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Stalemate in U.S.-Iraq talks hard to unlock

Posted by smeddum on August 4, 2008

Peoples Daily

July 31, or last Thursday, was the deadline put forward last November by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US President George W. Bush, but the United States and Iraq have failed to meet the long-term agreement deadline as scheduled. The U.S.-Iraq accord negotiations, nevertheless, reached an impasse because of their serious disparities over the status of American forces stationed in Iraq, the withdrawal timetable and numerous other related issues.

The U.S.-Iraq long-term relations agreement is related directly to the legitimacy of the US troops in Iraq. The U.S. forces launched the Iraq war on March 20, 2003 despite opposition from the international community, and the U.S.-led coalition forces topped the Saddam Hussein regime in the following month. And in October of the same year, the U.S. prompted the United Nations Security Council to approve resolution backing the U.S.-led coalition forces, so that the coalition forces were instantly turned into the UN security forces.

With the establishment of its new government afterward, Iraq has been harbored with an ever-growing aspireation to exercise the state sovereignty on its own. Iraq’s government in late 2008 requested that the U.N. to end its mandate, and the UN agreed to its request, acknowledging that the authorizing foreign forces were set to expire at the end of 2008, so that the status of the U.S.-led multinational forces (MNF) in Iraq was once again placed on the agenda. In March this year, the U.S.-Iraq long-term relations agreement talks were formally launched, and it was scheduled originally to conclude by July 31st with an accord to ink subsequently in August.

The talks was aimed chiefly to sign two accords: One is an agreement regarding the status of U.S. forces stationed in Iraq, involving the rights of American troops stationed in Iraq and their obligations, scale, duration and bases, the extent of their military moves and immunity from criminal sanctions with an objective to solve the status of U.S. stationed in Iraq. The other represents a bilateral long-term framework agreement involving the political, economic, military and other realms, with the purpose of forging the strategic partnership between the two countries.

With the core issue focused on the status of stationed forces in Iraq at present, the dispute between the two sides is concentrated on four ensuing aspects. The first aspect concerns the character of the agreement. Iraq stresses that agreement is a non-occupation accord and blamed the demand of the U.S. side as having seriously impaired the Iraqi sovereignty. The second aspect evolves the power limit of the U.S. forces in Iraq. Iraq hopes to trim the excessive power of the U.S. forces, and requires them to get an approval from its government before taking any moves and not to detain any Iraqis at will. The third aspect concerns the withdrawal timetable. Iraq urges the U.S. side to reduce the scale of American forces in its territory gradually and define the ultimate withdrawal timetable. And it recently raised the hope for the pullout of the U.S. forces in 2010. The Bush administration, however, has unequivocally been in opposition to define the timetable for a couple of times. The fourth aspect spells out immunity from criminal liability. The U.S. side not only hopes its forces stationed in Iraq to be immuned from criminal sanctions but also wants the US national defense contractors, private security firms and oil giants to be granted the same immunity, but this met with Iraq’s fierce opposition.

Moreover, the long-term relations agreement talks also met with resistances from both the U.S. and Iraq. Inside the U.S., the criticism of opponents to the accord is focused mainly on three fields: the contents of the agreement undermine the Iraqi sovereignty with an excessive power defined for the stationed U.S. forces, which exceeds the power limit of Bush administration, and should win the approval of U.S. Congress, and the accord will in fact impose restrictions on the actions of the succeeding U.S. government on the Iraq Issue.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, pressures have come chiely from three aspects: First, Iraqis have plucked up their confidence with a growing demand to restore in the exercise of all sovereign power as the security situation has kept improving in the country. Second, as opposition forces hope that the American forces will pull out from Iraq as quickly as possible, Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr calls for a referendum on the agreement, and the Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani opposes to signing the agreement. Third, Iran imposes pressures upon Iraq and spur it to make clear that the U.S. will defintely not use Iraq as a springboard to strike at itself, and Iraq should also get the U.S. to clarify the definite timetable for the troop withdrawal.

To the Bush administration, “adding more troops to Iraq” last year has scored an initial success, with a drop of cases of violence in Iraq. There were 655 U.S. military deaths from January to July 2007, and in the fist seven months of 2008, there were merely 219 deaths, and in July, only 11 U.S. troops were reported to slain in Iraq. If the U.S. and Iraq can reach the long-term relations accord, and it is something like “adding flowers to the brocade”. On the contrary, the failure of the talks will not only have a direct bearing on the legitimacy of the U.S. forces stationed in Iraq, but negatively affect the “heritage” Bush is to leave behind in Iraq, as well as the US’ Iraq ties and Middle East strategy, and the whole Middle-East situation.

“The failure of months of negotiations deals a blow to the Bush administration’s plans to leave in place a formal military architecture in Iraq,” as a noted analyst of Washington Post has said.

By People’s Daily Online and its author is Tang Zhichao, director of the Division of the Middle East Studies affiliated to the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations

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