Dick Cheney wants the Iraqi government installed by the U.S. occupation to sign a “security pact” with Washington by the end of July. (The pact, including a status-of-forces agreement, would be signed by the U.S. president but not constitute a treaty requiring Congressional approval.) U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker has been feverishly struggling to meet the deadline and to commit the next administration to the agreement’s terms. But that may be a tall order. Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki says negotiations are only in a beginning stage; public opinion is opposed to the pact based on leaked information about its content; and a majority of members of the Iraqi parliament have endorsed a letter to the U.S. government demanding U.S. withdrawal as the condition for “any commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States.”
Few Americans are familiar with the proposed treaty. If they were, they might be shocked at its provisions, ashamed about its naked sadism. It:
* grants the U.S. long-term rights to maintain over 50 military bases in their California-sized country
* allows the U.S. to strike any other country from within Iraqi territory without the permission of the Iraqi government
* allows the U.S. to conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting with the local government
* allows U.S. forces to arrest any Iraqi without consulting with Iraqi authorities
* extends to U.S. troops and contracters immunity from Iraqi law
* gives U.S. forces control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000ft.
* places the Iraqi Defense, Interior and National Security ministries under American supervision for ten years
* gives the U.S. responsibility for Iraqi armament contracts for ten years
Humiliating, right? The sort of conditions most Americans can’t imagine themselves accepting from a foreign occupying power.
What self-respecting people would ever agree to such provisions? Especially after their country’s been illegally invaded and occupied, on the basis of lies. Perhaps a million have been killed by the invaders and the civil strife they’ve unleashed. Two million have been driven into foreign exile, two million internally displaced. Thousands have been humiliated, terrified and tortured by the invaders. Millions’ electrical and water supply still lags behind Saddam-era levels. Millions’ personal security and enjoyment of human rights has deteriorated as a result of the invasion. Why should their leaders sign such an agreement?
No doubt some key figures in the Bush administration have asked themselves that, and here’s what they come up with. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York holds $ 50 billion of Iraq’s foreign exchange reserves as a result of the UN sanctions dating back to the first Gulf War. These include virtually all oil revenues that under UN mandate must be placed in the Development Fund for Iraq “controlled” by the Iraqi government. $ 20 billion of this is owed to plaintiffs who’ve won court judgments against Iraq, but a presidential order gives the account legal immunity. Bush can threaten to remove the immunity and wipe out 40% of Iraq’s foreign reselves if Baghdad doesn’t cooperate. At the same time, Bush can tell al-Maliki that if Iraq enters into a ‘strategic relationship” with the U.S., the U.S. will arrange for Iraq to finally escape those lingering UN “Chapter Seven” sanctions. Perhaps Bush and Cheney are confidant that this carrot and stick approach will force the Iraqi government to sign the deal.
But Iranian political leader Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani hardly exaggerates in saying the proposed deal is designed “to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans” and to create “a permanent occupation.” Many Iraqis use similar language. “The agreement wants to put an American in each house,” claimed a supporter of Shiite cleric and nationalist firebrand Mutada al-Sadr. “This agreement is poison mixed in poison, not poison in honey because there is no honey at all.” “Why,” he asks, “do they want to break the backbone of Iraq?”
The mainstream Shiite cleric and politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC; formerly the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq or SCIRI), agrees that the proposed agreement would “violate Iraq’s national sovereignty.” He claims a “national consensus” against it has developed. (President Bush in December 2006 met with al-Hakim, calling his “one of the distinguished leaders of a free Iraq,” and he is sometimes mentioned as Washington’s first choice for prime minister if al-Maliki doesn’t adequately put out. So his opposition is especially significant.)
Al-Hakim is close to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most widely respected Shiite cleric in 60% Shiite Iraq. The ayatollah is thought to oppose the pact but has not yet made a pronouncement about it. Meanwhile the Association of Muslim Scholars, the largest Sunni political group in the parliament, warns that the pact paves the way for “military, economic and cultural domination” by the Americans.
Al-Sadr’s followers staged rallies around the country after prayers last Friday and plan to continue weekly peaceful demonstrations demanding that the Baghdad government hold a national referendum on the security treaty issue. The U.S. opposes such a referendum, aware that pact opponents would surely win.
So Al-Maliki is between a rock and a hard place. He can sign the agreement and continue to receive U.S. support, strengthening the popular perception that he is a U.S. puppet. Or he can submit to the referendum demand, alienating and embarrassing his country’s invaders, revealing to the world the depth of Iraqi antipathy to the occupation. That way he loses U.S. support. Either way he seems headed towards the door.
