Last month 50,000 Iraqis hit the streets in protest at a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) being pushed by the US which would enshrine the right of foreign forces to remain in Iraq.
The rally, made up largely of supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, called for an immediate withdrawal of occupation troops. A statement from Moqtada called on the Iraqi Government to reject the US-Iraqi security deal. There have been smaller rallies since with thousands on the streets in Baghdad for a second time.
Status of Forces Agreement
The current UN mandate under which the US operates in Iraq expires on December 30 this year. The US wants the SOFA to entrench the privileges the US currently enjoys.
Under the agreement proposed by the US, their soldiers would retain immunity from prosecution for any action committed during combat, and the US would retain legal jurisdictions over any charges against them. This would also include “contractors” or mercenaries that operate for companies like Blackwater.
The only exemption is for actions committed “off duty” and outside US bases. Critics have dismissed this qualification, pointing out that US troops hardly ever leave their bases in Iraq unless on authorised missions.
The SOFA also allows the US to keep its permanent “over the horizon” bases in Iraq that have mostly already been constructed. The draft agreement contains a 2011 deadline for troop withdrawal, but the Bush administration is pushing for an extra clause that would allow the US to extend its stay indefinitely.
The agreement has met broad resistance within Iraq both on the streets and even in the US-backed government. The opposition of some of the emphatically pro-occupation parties and ministers is a reflection of the hostility both to the agreement and the occupation itself from the majority of Iraqi people.
For Iraqis, the new agreement contains reminders of the unequal security agreement given to the British occupation of Iraq from 1930 to 1958.
With provincial elections scheduled for the end of January in Iraq, it is risky for any political leader or member of parliament to be seen as going along with any agreement that provides special privileges to the US.
The fact that in both Sunni and Shia communities there are parties running, like the al-Sadr movement and the Awakening Groups, who are not only opposed to the SOFA but are relatively untarnished by collaboration with the US puts even more pressure on the other parties to oppose the agreement.
Jalal al Din al Sagheer, deputy head of the Shiite Muslim Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq said anyone who accepts the agreement will be taken as an agent for the Americans.
The Iraqi government’s failure to agree to the SOFA has prompted a desperate last gamble by the Bush administration, which has threatened to withdraw all economic and military support from the Iraqi government if it does not accept the agreement.
This totals US$16 billion in assistance for the economy and Iraqi security forces. Even this hasnt moved Iraqi politicians, previously enthusiastic collaborators with the US occupation.
The likely prospect of Obama winning the presidency, and expectations his administration will be more amenable to Iraqi demands, means there is little incentive for the Iraqi Government to agree to the US’s demands now.
As Solidarity went to press it looked unlikely that the US would get a new agreement before the expiry of its old mandate on January 1 as it wants.
The lack of a legal basis for maintaining its troops in the country is not about to force the US to leave.
The UN Security Council has already said it will roll over the current mandate if no agreement is reached.
But this would be a further demonstration of the lack of legitimacy of the occupation, and the continued desire of the Iraqi population to see them leave.
By Robert Nicholas