U.S. Using Extortion to Force Iraq to
Sign Status of Forces Agreement
"U.S. threatens to halt services to Iraq without troop accord," Roy Gutman
and Leila Fadel, McClatchy Newspapers, October 26, 2008
"U.S. lists services it'll cut off if Iraq rejects pact on troops,"
Leila Fadel, McClatchy Newspapers, October 27, 2008
BAGHDAD - The U.S. military has warned Iraq that it will shut down military operations and other vital services throughout the country on Jan. 1  if the Iraqi government doesn't agree to a new agreement on the status of U.S. forces or a renewed United Nations mandate for the American mission in Iraq.
Many Iraqi politicians view the move as akin to political blackmail, a top Iraqi official told McClatchy Sunday.
In addition to halting all military actions, U.S. forces would cease activities that support Iraq’s economy, educational sector and other areas - "everything" - said Tariq al Hashimi, the country’s Sunni Muslim vice president. "I didn’t know the Americans are rendering such wide-scale services."
Hashimi said that Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, listed “tens” of areas of potential cutoffs in a three-page letter, and he said the implied threat caught Iraqi leaders by surprise.
"It was really shocking for us," he said. "Many people are looking to this attitude as a matter of blackmailing."
Odierno had no comment Sunday, but U.S. Embassy officials told McClatchy that a lengthy list of the sort Hashimi described has been passed to the Iraqi government. Among the services the U.S. provides are protection of Iraq’s principal borders, of its oil exports and other shipping through the Shatt al Arab into the Persian Gulf and all air traffic control over Iraq.
The status of forces agreement, which calls for a final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, was supposed to resolve a number of contentious issues between the two countries, but its completion 10 days ago has instead provoked a political crisis within Iraq's Shiite-dominated government and between Iraq and the United States.
Fearing a major battle in the Iraqi parliament, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki solicited proposed amendments from his cabinet and called a meeting to review them Sunday afternoon.
However, the two main Shiite parties, Maliki's Dawa party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, were unable to produce their full lists of demands, and he postponed the meeting until Tuesday, other cabinet members said.
Hashimi said that Iran, a longtime backer of both parties, is pressuring Iraq's leaders not to accept the agreement.
The dispute "is real and factual. The government is not manipulating this dispute," Hashimi said. He said he hadn't yet seen the objections to the accord, even those from his own Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party.
Political party heads, including Hashimi, say that Maliki is responsible for the agreement, but Maliki has been unwilling to back the accord unless his Shiite coalition and other party members join him to take the political heat.
An additional complication is the decision of Hashimi’s Iraqi Islamic party to suspend all "official communication" with U.S. military and civilian officials until it receives an explanation and an apology following a joint U.S.-Iraqi military raid against party backers in Anbar province in which one man was killed.
It's unclear what will happen when the Iraqi cabinet offers a list of proposed changes and Maliki winnows them down to proposed amendments.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said, "I don’t think you slam the door shut" on amendments, but Hashimi said the U.S. is "adamant in saying, 'We close the door, we are not accepting any sort of amendment.' "
He said that if the United States met Iraq halfway and accepted amendments to the controversial articles of the accord, it would make it "rather easy" to submit the agreement to the parliament.
The alternative to a new agreement governing U.S. forces, an Iraqi request to the U.N. Security Council to extend the U.N. mandate, which now expires on Dec. 31, is also highly contentious.
One of the biggest concessions Iraq won from Washington in the negotiations over the forces accord was a stipulation that private contractors such as Blackwater that have been accused of killing Iraqi civilians would become subject to Iraqi law.
Immunity from prosecution for private contractors - and for all official U.S. entities - under Iraqi law was promulgated by the U.S. occupation government in June 2004, and ending that order is the subject of another confrontation between Iraq and the United States, Hashimi said. He said the United States insists that it would reject any Iraqi request to change the mandate.
Ironically, Iraqi politicians of practically every stripe agree that the proposed agreement would be a major advance toward restoring Iraq's full sovereignty and a vast improvement over the initial U.S. proposal made last spring.
He credited President Bush with changing the U.S. position as a result of twice-weekly conference calls with Maliki.
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U.S. lists services it'll cut off if
Iraq rejects pact on troops
The warning was spelled out in a three-page list that was shown to McClatchy on Monday. Iraqi officials consider the threat serious and worry that the impasse over the so-called status of forces agreement could lead to a crisis in Iraq. Without a new agreement or a renewed United Nations mandate, the U.S. military presence would become an illegal occupation under international law.
Odierno's spokesman, Lt. Col. James Hutton, said that the list "provided information as a part of our normal engagements with many in the government of Iraq."
If no new mandate or agreement is in place on Jan. 1, 2008, the U.S. would stop sharing intelligence with the Iraqi government and would cease to provide air traffic control, air defense, SWAT team training or advisers in government ministries, according to the document. The list also says that there'd be no "disposition of U.S.-held Iraqi convicts" without a security agreement.
Odierno's letter adds that American forces would stop training Iraq's Security Forces and its barely functioning navy and air force, patrolling its borders and protecting its waterways. The U.S. military would stop employing some 200,000 Iraqis and wouldn't refurbish 8,500 Humvees it's given to the Security Forces. Nearly every Iraqi unit works in tandem with the roughly 151,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and American training teams are training Iraqi Security Forces nationwide.
With no agreement, U.S. troops would pull back to their bases and begin to withdraw from Iraq, American officials have said.
Without coalition forces, Iraq would virtually shut down.
The U.S. military controls the Iraqi intelligence services and Iraqi airspace, and Iraqi officials often use American military aircraft to travel safely. The Iraqi government is unable to monitor air traffic over the country, so commercial airplanes flying over Iraq would have to be rerouted and flights to and from the country would be grounded.
The Iraqi government is examining contingency plans. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki wants an extension of the U.N. security mandate, but with changes that would allow Iraq to prosecute private contractors in Iraq. The U.S. would veto any changes to the mandate, however, which provides immunity from prosecution for American troops and contractors.
At a recent meeting of Iraq's Political Council for National Security, the ministers of finance, planning, defense and interior argued that not signing the agreement would be a mistake. Despite their concerns, the country's dominant Shiite Muslim alliance is demanding changes to the latest draft of the security agreement between the nations. Iran is pressuring Shiite Iraqi officials not to sign the agreement.
The amendments were supposed to be presented to Cabinet members Sunday, but on Monday the Shiite alliance still hadn't finalized its changes. It's been insisting that Iraq have the right to search American cargo, mail and military bases, which the U.S. would never accept. The alliance also wants to delete a provision that gives the Iraqi government the right to extend the security agreement beyond 2011.
An agreement by Dec. 31 is virtually impossible at this point, Iraqi officials said in interviews this week, and a number of officials have told McClatchy that Maliki won't sign the current draft of the agreement.
U.S. officials have hardened their public stance on the draft but have been unwilling to shut the door on negotiations. Last week Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "There is great reluctance to engage further in the drafting process. I don't think you slam the door shut, but I would say it's pretty far closed."
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