OSC: Iraqi Government Defends Negotiators in SOFA Talks

The USG Open Source Center reports on the efforts of the ruling United Iraqi Alliance (Shiite fundamentalist parties backing Nuri al-Maliki; OSC calls it United Iraqi Coalition) to shore up the credibility of its negotiators who are dealing with the Bush administration’s push for wideranging military prerogatives in Iraq in the new Status of Forces Agreeement. It notes that the Sadr Movement has impugned the patriotism of the Iraqi negotiators. While the UIA has been critical of the US draft, as well, it has expressed confidence in Iraqi diplomats.

‘OSC Report: Iraq — Shiite Bloc Touts Government’s Negotiators in US-Iraq Talks
Iraq — OSC Report
Friday, June 6, 2008

Iraq — Shiite Bloc Touts Government’s Negotiators as US-Iraq Talks Face Skepticism Although the Unified Iraqi Coalition (UIC) — the Shiite bloc serving as the backbone of the current Baghdad government — joined the other political forces in rejecting the terms of the preliminary draft of the US-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), it has taken steps to prevent the negotiations from breaking down under the pressure of opposition from much of the Iraqi political spectrum. Officials and media from the UIC and its core party, the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council (IISC), have sought to boost confidence in and support for the Iraqi Government’s negotiators, casting them as capable and resolute enough to stand up to US demands that have been portrayed as infringements on national sovereignty. In the face of rumors impugning the patriotism of the Iraqi negotiators — apparently originating within the Al-Sadr Trend, the chief rival of the IISC and the UIC — the UIC has boasted that its anti-Saddam background entitles it to be regarded as the most appropriate defender of Iraq’s interests.

At a meeting of the IISC political committee, UIC and IISC head Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim attacked the terms proposed by the United States and declared that the talks “would not lead anywhere.” Nonetheless, he expressed confidence that Iraq would never compromise on its sovereignty and urged the public not to turn against the Iraqi delegation (Al-Furat TV, 30 May).

Following a 4 June meeting with Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim reported that Al-Sistani shared the public’s concerns over the SOFA but had confidence in the Iraqi leadership. “When (Al-Sistani) realized that the leaders who took it upon themselves to face up to this issue took honorable stands . . . the details were left to the government and the relevant agencies to handle” (Al-Furat TV, 4 June).

“While the Americans have their own agenda, we have ours — the sovereignty of Iraq,” declared Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, who heads the UIC contingent in parliament. He shrugged off the requirement that the agreement be concluded by July, observing: “We shall not bow to any timetable that might sacrifice Iraq’s fundamental principles” (Buratha News, 4 June).

Describing the Iraqi delegation as “several strategic experts and experts in law” backed by “an important strategic team,” Hasan al-Sunayd — a senior figure in Prime Minister Al-Maliki’s Islamic Da’wah Party, the UIC’s second most powerful party — urged Iraqi political and civic groups “not to stab (the Iraqi negotiators) from behind as they face the inflexible US will” (Al-Adalah website, 5 June).

It is possible that some of the UIC’s constituent parties are uncomfortable with their leadership’s position on the SOFA talks. At least one member party has voiced misgivings over the proposed agreement but stopped short of challenging the UIC leadership.

A statement issued by the Hizballah Movement in Iraq expressed “deep concern and serious reservations” over the agreement “in spite of our faith . . . that nothing counter to the interest of the Iraqi people will get by (Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim and) our political leadership” (Al-Bayyinah website, 3 June).

As part of the effort to boost confidence in the authorities’ capacity to handle the problem, party officials and media have sought to raise doubts about those who have been most vocal in their criticism of the draft agreement and of the negotiators. In countering charges by unnamed critics said to be “exaggerating” the danger posed by the agreement — presumably the Al-Sadr Trend, which has sought to make opposition to the US-Iraq agreement a focal point in its political program — the IISC has liberally invoked its credentials as a former resistance force and hence as a defender of Iraq’s interests.

Baqir al-Zubaydi — minister of finance and a senior IISC official — attacked the “fantasies” being promulgated by “exaggerators” casting aspersions on the negotiators. Writing as a featured commentator in the independent Shiite daily Al-Bayyinah al-Jadidah, Al-Zubaydi asserted that the Shiite leadership had been well prepared for dealing with the US demands by its years of resistance to the Saddam regime, adding: “It is we who have chosen the path of the homeland and of dialogue” (5 June).
The chief editor of the newspaper of the Badr Organization — the IISC’s putatively disarmed military wing — bristled at the claims of “those shedding tears over Iraq’s sovereignty and independence” to be more patriotic than the Badr Organization. Citing past sacrifices made by his group, Karim al-Nuri objected to the “exploitation of our earnest and frank positions through playing with words and slogans and spreading accusations” (Badr, 3 June).

A report posted on the website of IISC Deputy General Secretary Ammar al-Hakim’s “Martyr of the Mihrab Foundation” complained that media rumors designed to “mislead our people and divert their attention from the proper path” were defaming “Iraq’s patriotic figures” in spite of their illustrious record in “the battle against the dictatorship” (Belagh, 2 June).’