The rush to seal the long-term future of US-Iraqi military relations by a signed treaty faces serious obstacles. Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, fending off aspersions cast by his opponents for sacrificing Iraqi sovereignty, must pick his way between Tehran and his Arab neighbors over Baghdad’s future orientation.
The Bush administration is in a hurry to settle the treaty for placing US-Iraqi military relations on a long-term basis as long as George W. Bush is in the White House and before the UN mandate for the US troop presence in Iraq runs out at the end of the year.
Some of the draft’s high points were revealed to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Baghdad and Gulf sources. US officials say the text is still “very much in flux” and repudiated some of the more controversial clauses:
1. Iraq’s defense, international and national security ministries and armaments contracts will be under US supervision for ten years.
2. US forces will stay in Iraq in up to 50 permanent military bases and enclaves, from which they will be free to move against any country considered a threat to world stability or Iraqi and American interests.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Baghdad confirm that this clause was drafted with Iran and Syria in mind. It is fiercely contested by PM al-Maliki and his government. A US official stated on June 3, that it has been withdrawn. But has it?
Permanent bases will be impregnable
3. The larger permanent enclaves will include the Al Asad compound near the Syrian border, the Balad military base close to Iran, the Habbaniyah base near Fallujah and the Ali Bin Abi Talib base near the southern town of Nasiriyah close to the Iranian border.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that the facilities, runways and hangars will be shielded by vast sterile spaces between rows of barricades.
4. The US air bases in Kirkuk and Mosul in the oil-rich north will be maintained for three years.
5. The British brigade will remain at Basra’s international airport for ten years, parallel to the American presence.
6. The US military will control Iraqi air space up to 29,000 feet.
7. The US military will retain the right to define terrorist activities and launch anti-terror operations without deferring to the Iraqi government.
8. The US military will be allowed to detain any Iraqi deemed a threat to American troops.
9. US forces and American security companies will enjoy immunity from Iraqi prosecution.
But the Maliki government has its own input for the long-term pact and insists that it cover the following points:
· Its complete sovereignty over all parts of Iraqi territory;
· Concessions to US forces to be conditional on prior approval by Iraqi authorities:
· The status of temporary US bases to be reviewed annually;
· Prior Iraqi authorization would be required for all US military operations;
· Iraqi authorization would be required for the arrest and detention of Iraqi citizens;
· US troops would benefit from legal protection only during military operations;
· Limits would be placed on US rights in Iraqi skies.
Time is running out for bridging the differences
In order to get the document signed, an American statement issued on June 3 made an effort to bridge these differences by amending some of the more controversial points:
“The agreement currently under negotiation between the US and Iraq will explicitly state (1) that the US does not desire and will not seek permanent bases in Iraq and (2) that US forces in Iraq are focused on supporting the Iraqi government and will not be used for offensive operations against any of Iraq’s neighbors.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources disclose that the facts on the ground do not bear out either of the two points.
For one thing, Iraqi military sources have confirmed that the building of military facilities and runways for permanent bases was approaching completion. For another, these bases are designed to be impregnable fortresses which will be all but impossible to remove.
Finally, once installed there, the permanent US forces’ actions will be free of constraint and the Baghdad government will have no way to control them.
As to the political pressures on Iraq’s Shiite-led government, the prime minister must fend off accusations by his opponents, led by the hard-line Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr and his faction, that he is permitting infringements of Iraqi sovereignty and opening the door to long-term American domination of the country.
Over the weekend, Maliki will pay his second trip to Tehran this year to endeavor to assure the Iranian regime that Iraq will not become a launching pad for American attacks on Iran and Syria as a result of the long-term military accord with Washington.
At the same time, as head of an Arab nation, the Iraqi prime minister must not discourage the positive resonance aroused by the treaty’s most controversial provisions in the capitals of his other neighbors, especially Riyadh and the Gulf emirates.
Fearing America’s exit will expose Shiite-led Iraq to Iranian takeover as a satellite, they welcome those provisions as a guarantee against this eventuality.