- Washington is currently negotiating two accords with
the al-Maliki government to take effect after expiration of the UN's military
mandate on December 31. One agreement is for a long-term "strategic
framework" to establish "cooperation in the political, economic,
cultural and security fields." Or according to the administration
- to defend Iraq's "sovereignty and integrity of its territories,
waters, and airspace."
- The other is a so-called "status of forces agreement"
(SOFA) to provide legitimacy for the US occupation beginning January 1,
2009. Following the 2003 invasion, the UN Security Council passed Resolution
1511. It officially recognized the "Coalition Provisional Authority
(CPA)" and authorized a multinational force to bring "stability"
to the country. Part of the agreement was for the mandate to be reauthorized
each year. It's been done "at the request of the Iraqi government."
By late 2007, al-Maliki asked for a mandate extension "for the last
time" to officially end Iraq's international peace and security threat
designation that's been in place since August 1990.
- In November 2007, George Bush and al-Maliki signed a
preliminary US - Iraq political, economic, and security agreement. Part
of it is for an indefinite US military presence. Final completion was to
be by July 31, 2008, but with the date fast approaching and widespread
opposition, things may likely change.
- For months, US plans generated considerable opposition
- within and outside Iraq. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani objected. So
has Iran and a majority of Iraqi parliamentarians who vowed to veto any
agreement not approved by the country's Council of Representatives. On
May 29, they further said that any US - Iraq bilateral agreement must "obligate
the occupying American military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq."
On May 28, Muqtada al-Sadr went further. He called for protests against
the ("forces of darkness") SOFA and issued orders to:
- -- raise awareness of its terms;
- -- unite political opposition against it;
- -- participate in weekly protests;
- -- hold a national referendum or if denied gather millions
of opposition signatures;
- -- form political and religious delegations in opposition;
- -- set a timetable for the occupation's end;
- -- inform the Iraqi government it has no right to sign
an agreement; and
- -- to have the Hawza Shiite religious academy become
more active and stand against an agreement that's clearly against the interests
of the Iraqi people.
- Within the US, some in Congress object that George Bush
claims authority as commander-in-chief to constitutionally bypass lawmakers
and deal unilaterally with the Iraqi government. Others like Yale Law School
Professors Oona Hathaway and Bruce Ackerman concur and believe the agreement
"moves far beyond" traditional accords and must be subject to
- In a February 15, 2008 Washington Post.com op-ed, they
state "The Bush administration is so intent on securing its legacy
in Iraq that it is once again ignoring the Constitution....it is well on
its way toward (deepening America's) commitment without the congressional
support the Constitution requires."
- They cite examples:
- -- exempting civilian contractors from prosecution under
Iraqi laws; it assures their immunity elsewhere as well; current federal
law "only subjects contractors working in support of the Defense Department
to prosecution in American courts for felonies in Iraq;" civilian
security forces (like Blackwater Worldwide), the State Department, CIA
and others will be in a "no-law" status, subject only to the
will of the president; civilians may thus commit murders, rapes, robberies,
other lawless acts and get away with them; "no (known) existing status
of forces agreement....contains anything like this wide-ranging exemption;"
- -- exempting military personnel as well who can be court-martialed
but rarely are;
- -- allowing the president to exceed his constitutional
authority as commander-in-chief; he's only in charge of the military, "not
all Americans working overseas;"
- -- even worse, most administration plans are secret and
what's learned comes out in leaks; more on that below; and
- -- Congress held hearings on January 23 and February
8 - "on the legitimate scope of the Iraqi agreement;" the administration
refused to testify.
- Hathaway and Ackerman conclude by calling for a congressional
resolution "declaring invalid any military agreement (going) beyond
the traditional (SOFA) limits." No president may unilaterally bypass
Congress. It's "especially wrong for a lame-duck (one) to make such
a (controversial) commitment (that's) at the very center of the debate
among the candidates vying to succeed him."
- On July 4, Imam Sadreddin al-Kabandji (an aide to Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani) issued a statement. It pressed the Baghdad government
to hold a national referendum regarding US forces remaining in the country.
Speaking for Iraq's supreme Shiite leader, he stated: "The Iraqi nation
regards with concern the Iraqi-American treaty whose contents are not exactly
known....The treaty (must be made public and) presented to the people and
the clergy." It's unacceptable that the government is negotiating
with the Americans "behind closed doors."
