Linked with Patrick Cockburn – Ireland.
Published on The Independent, by Patrick Cockburn, 5 June 2008.
Bush wants 50 military bases, control of Iraqi airspace and legal immunity for all American soldiers and contractors – A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November …
… Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is believed to be personally opposed to the terms of the new pact but feels his coalition government cannot stay in power without US backing.
The deal also risks exacerbating the proxy war being fought between Iran and the United States over who should be more influential in Iraq.
Although Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement limiting Iraqi sovereignty, political observers in Baghdad suspect they will sign in the end and simply want to establish their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence by a show of defiance now. The one Iraqi with the authority to stop deal is the majority Shia spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In 2003, he forced the US to agree to a referendum on the new Iraqi constitution and the election of a parliament. But he is said to believe that loss of US support would drastically weaken the Iraqi Shia, who won a majority in parliament in elections in 2005.
The US is adamantly against the new security agreement being put to a referendum in Iraq, suspecting that it would be voted down. The influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called on his followers to demonstrate every Friday against the impending agreement on the grounds that it compromises Iraqi independence.
The Iraqi government wants to delay the actual signing of the agreement but the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney has been trying to force it through. The US ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, has spent weeks trying to secure the accord.
The signature of a security agreement, and a parallel deal providing a legal basis for keeping US troops in Iraq, is unlikely to be accepted by most Iraqis. But the Kurds, who make up a fifth of the population, will probably favour a continuing American presence, as will Sunni Arab political leaders who want US forces to dilute the power of the Shia. The Sunni Arab community, which has broadly supported a guerrilla war against US occupation, is likely to be split. (full text).