Aljazeera: Iraqi Reactions to Security Agreement

The USG Open Source Center translates an Aljazeera segment on the proposed security agreement with the US. Via BBC Monitoring

‘June 1, 2008 Sunday

AL-JAZEERA TV DEBATES IRAQI REACTIONS TO PROPOSED SECURITY DEAL WITH USA

Al-Jazeera Satellite Television at 1830 gmt on 30 May carries live a new 25-minute episode of its daily “Behind the News” programme. Today’s episode discusses “the reactions of Iraqi political parties and blocs to an agreement that is under discussion by Baghdad and Washington to extend the US military presence in Iraq beyond the end of this year.”

The programme is moderated by Ali al-Zufayri with the participation of political writer and analyst Dr Hasan Salman, via satellite from Beirut; and Nizar al-Samara’i, researcher at the Iraqi Centre for Strategic Studies, via satellite from Damascus.

Al-Zufayri poses two questions: “Will Iraqi political and religious sides succeed in aborting the controversial draft agreement? What would be the ramifications on Iraq and its neighbouring regional countries if the agreement were signed?”

The programme carries a two-minute video report by Al-Jazeera correspondent Nabil al-Rihani showing scenes of the Al-Sadr Trend demonstrations against the agreement. The correspondent says: “Although the Pentagon earlier denied its intention to set up permanent US military bases in Iraq, this denial did not stop the eruption of wide campaigns of criticism, even before the signing of the agreement. Al-Sadrists say the agreement legalizes the occupation of Iraq, describing it as shameful.” He says that other parties rejected the agreement and described it as “encroaching on Iraq’s sovereignty,” adding that the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq described it as “reflecting the US occupation’s political, economic, military, and social hegemony over Iraq.” The correspondent says that the Al-Tawafuq Front and the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council [IISC] expressed reservations over the agreement.

Asked to explain the reason behind Iraqi political parties’ reactions to the agreement, Al-Samara’i says that the agreement on extending US military presence in Iraq was signed in principle by President Bush and Al-Maliki on 26 November 2007, explaining that those who reject the agreement, do so out of support for Iran, and those who accept it, do so on the pretext that Iran might attack Iraq. He emphasizes that “from an Iraqi perspective, this agreement is by all means dangerous to Iraq’s future and, if it is concluded in the form to which some leaks pointed, it will constitute a dangerous encroachment on Iraqi sovereignty.” He adds that the acceptance or rejection of this agreement should stem from a genuine Iraqi viewpoint.

Asked whether he concurs with Al-Samara’i’s explanation, Salman says that the Iraqis are currently engaged in negotiations aimed “at organizing the US presence, which is active far away from the Iraqi Government’s sponsorship and appears under different titles, such as security companies and other firms. Thus, it is wrong to say that the Iraqis have authorized the US forces to stay in Iraq for an unlimited period of time or have accepted to be robbed of their sovereignty, and the like.” He adds that “Iraqi popular, partisan, religious, and regional concern over these negotiations will provide more strength to the Iraqi Government and negotiators in their mission.”

Al-Zufayri notes that the Iraqis have rejected the agreement, although it is still under discussion and its clauses have not yet been announced, and he asks Al-Samara’i to comment. Al-Samara’i says that the details of the agreement are not known by either the world or Iraqi public, but are known to the Iraqi negotiators. He quotes IISC leader Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim as saying that “there are clauses in the agreement that encroach on Iraq’s sovereignty,” wondering how Al-Hakim could have said so had he not been aware of its details. He also wonders what prompted the Al-Sadr Trend supporters to go out to the streets to object to the agreement. Asked whether these Iraqi entities are capable of aborting or obstructing the agreement, Al-Samara’i says that “the political parties that are participating in the political process are the side that brought the United States to Iraq and, accordingly, I do not believe that they are really serious in their rejection of the US presence and authorization of the United States to set up permanent bases there,” emphasizing that the side that can abort the agreement are those who are resisting the occupation.