- Status of Forces Agreements - An Explanation
- The DOD's Defense Technical Information Center web site
explains a SOFA as follows:
- -- "an agreement that defines the legal position
of a 'visiting' military force deployed in the territory of a friendly
state." It delineates "the status of visiting military forces
(and) may be bilateral or multilateral. Provisions pertaining to the status
of visiting forces may be set forth in a separate agreement, or they may
form a part of a more comprehensive agreement. These provisions describe
how the authorities of a visiting force may control members of that force
and the amenability of the force or its member to the local law or to the
authority of local officials. To the extent that agreements delineate matters
affecting the relations between a military force and civilian authorities
and population, they may be considered as civil affairs agreements."
- In his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire, Chalmers Johnson
said this about SOFAs:
- "America's foreign military enclaves, though structurally,
legally, and conceptually different from colonies, are themselves something
like microcolonies in that they are completely beyond the jurisdiction
of the occupied nation. The US virtually always negotiates a 'status of
forces agreement' (SOFA) with the ostensibly independent 'host' nation"
- a modern day version of 19th century China's "extraterritoriality"
granting foreigners charged with crimes the "right" to be tried
by his (or her) own government under his (or her) own national law.
- SOFA experts Rachel Cornwell and Andrew Wells added:
- "Most SOFAs are written so that national courts
cannot exercise legal jurisdiction over US military personnel who commit
crimes against local people, except in special cases where US military
authorities agree to transfer jurisdiction." As a result, when crimes
occur, the military can simply whisk offenders out of the country before
local authorities can react or at least before they're arrested.
- As of September 2001, the Pentagon acknowledged SOFA
agreements with only 93 countries. The total number is unknown but much
higher. Some are too embarrassing to reveal, and many or most are kept
secret. Overseas military bases aren't colonial outposts in the traditional
sense. They're run by the DOD, CIA, NSA, DIA, and other official or secret
state agencies. In September 2001, the Pentagon acknowledged the existence
of 725 foreign bases. Today the number likely tops 1000. Further, DOD's
(2001) Manpower Report indicated that over one-quarter of a million military
personnel were deployed in 153 countries. Those numbers also are higher
with Iraq and Afghanistan forces approaching 200,000 and no imminent signs
of a pullback.
- Depending on their location, families may or may not
accompany their military spouses, and as Johnson explains: "except
in Muslim countries (at least so far) these bases normally attract impressive
arrays of bars, brothels, and the criminal elements that operate them near
their main gates." As a result, bases "unavoidably usurp, distort,
or subvert whatever institutions of democratic government may exist with
the host society." It's a "recipe for the endless series of 'incidents'
that plague (SOFA) nations (and easy to understand why) local residents
get very tired of sexual assaults, drunken driving" and more serious
crimes and abuses over which they have no control or chance for redress.
- Reverse things and imagine how outraged US citizens would
be if another country garrisoned troops close by with all the resultant
fallout: besides murder, rape and other crimes, there's unacceptable noise,
pollution, environmental destruction, appropriation of valued public real
estate, and unaccountable soldiers getting drunk, causing damage, ignoring
local customs, speeding and accosting local women when they're not raping
or killing them.
- It's one reason why we don't generally grant other nations
basing rights here. So except for when foreign ships berth in our ports
for short periods, US citizens never interact with another country's military
or experience the fallout from it.
- In his newest book, Nemesis, Johnson explains how SOFAs
work. They're legal contractual "alliances" with other countries
implementing mutually agreed on arrangements. They let us garrison US troops
and civilian personnel - either on a new or existing facility. They're
based on "common objectives" and "international threats
to peace." In final form, they put US personnel as far as possible
outside domestic law and spell out host country obligations to us. Except
for our reciprocal NATO agreements, they also give our military and civilian
personnel special privileges unavailable to ordinary citizens of host nations.
Unlike western European countries with clout, most others are small, weak
or occupied and have little muscle against our type bullying.
- Then there are the above-cited SOFA problems. Is it surprising
then that South Koreans, for example, object to our presence and a great
deal more. A recent article reported tens of thousands on Seoul streets
against President Lee Myung-bak in defiance of state repression threats.
Their complaints are many and were triggered by the government's decision
to allow potentially tainted US beef imports.
- An earlier article relates to this one. It explained
how angry South Koreans are about US military unaccountability for nearly
six decades. Americans "defame our national sovereignty and commit
many crimes, but we can't do anything about it except watch because of
the unfair (SOFA)." Korean authorities have asked for remediating
provisions. DOD granted virtually nothing. The same is true most elsewhere.
Our reputation as a world-class bully is well deserved.
