Hashimi: Security Agreement in Doubt; UN Worries about Iraqi Christians; Physicians Close Clinics in Karbala

The UN is concerned about the continued flight of Christians from the northern metropolis of Mosul. Sunni radicals are targeting them and several have been assassinated.

Iraqi refugees who try to return to their old homes are often still facing violence on their return, McClatchy reports. The UN High Commission on Refugees staff in Amman told me last August that they actively discourage Iraqis from going back, since it is not safe.

A tribal sheikh in Samarra alleged to al-Zaman that the sheikhs had been instrumental in arranging a truce between US soldiers in that city and Muslim guerrillas, including “al-Qaeda in Iraq” (probably actually the “Islamic State of Iraq.”)

Iraq opened bids for the development of its oil fields on Monday, insisting that foreign firms partner with Iraqi concerns.

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that 200 physicians in the southern shrine city of Karbala have closed up their clinics because they have received threats from the local clans whose members they treat. When they fail to save the life of their tribal patient, the clan has been demanding that they pay blood money or else incur a feud with the tribe. This sort of constant wrangling with the clans could only affect the physicians in a situation where there was no law and order. This sort of insecurity has led many of Iraq’s physicians and indeed its white collar middle class to flee the country.

McClatchy is reporting that Iraqi vice president Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni Arab, is expressing severe doubts that any security agreement can be concluded by the end of the year. He tells Leila Fadel that even if its text were soon finalized, the agreement would have to be passed by the cabinet, by the national security council and by parliament in time to take effect January 1.

Hashimi is also worried about a return of large-scale violence at the end of the year. How the Shiite-dominated government treats the Awakening Councils or pro-American Sunni militias, which it is now assuming responsibility for, will help determine if the civil war returns.

The alternatives to concluding the agreement are few. Iraq could go back to the UN Security Council for a one-year extension of its mandate to the Multinational Forces in Iraq, giving US troops legal standing to perform security duties in a foreign country. Moreover, Russia may raise difficulties in the UNSC, in retaliation for Washington’s siding with Georgia in the recent police action there.

Or the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, could sign an executive memorandum of agreement with George W. Bush in hopes that it would take on the force of law with time. Both steps have drawbacks. Iraqis are not eager to postpone their return to full sovereignty in international law for yet another year. And, an executive-branch memorandum of agreement could easily be challenged.

The nightmare scenario is that a US platoon gets in a firefight in a village and accidentally shoots up a house full of civilians, and are overwhelmed by Iraqi troops and police and dragged before the local qadi and summarily executed. Without a Status of Forces Agreement, it is not even clear that the Iraqi police and judge in such a situation would be brought up on charges; after all,they had just arrested and punished foreign “murderers” with no legal standing to be in Iraq in the first place.

PM al-Maliki told the London Times that without an agreement, US troops would have to be confined to their bases or perhaps withdrawn:

‘ if the Parliament rejects it then we will have to go to the United Nations which is a not a great choice for us or the Americans under the circumstances of the crisis at the Security Council. But we would have no choice because the American forces will lose their legal cover on December 31 … If that happens, according to the international law, Iraqi law and American law, the US forces will be confined to their bases and have to withdraw from Iraq. We always say that a sudden withdrawal may harm security. . . Either the resolution will be extended by the Security Council, so they will have legal cover according to international law – and this seems to be unlikely at the moment. Or they lose will their legal cover and they have to leave Iraq. ‘

Al-Maliki professes, at least, that he does not really need the foreign troops any more except for close air support and training:

‘Do you think the British should reduce the size of their 4,100-strong force?

Definitely, there will not be any need for 4,000 troops. The size of the need is determined by the size of the required tasks. For example to train the naval force, how many forces do we need? I don’t know. Also, to train the 14th Division in Basra, how many do we need? (Training on) some technical issues about how to use weapons and equipment. This will be determined in the negotiations… ‘

He boasts of his ability to turn the tribes around Basra to government loyalties. (He is talking about the Marsh Arabs like that!) He also thinks his Shiite troops are more willing to take casualties and engage in close fighting in dense neighborhoods. (His best fighters are, however, actually Badr Corps militiamen whom he has inducted into the military, and who had been until 2003 part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps).

A Turkish delegation is meeting with Iraqi Kurd leader Massoud Barzani to discuss ways of curbing the PKK Kurdish guerrilla group.

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