Answering the same question, Salman says that regardless of the rhetoric of the other guest on the programme, “the Iraqi Council of Ministers is the executive council that is negotiating on behalf of Iraq, which is an elected and legitimate council and does not need anybody to testify to this fact.” He adds that there is an executive council also comprising the Iraqi president, vice president, and the prime minister to supervise the negotiating team, and that in addition to the above, there is also the National Security Political Council, which comprises all political parties and blocs as well as all components of the Iraqi people. He expresses hope that the Al-Sadr Trend and other parties that are not participating in the government would share the others their opinion in this matter. Continuing, Salman says that the fourth mechanism in the negotiations process is the Iraqi people who will support the Iraqi negotiators, because this issue touches on Iraq’s present and future, adding that: “All the above will then be topped by the opinions of the religious terms of reference and leaderships that are respected by all sects.” He emphasizes that “we do not take the interests of Iran or Syria into consideration, because this issue was tackled by the Constitution. What we take into consideration are the interests of the Iraqi people, their sovereignty, and what safeguards their rights and fulfils their hopes and aspirations.”

Asked what makes Iran concerned over the agreement, although it benefited from the US invasion of Iraq, Al-Samara’i says that after the downfall of the former Iraqi regime and the destruction of the Iraqi Army, Iran now finds that the Iraqi military threat has been eliminated and the US forces should leave the region. He adds that “Iran has a special project in the Gulf area and the Middle East region and feels that the US presence might obstruct this project, if this presence remains.” He adds that “accordingly, Iran instructed its allies in Baghdad in one way or another to apply brakes on the US project concerning this agreement,” explaining that this is why Vice President Adil Abd-al-Mahdi visited Tehran and met with the Iranian president and other Iranian officials. He also explains that when Iran rejected the agreement, Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim stated that the agreement encroaches on Iraq’s sovereignty, wondering “where this sovereignty was when Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim brought the US forces to Iraq or blessed their presence or occupation.”

Al-Zufayri notes that Iraq always asks its neighbouring countries to help it maintain security and stability, and he asks Salman to explain whether these countries have the right to be concerned about this agreement. Salman comments on the observation made by Al-Samara’i concerning the benefits Iran gained as a result of the US invasion of Iraq by saying that “the US forces did not enter Iraq through Qom or Mashhad, but through the Arab countries that claim to be genuine Arabs and concerned about Arabism and Arab patriotism, and want to antagonize Iran.” He explains that “Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim did not listen to what Iran told him; rather, he put forward the issue of organizing foreign presence in Iraq, particularly the US presence, more than one and a half years ago,” emphasizing that the IISC did not invite the US forces to invade Iraq, but rather it was the neighbouring Arab countries.

Concerning Al-Zufayri’s question, Salman says: “The Iraqi Constitution prohibits two essential matters, as do the Iraqi people, which is that Iraq should not be a passage for any aggression on any brotherly Arab country or friendly neighbouring country, whether it is Iran or Turkey. This is a red line. We will not permit the United States or any other country to create a rift between us and Iraq’s neighbouring countries, or even those which are far away from it.” Concerning the US military bases, he says that “we consider this issue another red line. We reject any presence, and the problem that we are trying to solve is how to free ourselves of the provisions of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, into which Saddam Husayn plunged us in 1991 when he invaded the sisterly State of Kuwait, and also how to settle the debts and fines, from which many foreign countries exempted us from payment, while the Arab countries are continuing to ask us to settle debts of tens and hundreds of billions of US dollars.”

Asked what should be the ideal relationship between Iraq and the United States, Al-Samara’i says that “after the withdrawal of the United States, our interest will be in establishing relations based on equivalence, friendship, and common interests, provided that it apologizes to the Iraqi people and compensates them for the losses they sustained to their institutions and individuals.” Asked whether Iraq can hold fast if the United States withdraws abruptly, Al-Samara’i explains that the withdrawal should be scheduled and not abrupt.

Answering the same question, Salman says that “through their representatives, the Iraqi Government, the authority, and honourable national parties that are seeking to organize this presence, the Iraqi people will try to find the solution, either through scheduling the US withdrawal, extending US presence, or through this agreement which preserves Iraq’s sovereignty, independence, interests, and economy. Otherwise, we will be delaying matters until objective and new circumstances that would rescue us from this presence are made available. We have many alternatives and we also have full confidence in our government and people to free us from this impasse.”

Source: Al-Jazeera TV, Doha, in Arabic 1830 gmt 30 May 08 ‘