Thousands of followers of Shiite leader Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr peacefully protested across southern Iraq on Friday, according to McClatchy. They prayed and then stood silently in solidarity against the security agreement being negotiated by PM Nuri al-Maliki with George W. Bush.
Sadrists Demonstrate in Kufa. Courtesy Amara.net, a Sadrist site.
(On both the Iraqi and American side, this agreement is being characterized as a mere understanding between two executives. It is not being categorized as a treaty and there is no plan to submit it either to the Iraqi parliament or to the US Congress. It seems that the Bush team hopes it will take on the force of law just by virtue of existing and having been signed by the two leaders.)
Aljazeera had a debate between Hasan Salman, who supports al-Maliki, and Nizar al-Samarra’i, a Sunni dissident, this afternoon. Salman said that the agreement might be stipulated to be only for one year, so as not to detract from Iraqi sovereignty. He also said he welcomed the Sadrist demonstrations because they strengthened al-Maliki’s negotiating position.
Except that I don’t think the demonstrations are intended to help al-Maliki, but rather to delegitimize and bury him.
Even Jalal al-Din Saghir, a member of parliament from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which is allied with al-Maliki, preached a sermon at the Buratha Mosque in north Baghdad, saying, according to McClatchy:
‘”The Iraqi people should see every single letter in (the agreement) and it should be transparent. What the people accept we do and what they reject we do,” said ISCI lawmaker Jalal al Din al Saghir in his Friday sermon. “Most of what the Americans offered was against Iraq’s sovereignty. If this treaty is done it won’t be on Iraq’s sovereignty, constitution and its land.” ‘
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that there is broad Sunni and Shiite uneasiness with the agreement, even inside Iraqi governing circles.
Al-Hayat says that those familiar with the current draft of the agreement says that it speaks of the establishment of 400 US military sites and bases through the country, of legal immunity for American troops and citizens, and an abrogation of any undertakings previously made, to share in the reconstruction of the country.
Another source told al-Hayat that US Ambassador Ryan Crocker is pressing for language permitting permanent US bases, and removal of other language forbidding the US to attack a third country from Iraqi soil. (This source does not sound reliable to me. US officials have repeatedly said they do not want “permanent” bases, and the provision disallowing the use of Iraqi soil as a launching pad for one country to attack another is in the Iraqi constitution.)
The Iranian Speaker of the House, Ali Larijani, called on Iraqis to resist the security agreement with the US with the same courage that they oppose the Occupation itself.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is also said to oppose provisions of the agreement.
The source told al-Hayat that there tensions pervade the US-Iraqi relationship because of disputes over the text of the agreement.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq, the largest bloc in parliament and cornerstone of the al-Maliki government, issued a statement through his office. He spoke of the existence of:
‘ a national consensus on rejecting many of the points put forward by the American side in the agreement, because they detract from national sovereignty.” He said that such a consensus existed in the National Security Council, which is composed of the leaders of the major political blocs in the parliament.’
Unlike the Sadrists, who reject the agreement altogether, al-Hayat says that ISCI simply has problems with some specific provisions. For instance, it objects to US troops being able to arrest Iraqis at will and hold them, and to be able to use deadly force at will without coordinating with the Iraqi government. It also objects to extraterritoriality (immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts) for American troops, civilians and private security guards.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni Arab and leader of the fundamentalist Iraqi Islamic Party, agreed with al-Hakim’s stance. He said in a statement issued on Friday that Iraq’s sovereignty is a “red line”.
Al-Hayat’s sources also say that US Ambassador Ryan Crocker privately told the Iraqi government that the US rejects the holding of a national referendum on the provisions of the agreement. He is alleged to have brandished the threat that if the agreement was not reached, Iraq would remain under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, i.e. in a sort of receivership to the UN Security Council.
If this allegation is true, it puts Crocker on a collision course with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, since, Al-Hayat maintains, Sistani is absolutely insistent that the provisions of the agreement be submitted to a popular referendum.
In Karbala, Sistani’s representative, Sheikh Ahmad Safi, said in his Friday sermon that the agreement must not be allowed to shackle future generations of Iraqis, and must not detract from Iraqi sovereignty. He insisted that the agreement would be null and void if it was not voted on by the elected Iraqi parliament.
(I don’t think it will be voted on by parliament.)
On another front, al-Hayat says, former prime minister and former Da’wa Party leader Ibrahim Jaafari has founded and new nationalist political current that will seek to reach out across ethnic and sectarian divides to unite Iraqi nationalists across the board.
Meanwhile, the CSM reports on rogue Mahdi Army splinter groups in Risala, in Baghdad, and the way they terrorize residents.