Bush-Maliki Agreement Defies US Laws, Iraqi Parliament

Human Rights

Monday's "declaration of principles" between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki indicates the US will maintain a "long-term" presence in Iraq and involve itself closely in the Iraqi oil trade, backsliding on rules made in this year's two largest defense laws.

The 2008 Defense Appropriations Act, which Bush signed into law in mid-November, bars the United States from establishing permanent bases in Iraq and from exerting control over Iraqi oil. The 2008 Defense Authorization Act, which has passed the House and Senate and is expected to be sent to the president sometime in the next few weeks, contains similar language.

Under both acts, the US is forbidden "to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq." Although when Bush approved the Appropriations Act, he released a signing statement exempting himself from several of the law's provisions, the proscription against permanent bases was not one of them.

Considering the terms of Monday's agreement, the US will likely retain about 50,000 troops in Iraq over the long term, according to Iraqi government officials.

Joseph Gerson, author of "The Sun Never Sets: Confronting the Network of Foreign Military Bases," said that the rule preventing permanent bases in Iraq can be easily dodged. It's a question of language manipulation, according to Gerson.

"The question is, what is permanent?" he said. "Does it have to be for all eternity? Our bases in Korea have been there for 60 years. Are they 'permanent'? We're living in an Orwellian era."

The phrasing of the Bush-Maliki agreement, which paints the US-Iraq relationship as a cooperative effort between "two fully sovereign and independent states with common interests," provides another defense against the ban on permanent US bases, according to Gerson.

"The trick is to build a military base with a host nation," Gerson said. "Then the base is ostensibly given to the host nation while the US military stays there."

Such "cooperation" scenarios have taken place before. In 1991, the US military was expelled from the Philippines, but, by building bases "for" the country, extended its stay indefinitely.

US-operated bases in Saudi Arabia function under a similar pretense of Saudi control, according to Gerson.

Retaining forces in a host country under the guise of that country's nominal control can prove risky, noted P.J. Crowley, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who served in senior positions at the White House during the Clinton administration.

"After the first Gulf War, we kept a lot of forces in Saudi Arabia," Crowley said. "From a strategic standpoint, there was nothing wrong with that. From a military standpoint, that became part of Bin Laden's justification for 9/11."

The Bush-Maliki agreement does not solidify the shape or size a continuing US occupation would take, according to Crowley; it sets the stage for future negotiations.

However, the agreement narrows the terms under which such negotiations will operate, according to Sameer Dossani, director of 50 Years Is Enough: US Network for Global Justice.

"It's beginning the conversation by saying the US is never going to leave Iraq," Dossani said. "You're starting with a conclusion."

The "declaration of principles" includes a goal of July 2008 for completing negotiations, meaning the grounds of the occupation may be laid before the Bush administration ends.

In addition to foreshadowing a protracted military presence in Iraq, Monday's agreement points to long-term US domination over Iraqi oil resources, according to Dossani.

The agreement directs the US toward "facilitating and encouraging the flow of foreign investments to Iraq, especially American investments" and "supporting Iraq's development in various economic fields, including its productive capabilities, and aiding its transition to a market economy."

Since oil is Iraq's major export, these terms clash with a section of the Appropriations Act, which forbids the US "to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq."

However, in the context of our current economic relationship with Iraq, that caveat is basically meaningless, according to Raed Jarrar, Iraq consultant for the American Friends Service Committee. Since no legal definition of "control of the oil resources" is provided in the act, it can be interpreted to exclude virtually any practice.

Although US dominance over Iraqi oil is nothing new, the declaration of principles confirms and further codifies it, according to Dossani.

"Maintaining the status quo is what they're after," he said. "The status quo is pretty bad, though."

Neither the US Congress nor the Iraqi Parliament were asked to review the declaration of principles before it was released. Since the document was termed an "agreement" instead of a "treaty," it avoided the requirement of ratification by the US Senate.

Iraq's Constitution specifies "international treaties and agreements" must be ratified by two-thirds of its Council of Representatives. However, Gen. Douglas Lute, assistant to President Bush for Iraq and Afghanistan, said in a press briefing that the declaration of principles did not "rise to that level of negotiated document," and "there was general agreement" among Iraqi national leaders that the declaration was a "positive step."

According to Jarrar, the majority of the Iraqi Parliament stands firmly opposed to a continuing US presence in Iraq. Only the policymakers who basically agreed with the US government were party to the negotiation, he said.

Circumventing Parliamentary authority is a risky precedent to set, according to Erik Leaver, policy director for the Institute for Policy Studies' Foreign Policy In Focus project.

"What is amazing is that the Iraqi Parliament is being frozen out of much of the discussion," he said. "This is very dangerous as the current Iraqi government has very little legitimacy and the deal that is being proposed will likely be rejected by the Iraqi public. The result will likely increase the possibility of further fighting inside the fragile nation."

On the American side, the exclusion of Congress from this important agreement may portend a change in ratification policy, according to Gerson, who just returned from a Washington DC conference of scholars, activists and Congressional staffers, where the prospect was discussed.

"At the moment, many of the agreements that underpin the presence of the more than 800 US foreign military bases around the world are not called treaties, but agreements," Gerson said. "What we envision is legislation that would more clearly define what military base agreements are in fact treaties requiring Senate ratification."

For now, the conference's attendees will focus on drafting a bill to oppose permanent military bases in Iraq - a bill that avoids the loopholes of the appropriation act's provisions.

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