Iraq: Pact to continue occupation signed

November 22, 2008

On November 16 the Iraqi cabinet agreed to a final draft of a "security agreement" that would replace the current United Nations mandate — which has authorised the occupation since 2003 but that is scheduled to expire on December 31.

Negotiations have been ongoing for more than a year over the terms of the agreement. Under political pressure as a result of popular opposition to the US-led occupation, the Iraqi government has forced the US to grant some concessions.

Initial drafts all contained the provision that any withdrawal of US forces would be conditional of an assessment of "conditions on the ground".

However, the final draft agreement, under which all US troops are to be withdrawn from residential areas into US military bases, explicitly states that "US forces shall withdraw from Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011".

Commentating on the security agreement, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: "I'd like to say candidly we have our own assessments, but at the same time this is a strong beginning to get back the full sovereignty of Iraq in three years."

He stated there should be, "No detainees anymore, no detention centres anymore, or American prisons for Iraqis, no searches or raids of buildings or houses, until there is an Iraqi judicial warrant and is fully coordinated with the Iraqi government".

The agreement, which will be voted on by the Iraqi parliament on November 24, is being fiercely resisted by forces inside and outside of parliament opposed to the occupation — particularly supporters of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who want all foreign troops to withdraw immediately.

The November 21 Los Angeles Times reported that, "A session of Iraq's parliament collapsed in chaos as a discussion among MPs about a three-year security agreement with the US boiled over into shouting and physical confrontation".

The Sadrists have announced they will boycott parliament over a physical assault on one of its MPs by a bodyguard for foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari.

Reuters reported on November 22 that the previous day, thousands of Sadr supporters protested in Baghdad against the pact.

The agreement is expected to be passed, with the Kurdistan Alliance and United Iraqi Alliance both confirming their support for the agreement. Combined, both parties have more than 50% of seats. Sadrist MPs, however, have argued that the agreement requires a two-thirds majority to be approved.

It is still unclear how the biggest Sunni Party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, will vote. Their position so far has been that a popular referendum should decide on the agreement.

McClatchy Newspapers reported on November 19 that, "Although the Pentagon officially has welcomed the new accord on a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, senior military officials are privately criticizing President Bush for giving Iraq more control over U.S. military operations for the next three years than the U.S. had ever contemplated.

"Pentagon officials, however, said the White House made unprecedented concessions. In addition to allowing Iraq to search cargo and mail under some conditions, the deal bars U.S. forces from launching attacks on other countries from Iraqi soil and permits Iraq to prosecute U.S. military contractors, and in some cases perhaps also American troops, under Iraqi law."

Such concessions to Iraqi national sovereignty reflects the general weakening of US imperialism due to the disastrous and unpopular occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan.

US president-elect Barack Obama has promised to gradually withdraw troops from Iraq, but only to then re-post them to Afghanistan. General David McKiernan, commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan, has asked for 20,000 more troops, which he hoped would be sent "quickly" by the Obama administration.

While Obama was elected in part due to his much-vaunted initial opposition to the invasion of Iraq, a November 21 Sydney Morning Herald article reported: "Antiwar groups are increasingly concerned that Barack Obama's national security team will be dominated by appointees who favoured the Iraq invasion and hold hawkish views on other foreign policy issues."

Executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Kelly Dougherty, was quoted by SMH as stating: "Obama ran his campaign around the idea the war was not legitimate but it sends a very different message when you bring in people who supported the war from the beginning."

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