Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Understanding the SOFA

by Ya Baqiyatullah

Five years after the invasion of Iraq by the Allied Forces, the people of Iraq find themselves at a crossroad; to accept the SOFA and legalize an occupation or reject it and live indefinitely under the shadows of the US forces. The Iraqi people, after being promised so much in the name of liberation are now left in a dilemma in which either choice will adds to their sufferings.

An indicator of the mainstream Iraqi opinion can be found amongst the religious figures who have opposed deal. The highest ranking cleric in Iraq, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Sistani has openly objected to this and has imposed certain conditions for it to be accepted by the Iraqi Government. He has called for any deal to safeguard: the common interest of the Iraqi people, national sovereignty, national consensus, and obtain a parliamentary approval.

This sort of objection is not surprising given the history. Previously the US had concluded similar deals in Japan and South Korea, both of which allowed the US troops to be stationed there until now. Moreover, this deal is not detrimental for the Iraqis but also for the rest of the neighboring countries. Having permanent military bases in the region could become a catalyst to launch an attack on neighboring countries such as Iran and Syria. This is part of the reason as to why there has been strong objection from the two leading Shia clerics; Ayatollah Sistani and Ayatollah Sayyed Kazem Haeri with the latter going as far as issuing a fatwa to make it impermissible to vote in the favour of such a deal. Both these clerics consider it a moral and religious obligation to prevent this deal from taking place as it would only endanger the Shias further, not to mention many more innocents too.

The implications of the second part of the SOFA are equally dangerous as the first part and present a more serious issue for the Iraqi people. The fact that US is calling for immunity for its citizens from prosecution in Iraq sends out a strong message as to how ‘mutual’ this agreement really is. In the past it is well known that US has put this condition on a number of their deals with other government most notably the one concluded by the Shah in Iran, prior to the 1979 Revolution, which was met with fierce opposition by Ayatollah Khomeini.

Giving immunity will not only cover up the acts such as the abuse of the Abu Gharib Prisoners and the deaths by Blackwater but it would also give a free pass for many to operate corruptly with the country. It is well known that the Bush Government has turned a blind eye to the corruptions with the Iraqi Government as well as any sort of legal accountability by their own citizens and contractors. Any lack of immunity will only discourage any transparency as to what is occurring in Iraq. A blank check should not be given to anyone, be they the Iraqi Government or foreign forces.

The course of the occupation has led Iraq to rely on foreign aid, namely from the United States. Any suggestion of leaving the country after a Government was in place became a distant memory due to several factors such as insurgency, the militias and sectarian violence all which contributed to the stay of the US in the region. The question that must be posed, was the occupation strategy by the Pentagon the necessary way to remove Saddam? Or did other interests lie at heart when the decision was made regarding the removal of Saddam Hussein? One has to remember that Saddam was a person backed and supported by the US hence to remove him without an occupation would have been a very viable possibility however, the greed of oil was something which was too good to be missed too and sadly, the greed won the day.

Dependency of the Iraqi nation is not the sole reason for the US to remain in Iraq. Given the rhetoric between Tehran and Washington, the cycle of threats has taken a new level with US going as far as funding the terrorists groups such as PEJAK and PKK to infiltrate Iran and going as far as declassifying MKO as a terrorist organisation, MKO are guilty of a number of terrorist activities in Iran after the revolution. All these actions indicate that the US plan in Iraq was much more than the removal of Saddam to begin with.

The United Nations mandate runs out in December 2008 so that begs the question, which road is the best for the Iraqi nation; the SOFA which ensures permanent military bases and immunity in Iraq leaving the people of Iraq under a legalized occupation or an Iraq without SOFA under the occupation of US troops for indefinite or a possible third solution that brings about the true liberation which was promised to the Iraqis?

The solution to this mess that has been caused in Iraq by the US troops is recognition that the solution firstly lies internally and then more importantly on the regional level. They are interlinked and the resolution of one would lead to the other. The settlement should not be dictated by any foreign power regardless of their influence in the region. No other region of the world would tolerate such interference in the region so the same measure should apply here. Consideration should be undertaken in regards to the legitimate interests of the powers in the area but the future of the area should not be held hostage to their exclusive interests, such as the export of oil.

The neighboring states of Iraq which are threatened by the changes in Iraq need to be addressed and treated in any lasting deal for Iraq and the area. Countries like Iran and Turkey need to be introduced in a new security measure which would take into account their concerns, fears and interests. Furthermore, any deal must secure the sovereignty of the region, what happens inside Iraq has repercussions on the lives of millions inside and outside the country. The best hope for the Iraqi people for now, is to reach a deal that provides clear guidelines for foreign troops, and attempts at best to respect an already fragile new nation.