- The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between
the United States and Japan - A SOFA Example
- It was signed on January 19, 1960 with language intended
to be reassuring. For example:
- -- to settle international disputes peacefully;
- -- work for international peace and security;
- -- "refrain....from the threat or use of force against
the territorial integrity or political independence of any state (or do
anything) inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations;" in
the 1960s and 1970s, Southeast Asians were apparently exempted; today it's
Iraqis, Afghans and others;
- -- strengthen free institutions and promote stability
- -- eliminate conflict;
- -- to protect Japan's security and international peace
in the Far East, America "is granted the use by its land, air and
naval forces of facilities and areas in Japan" - to be governed by
a "separate agreement" replacing the one signed in February 1952
and thereafter amended; and
- -- many other reassurances in 10 articles about which
the people of Okinawa object.
- It's Japan's poorest and most southerly prefecture -
a sort of equivalent of America's Puerto Rico. It's also a battleground
pitting Okinawans against Washington and their own government in Tokyo.
An expert on the region, Chalmers Johnson, puts it this way: "the
Japanese-American SOFA....shield(s) (US) military felons from the application
of Japanese law." It's the same type "unequal treaty" imposed
on Japan after Commodore Perry's 1853 armed incursion.
- But it didn't deter Donald Rumsfeld in 2003. In meeting
with Japanese officials, he "press(ed) anew for the Japanese government
to relent on a long-standing US demand for fuller legal protections (for
our forces) accused of crimes while serving in Japan." Most often,
it means committing them against Okinawans where the majority of them are
based - plus their families and civilian DOD employees.
- Okinawa is an extreme example because it's small and
America uses 19% of its choicest real estate. Yet it's typical of what
happens everywhere US forces are based in varying degrees. Johnson calls
it "American military imperialism....easily reproduced in Germany,
Italy, Kosovo, Kuwait, Qatar, Diego Garcia, and elsewhere, and more recently
Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Iraq."
- It augurs ill for the continued occupation of Iraq as
a war zone. Since August 1990, the 1991 Gulf war, 12 years of sanctions,
and the current Iraq war, America has disdained Iraqi interests, its welfare,
culture, religion and lives. The country is occupied against the will of
its people. Resistance has been continuous and fierce; human suffering
immense; the death, injury, displacement and illness tolls unimaginable.
Reassuring Iraqis of our benign intentions henceforth is impossible. Continued
conflict is guaranteed plus all the resultant fallout Okinawans and other
host nations face.
- Take what outrages Okinawans most after decades of occupation
- the SOFA-related article 17 covering criminal justice. It states: "The
custody of an accused member of the United States armed forces or the civilian
component (shall) remain with the United States until he is charged."
It hamstrings Japanese investigators and denies them exclusive access until
or unless suspects are indicted in court. As a result, prosecutors are
reluctant to press charges because they can't get evidence for trial.
- Examples on the island are frequent, but one was particularly
grievous. In September 1995, two marines abducted a 12-year old girl, beat
and raped her, left her on a beach, and returned to their base in a rented
car. In October, 85,000 Okinawans protested. They demanded redress after
the US military refused to let local police take custody.
- Imagine the situation in Iraq where US military, Blackwater,
and other security forces are unaccountable. In the case of Blackwater,
it's "the world's most powerful mercenary army," has friends
in high places, and employs "some of the most feared professional
killers" anywhere. It operates outside the law, is protected by the
Pentagon, and freely practices street violence. A SOFA will legalize it
taking any possibility for redress off the table.
