Saturday, October 25, 2008

US-Iraq Negotiations Come Down to the Wire

Negotiations over the Status of Forces Agreement have reached a very difficult moment as time runs out quickly. Tension and an exchange of blunt statements and warnings have dominated the environment in the last few days. On the one hand, the Iraqi cabinet and many in the parliament rejected the final draft, demanding unspecified adjustments. On the other hand, the American administration largely rejected those demands and warned of the consequences of an Iraqi failure to ratify the agreement.

It appears that direct communications are not in their best shape, to the extent that the British commanders in Iraq are playing the moderator role between the Iraqi and American sides, according to state-owned Al-Sabah:
A parliamentary source said that Britain has become the moderator between Washington and the parliamentary powers. The source revealed that a meeting was held between Ali Adeeb of the UIA [United Iraqi Alliance] and the deputy commander of British forces, and lasted for an hour. This meeting was followed by another meeting [between the British commander] and members of the Accord Front and a third one with a number of other parliamentary powers.

Not all members of parliament share the cabinet’s rejection of the agreement. In fact some suggest that refusing to sign the agreement is tantamount to opening the door for coups. Al-Bayyna al-Jadida quoted three prominent Iraqi lawmakers speaking along these lines:
Chief of the Kurdistan Alliance Fouad Masoum said if the agreement is not signed by the end of the year, U.S. troops will be left without legal cover from the UN. This means they will not have to perform security-keeping operations. This justifies concerns about the possibility of a coup. … Chief of the Accord Front Adnan Duleimi also warned of a coup toppling the government. Meanwhile MP Iyad Jamal Ad-Din says that the departure of U.S. troops — or their presence with no operational significance if the agreement is not signed — exposes Iraq to security threats, top of which is a coup against the democratic system in the country.

In Tehran, Iran’s President Ahmadinejad again attacked the agreement and told the visiting president of Kurdistan Masoud Barazani that the agreement aims at keeping Iraq weak and helps the Americans steal Iraq’s riches. Barazani’s response didn’t come off as supportive of his host’s attack. He defended the agreement, saying it would make Iraq better off.

Meanwhile, a smoking gun was reportedly found regarding Iran’s alleged bribes to some Iraqi lawmakers. Mithal Aloosi, leader of the Iraqi Umma Party and whose immunity was removed over his recent visit to Israel, told Asharq al-Awsat that Iran’s ambassador Hassan Kadhimi Qomi offered him “millions of dollars and a top post in Iraq in exchange for cooperation.” Aloosi added that:
Qomi visited us at the party offices in Baghdad and said in front of everyone there that he wanted to support the party, then offered us an amount of money. The ambassador told us that “Iran supports a small organization like Shaheed al-Mihrab [belonging to Ammar Hakim, son of Abdul Aziz Hakim] with two million dollars a month. Imagine the support for a large party such as the Iraqi Umma,” implying they want to offer us more than two million.

Al-Sabah actually offers a clear and simple summary of the situation: “Whereas the UIA demanded revisions for a number of articles [of the draft agreement], the Accord Front called only for rewording the draft, and the Kurdistan Alliance gave approval for the draft.”

The paper also reports that Maliki and other political leaders will meet next week to identify the controversial articles and inform the American side of them in order to reach compromise on these issues.

There are reasons to keep expectations low about the outcome of such meetings. That’s particularly because the focus of rejection lies within the UIA, whose members are under severe pressure from the Shiite clergy. Until now, at least four prominent ayatollahs voiced fierce opposition to the agreement. Those are Ayatollahs Kadhum Ha’airi (in Iran, considered Sadr’s mentor), Mohammed Taqi Mudarrisi, al-Shirazi, and last but not least Mohammed Hussein Fadhlallah of Lebanon. The fatwa of the latter was indeed solicited by some Shiite lawmakers. He ruled that any agreement must include the immediate unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops — further complicating and regionalizing the situation.

That the door isn’t completely closed yet is the message Washington sent to Baghdad. It’s up to the Iraqi leaders to decide really soon whether or not they want to come out of the door with something good for them and the country, before it’s too late.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Obama’s Meddling Undermines Future U.S.-Iraq Relationship

The status of forces agreement (SOFA) can be regarded as the crown jewel of the U.S.-led change in Iraq. It’s not an overstatement to say that it represents an aspect of victory in this war. By victory I mean that it will mark the beginning of a time in which Iraq is officially a partner of the U.S., as it will join Iraq and the U.S. in a new relationship that serves the national interests of both countries.

Above all, it will be a major boost for the effort in the war on terror as it will guarantee that Iraq will not fall prey to extremists. It will ensure that Iraq becomes a barrier against the aspirations of extremists, not a vessel that conveys them. In my opinion this treaty will set the foundations for a new Middle East ripe for transformation and for joining the free world. For these reasons and for others that we’re still trying to understand, this treaty has been receiving fire from virtually all directions.

I understand why Iran and other enemies of democracy in the region stand against it. They know that it will stand in their way and further undermine their position. In fact, whenever I pass through a period of intellectual laziness, I look at where dictators and religious extremists stand on any issue and take the opposite position. Whenever I see them opposing something I can automatically — with a very low error margin — assume that the thing they oppose is good for me, for I absolutely wouldn’t suspect at any moment that they care about the welfare of the people of the region or that of the world. For this reason I wasn’t surprised by the vicious attack on the treaty from Arab and Muslim media and leaders.

If I’m not mistaken the last of such attacks came from Iran, whose president went as far as telling our speaker of parliament, so arrogantly, that it was our "duty to resist the Americans" while another official said the treaty would be a "disgrace" and stigma in the history of Iraq . I have no idea when Iran became concerned about keeping my country’s history bright!

While Iraqi and American negotiators and decision makers are doing what they can to finalize the agreement and reach a compromise on disputed issues, we find that everyone outside the negotiations is trying to put the stick in the wheel. But those are mostly parties that don’t want any good for Iraq and consider America a malicious intruder at best and a blood enemy at worst. What I find surprising is that someone from America is trying to obstruct the treaty. Believe it or not, there’s actually a guy who has no executive authority whatsoever — except in opinion polls — who is trying to bypass the actual top diplomats of the United States and undermine their negotiation efforts with a friendly state, at a time of war.
I was hoping that presidential candidates would not put their electoral objectives above those of their nation. Alas, blinding greed and selfishness seem to prevail sometimes.

I don’t dare suggest that Obama wanted to obstruct the treaty because it threatens Iran and other despots in the Middle East; I’m sure his purpose is different. The thing is that his purpose is also different from that of the U.S. or of Iraq — two friendly states looking forward to building long-lasting cooperation based on shared interests and mutual respect. We want victory in the war; Obama wants victory in elections — this is the problem.

I’m not sure how or if people here think the treaty might affect the presidential race, but in Iraq and the Middle East people think that signing the treaty before elections would be regarded as a victory for Republicans that could propel McCain to the White House. Again Iran and many in the Middle East don’t want McCain to be in the White House. I guess that’s one thing they have in common with Obama.