University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole reports that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq has been quoted as saying that he spoke with Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani about the security agreement. Hakim says that Ayatollah Sistani laid out four points to which any such agreement must adhere: national sovereignty, transparency, national consensus, and parliamentary approval.
July 31, 2008 marks a potential turning point in US-Iraqi relations and, more importantly, the sovereignty of Iraq. A UN resolution which is renewed annually and allows for the presence of foreign troops on Iraqi soil will expire on December 31, 2008. There has been a strong effort by the Bush administration to sign a US-Iraqi SOFA (status of forces agreement) by July 31, which would essentially cement a US presence of troops and contractors in Iraq for years to come.
Patrick Cockburn of The Independent reports on the details of the proposed security agreement, which has been nearly ignored entirely in the popular press. Under the agreement, US troops would be housed in some 58 permanent US bases scattered throughout Iraq. These troops would have the authority to carry out any mission in Iraq without the approval of the Iraqi government. The agreement would give US troops the right to detain any Iraqi, and it would give immunity to troops and contractors alike from being tried in an Iraqi court of law. Under one version of the security agreement, US troops would also be given the authority to conduct military strikes from Iraqi soil towards any neighboring target.
While the Bush administration has been tightlipped about the security agreement, President Bush told Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Thursday that the United States was committed to a deal fully respecting Iraqi sovereignty, according to Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman. "The current situation poses a dilemma for the Iraqi government. It wants to restore its full sovereignty as soon as possible, while maintaining a coalition presence until Iraqi forces are able to assume the country's security responsibilities," said Nazar Janabi, a fellow at The Washington Institute and a specialist on Iraqi and Middle Eastern security issues.
Iraqi lawmakers and high-ranking clerics alike have voiced their disapproval of the signing of any such agreement. University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole reports that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq has been quoted as saying that he spoke with Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani about the security agreement. Hakim says that Ayatollah Sistani laid out four points to which any such agreement must adhere: national sovereignty, transparency, national consensus, and parliamentary approval. Al-Hakim met with Sistani along with journalists, who reported that Ayatollah Sistani stressed national Iraqi unity in the face of challenges. Al-Hakim said that his own party felt the current American draft detracts too much from Iraq's sovereignty and fails to protect Iraqi wealth. He said that Sistani did not go into details but stressed general principles.
Prominent scholar and leader of the Mahdi Army, Muqtada al-Sadr voiced his strong opposition to the signing of the security agreement by the Iraqi government. Al-Sadr proposed that any US-Iraqi SOFA be submitted to a national referendum. Arab news outlet al-Hayat reports that sources close to the office of Ayatollah Sistani noted that the Ayatollah made a similar suggestion of a national referendum. Thousands of supporters of Muqtada al Sadr have staged weekly protests to the proposed security agreement, putting pressure on the Iraqi government.
Juan Cole also reports on the reaction to the agreement by Ayatollah Haeri, the man some consider the "fifth Grand Ayatollah of Iraq", (who resides in Qom, Iran, because he cannot abide by the Occupation regime in Iraq) has denounced the proposed security agreement in no uncertain terms. "Everyone knows that America intends to legitimize its illegitimate presence in our country," so as, he said, "to loot its wealth and spread poverty and deprivation." Haeri argues that the US is hoping to use the new bilateral security agreement to escape from Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which subjects its actions in Iraq to the authority of the UN Security Council. Haeri said that the US wants to ensure that "even American dogs in Iraq are reassured and protected from any threat of being tried by the state or the people, while all political institutions and courts, including the president of the republic, the prime minister, the representatives in parliament, and the populace of Iraq must be answerable to the Americans." He called on Iraqis to work toward their liberty and said that America had never honored any of its treaties. He warned Iraqis against so humiliating themselves, quoting a saying from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny), "Beware abasement!" He called on Iraqis to unite against the conspiracies of the enemy.
Al-Maliki met with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei in early June, where he was advised to avoid signing any such security agreement. According to Farsnews, Ayatollah Khamenei told al-Maliki that the most important and fundamental problem for Iraq at present is the presence of occupation forces. He affirmed, "We are certain that the people of Iraq, through their intrinsic unity and effort, will cross over these difficult conditions and arrive at a place befitting them. The dream of the Americans most certainly will never be realized." He emphasized that the Islamic Republic of Iran considers helping the government and people of Iraq a religious duty. Al-Maliki expressed his conviction that Iraqis were attaining a consensus and beginning to speak with a single voice. Khamenei expressed his concern that the Americans would interfere illegitimately and "impudently" in Iraqi affairs and disrupt this building consensus. He compared the current role of the US with the one the British used to play in promoting divide and rule policies even in independent Iraq after 1932. He also expressed his worry that the US would worm itself into every aspect of Iraq's affairs.
Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami of Iran also touched on the proposed agreement during his Friday sermon in Tehran: "American forces will keep the ministries of defense, interior and intelligence under their supervision for 10 years…. Iraqi tribunals will not be able to judge American military personnel and employees of firms who work for the US military." The Iranian cleric also said: "It is open-ended slavery. It is the worst humiliation. Any hand that signs such an agreement will be considered by Iran as a traitor to Islam, to Shi'ism, and to the Iraqi people." Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Iran's Assembly of Experts, vehemently opposed this agreement during his trip to Mecca during an interfaith conference. Rafsanjani pledged that the Muslim world would stop the deal and said, "the essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into American slaves."
Although it would seem obvious that al-Maliki, who is Shia, would follow the advice of the multitude of high-ranking Shia scholars against the signing of such an agreement, there is another factor to consider. Academic and political commentator Norman Finkelstein reports about a tactic used by the US to exert influence on Iraq. Iraq has to date been supplied with nearly fifty billion dollars in assistance, not to mention the fact that Iraqi assets in the US which were frozen are also in the billions. USIraq recognizes the right for Israel to exist, or face financial consequences, which would cripple what little is left of Iraq. Similarly there are those who feel that the current administration is pressuring Maliki to sign the SOFA or face a sharp cut in financial assistance. Recent publications have pointed to the fact that the terms of the agreement are flexible and up for negotiation, so let's hope that at the end of the day, Iraq really is a sovereign and free nation.