- US - Iraq SOFA - Leaked Information
- In late June, the Arabic newpaper, Awan, leaked 20 pages
of the draft proposal. The web site roadstoiraq.com highlighted parts of
it and noted a color-coded way of citing what's agreed on, not yet agreed
on, and major differences. Below is a brief account of what it says:
- -- attacking other countries from Iraq 'isn't' prohibited;
- -- provisions governing the presence and activities of
US forces, private contractors and US employees are identified;
- -- activities agreed on include: "operations and
training, transit, support and related activities, aerial refueling, maintenance
of vehicles, ships and airplanes, providing suitable residences for employees
and their workplaces, mobilizing forces and materials storage, and other
goals and activities" to be later agreed on;
- -- the US and Iraq "desire" for provisions
to be "temporary;"
- -- the agreement will support security and defense relations
between the two countries "after the end of the transitional period....and
peace will exist;"
- -- unnamed provisions "postponed for now until later
- -- "detained members of the (US military) and civilian
(contractors and employees shall be) delivered to the American forces;"
the US military may also detain Iraqis;
- -- "the Iraqi government authorizes the civilian
elements to use force against others in case of self-defense; there will
be no issue of juridical prosecutions;"
- -- Iraq won't "invite a third country or international
organization for logistic-support, training or (to aid) Iraqi security
forces;" the Iraqi negotiator wants this provision removed;
- -- "both sides seek regular consultation" at
the political and military levels on defense and security cooperation;
- -- issues of concern: Iraq's ability to secure its borders;
training, supplying, establishing and developing Iraqi security forces'
logistics, administration, and infrastructure; strengthening them as well;
improving joint military cooperation, training, and exchange of expertise,
academics, information and other military activities; and
- -- the US ambassador commented obliquely that the "executive
agreement is under the president's authorization; any pledge (involving
US forces) and spending American money requires an agreement authorized
by Congress; in the current US internal political situation, Congress unlikely
will agree with this (so) the executive agreement will establish a suitable
situation that can be developed in the future;" he's saying the president
will act unilaterally and do as he pleases; Congress and Iraqis will be
- The above information is very sketchy, but the issues
are clear. Iraq is occupied, and a state of war exists. The Iraqi president
and parliament are impotent. The Bush administration will pressure or bypass
Congress and implement what it wishes. Another possibility is getting the
Security Council to extend the current mandate. Either way, a new president
in 2009 will enforce it. The Iraqi people are entirely left out. Iraqi
officials may insist on their rights, and Washington may nominally agree
in principle. But past agreements show how this one will be managed. Language
will be vague and deceptive so, in the end, it'll be business as usual.
Whatever Washington wants it will get. The Iraq government provides only
fig leaf cover. The security accords are to provide international legitimacy
once the UN mandate expires on December 31.
- Indefinite occupation is planned and to be enforced by
dozens of permanent military bases, including at least five mega-ones.
On June 5, Patrick Cockburn reported in the London Independent that "Bush
wants 50 military bases, control of Iraqi airspace and legal immunity for
all American soldiers and contractors." Regardless of the November
election, US personnel are currently immune under Paul Bremer's CPA Order
17, and a secret deal is being negotiated to make US occupation indefinite
on Washington's terms.
- Besides permanent bases and immunity from Iraqi law (largely
written by Washington), the deal gives US military forces a free hand.
It lets them carry out operations inside Iraq, presumably anywhere in the
region as well, and grants the right to arrest Iraqis. Cockburn states:
this "will destabilise Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay
the basis for unending conflict in their country." Deal or no deal,
that's assured as long as Iraq is occupied against the will of its people.
- So far it continues because the country's most influential
(Shiite) religious leader hasn't intervened. Should Grand Ayatollah Ali
al-Sistani choose to, all bets are off. Iraq is largely Shia and al-Sistani
greatly revered. In 2003, he forced US authorities to allow a referendum
on a new constitution and a parliamentary election. He publicly opposes
the SOFA unless four conditions are met according to a June 7 Iran Radio
report cited on University of Michigan professor Juan Cole's Informed Comment
web site - "transparency, defending national governance, national
consensus, and approving the agreement by the Iraqi parliament."
- The report (without attribution) also claimed Washington
pledged $3 billion in bribes to win over Iraqi lawmakers - or around $11
million per parliamentarian and a tough offer to refuse if true. If they
balk, the alternative may sway them - squeezing the country and officials
in multiple ways, including blocking release of $50 billion in Iraqi oil
revenue assets. They're from the earlier sanctions period and now on deposit
at the New York Federal Reserve Bank.
- Consider the latest, however, on a saga taking many twists
and turns and no clear resolution in sight. In a July 7 news conference,
al-Maliki surprised attendees. He said chances for a security pact are
practically nil given the amount of internal opposition to it. Instead,
he'll seek a limited ("memorandum of understanding") extension
of the current mandate. And with no suggestion of numbers, he'll also link
it to a US force withdrawal timetable.
- On July 8, al-Maliki's National Security Advisor, Mowaffaq
al-Rubaie, said Iraq is waiting "impatiently for the day when the
last foreign soldier leaves" the country and wants firm dates for
withdrawal. Getting them is another matter and statements mean little without
actions. From the G-8 summit, George Bush's response means plenty, and
it shows what Iraqis are up against: "It is important to understand
that these are not talks on a hard date for a withdrawal."
- Then there's al-Sistani to be reckoned with, a man even
Bush takes seriously. If he gets more vocal and means it, the coming months
will prove interesting. Yet he's caught on the horns of a dilemma. US support
let Shias win majority control of parliament. On the other hand, Washington
runs everything so control is only nominal. It remains to be seen if al-Sistani
comes around to that view and draws the line on the SOFA and other security
measures. Maybe on the oil giveaway as well, a topic for a separate article.
- Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre
for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com