovereign, free and independent state and have the absolute liberty to manage its own riches.”

But Maliki also felt compelled to add that “the agreement contains no secret clauses”–an acknowledgment of the anger and mistrust that have characterized the debate surrounding negotiations.

The bulk of the Iraqi population bitterly opposes a continued U.S. presence and fears that the Maliki government might not disclose essential details about the agreement–a strategy that the U.S. is known to have employed to conceal unpopular clauses of similar agreements with other countries.

Shia cleric Moktada al-Sadr has called for a pan-Muslim Friday prayer in central Baghdad’s Firdous Square followed by a massive peaceful demonstration against the agreement. “Let all unite to foil the signing of the agreement that sells Iraq to the occupier, just like our holy lands in Palestine and other Arab and Islamic lands were sold before,” declared Sadr.

For months, the U.S. has put pressure on Iraq’s government to sign the agreement, since the United Nations mandate authorizing the U.S. military presence in Iraq expires at the end of 2008. But the Maliki government refused to go along until it was able to force several important concessions out of the U.S.

Not only did Iraq get the right to prosecute criminal acts committed by private contractors such as Blackwater and Halliburton while on duty, but the U.S. is also now required to seek prior approval to carry out operations or place an Iraqi national under detention.

The U.S. did grant that American soldiers could also fall under Iraqi jurisdiction–but only in such limited circumstances that the concession is purely symbolic.

The U.S. also agreed not to use Iraq as a launching pad for operations in other countries in the region–a key provision for winning the approval of Iran’s government, which could have used its ties to Iraq’s Shia leadership to stall or scuttle signing of the agreement.

The agreement also calls for the pullback of U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities, towns and villages by July 2009 to U.S. bases in Iraq as a transition to the full withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of 2011. The U.S. had sought to make such withdrawals contingent on improving conditions in Iraq, but the government refused to agree to that.

The significant concessions made by the U.S. are a dramatic shift in the situation from several months ago when it appeared that the U.S. had the ability to dictate terms to Iraq’s government.

In the words of historian Gareth Porter, “The [agreement] represents a formal recognition of a remarkable shift in power relations between an occupying power and the state created under its protection. What had appeared to be a safely dependent client regime was instead a regime that was waiting for the right moment to assert real control over the military presence of that power.”

Continued >>

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