In January 2007 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Congress that if al-Maliki didn’t cooperate with U.S. forces in suppressing Shiite militias in Baghdad, “he has to face is the possibility that he’ll lose his job.” At the same time U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and President Bush were both threatening to end support for al-Maliki if he didn’t “follow through on his promises” to the U.S. In August 2007, after al-Maliki publicly praised Iran for its “constructive role” in Iraq, Bush warned him. “My message to him,” he told the press, “is, when we catch you playing a non-constructive role, there will be a price to pay.”
For his part al-Maliki has indicated there are limits to his servility. He sent forces against al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Baghdad in February of this year, but they fought poorly and had to be saved from embarrassment by the mediation of a commander of Iran’s vilified Quds Force friendly with both al-Sadr and al-Maliki. He has refused to break his strong ties with the Iranian government and politely asked the U.S. to leave his country out of its quarrel with Iran. He does not seem wedded to his post or determined to retain it at any cost; “I wish I could be done with it even before the end of this term,” he told the Wall Street Journal in January 2007. “I didn’t want to take this position. I only agreed because I thought it would serve the national interest, and I will not accept it again.” Doesn’t sound like a man who wants to go down in history as the man who sold Iraq to the Americans in the summer of 2008. Likely successor Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim has opposed the deal so far.
Meanwhile, there’s this other Iraqi item on Cheney’s urgent to-do list: the passage of the Iraq Hydrocarbon Law by the Iraqi Parliament. This was drafted by BearingPoint (a McLean, Virginia-based management consulting provider listed by the Center for Corporate Policy as the number 2 top war profiteer of 2004) in February 2006 and then presented to the newly-appointed Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Al-Shahristani. Shahristani then met in Washington DC with representatives of Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and ConocoPhillips to get their comments on the draft. He promised the International Monetary Fund that the Iraqi parliament would pass the law by the end of 2006, but its members hadn’t even seen the 33-page draft law yet. Months earlier an Oil Ministry official had said that Iraqi civil society and the general public would not be consulted at all on this matter.
A secret appendix to the draft law, according to London-based Iraqi political analyst Munir Chalabi, “will decide which oil fields will be allocated to the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC) and which of the existing fields will be allocated to the IOCs [international oil companies]. The appendices will determine if 10% or possibly up to 80% of these major oil fields will be given to the IOCs.” This, in other words, is another national humiliation in the offing. As six women Nobel Peace Prize recipients wrote in September 2007, it “would transform Iraq’s oil industry from a nationalized model to a commercial model that is much more open to U.S. corporate control. Its provisions allow much (if not most) of Iraq’s oil revenues to flow out of Iraq and into the pockets of international oil companies.”
It is one of those “bench marks” the Bush administration has imposed on Iraq, with Congressional support, as conditions for U.S. withdrawal, but even the most recent revised version, hammered out between Kurdish representatives and the Maliki cabinet, faces tough political opposition. Cheney was hoping this would be a done deal—done quickly on the sly—as of last summer. But al-Maliki still hasn’t delivered, and as a State Department report to Congress in April 2008 notes, labor opposition is formidable: “The 26,000 member Iraq Federation of Oil Unions has voiced its members’ strong opposition to the current draft of the hydrocarbon framework legislation and has demonstrated a capacity to disrupt oil production and refinery operations with strikes.” Last year union chief Subhi al-Badri declared, “This law cancels the great achievements of the Iraq people. If the Iraqi Parliament approves this law, we will resort to mutiny. This law is a bomb that may kill everyone. Iraqi oil. … belongs to all future generations.” Even the Iraqi minister of planning and development, Ali Baban, has vowed to “resign one hour after [the] passing [of the] oil and gas draft law.” And the Sadrists of course are bitterly opposed.
Add the globalization of the oil industry to the security treaty provisions listed above. Imagine how Iraqi public opinion will react if Cheney and the neocons succeed in forcing this package of laws through the Iraqi parliament. Everybody knows the “return of sovereignty” is a sham, and claims of “democracy” a cover for continued occupation. The “benchmark” capitulations the Americans demand add insult to injury, inscribing in law and veneer of multilateralism that which has been seized by brute force. They oblige those under the boot to kiss it.
The Cheney cabal (exuding Islamophobia and contempt for poor and working people everywhere) seems to actually suppose it will be able to win that degree of slavishness, and to celebrate such crowning imperialist triumphs in Iraq, by the end of the Bush term. They also seem to think they can attack Iran, expanding the “Long War” before handing it over to the next administration. But that would mean provoking the outrage of the overwhelming majority of Iranians and Iraqis simultaneously. Seems just too stupid to believe, even from a rational imperialist’s own point of view. But aside from Rep. Dennis Kucinich, few in Congress have made issues of the security treaty, hydrocarbon law, or plans for a strike against Iran. The mainstream media is for the most part unquestioning, subdued, as the Bush administration continues to subject the Muslim world to unbearable provocations.