Friday, June 8, 2007

Iraqi Lawmakers Pass Resolution That May Force End to Occupation

By Raed Jarrar and Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on June 5, 2007,

While most observers are focused on the U.S. Congress as it continues to issue new rubber stamps to legitimize Bush's permanent designs on Iraq, nationalists in the Iraqi parliament -- now representing a majority of the body -- continue to make progress toward bringing an end to their country's occupation.

The parliament today passed a binding resolution that will guarantee lawmakers an opportunity to block the extension of the U.N. mandate under which coalition troops now remain in Iraq when it comes up for renewal in December. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose cabinet is dominated by Iraqi separatists, may veto the measure.

The law requires the parliament's approval of any future extensions of the mandate, which have previously been made by Iraq's prime minister. It is an enormous development; lawmakers reached in Baghdad today said that they do in fact plan on blocking the extension of the coalition's mandate when it comes up for renewal six months from now.

Reached today by phone in Baghdad, Nassar al Rubaie, the head of the Al-Sadr bloc in Iraq's Council of Representatives, said, "This new binding resolution will prevent the government from renewing the U.N. mandate without the parliament's permission. They'll need to come back to us by the end of the year, and we will definitely refuse to extend the U.N. mandate without conditions." Rubaie added: "There will be no such a thing as a blank check for renewing the U.N. mandate anymore, any renewal will be attached to a timetable for a complete withdrawal."

Without the cover of the U.N. mandate, the continued presence of coalition troops in Iraq would become, in law as in fact, an armed occupation, at which point it would no longer be politically tenable to support it. While polls show that most Iraqis consider U.S. forces to be occupiers rather than liberators or peacekeepers -- 92 percent of respondents said as much in a 2004 survey by the Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies -- the U.N. mandate confers an aura of legitimacy on the continuing presence of foreign troops on Iraq's streets, even four years after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The resolution was initiated when a majority of Iraqi lawmakers signed a nonbinding legislative petition two weeks ago that called on the Iraqi government to demand a withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country.

While the issue of the Multinational Force's (MNF) mandate has been virtually ignored by the American media, it has been a point of fierce contention in Baghdad. Last fall, just after the midterm elections in the United States, a coalition of Iraqi nationalists in the parliament tried to attach conditions to the mandate's extension.

Iraqi lawmaker Jabir Habib (a Shia closely aligned with the al-Sadrist Movement) said in an interview last fall that the Iraqi Assembly had been poised to vote on the issue. "We spent the last months discussing the conditions we wanted to add to the mandate," he said, "and the majority of the parliament decided on three major conditions. These conditions included pulling the coalition forces out of the cities and transferring responsibility for security to the Iraqi government, giving Iraqis the right to recruit, train, equip and command the Iraqi security forces, and requiring that the U.N. mandate expire and be reviewed every six months instead of every 12 months."

Lawmakers said that while they likely had enough support to require a timetable for withdrawal as a condition of the mandate's renewal last year, they were sidelined by al-Maliki when the prime minister sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council requesting an extension without consulting members of parliament. The move outraged lawmakers.

In a phone interview just after the extension, Hassan al-Shammari, a Shia parliamentarian representing the al-Fadila party, said: "We had a closed session two days ago, and we were supposed to vote on the mandate in 10 days. I can not believe the mandate was just approved without our knowledge or input." Saleh al-Mutlaq, a secular Sunni lawmaker, was also shocked when we spoke with him last fall. "This is totally unexpected," he said. "It is another example of the prime minister dismissing the views of the parliament and monopolizing all power."

Today's resolution means that Maliki will not be able to make that claim this time around. Reached by phone today in Amman, Jordan, following the vote, al-Mutlaq said: "The parliament is more powerful now -- we can block the renewal of the U.N. mandate and demand to attach a timetable to it."

Iraq's government faces a crisis of legitimacy, in large part due to its refusal to demand the withdrawal of U.S. forces long favored by as many as four out of five Iraqis. According to a poll last year by the Project on International Policy Attitudes, 80 percent of Iraqis believe the U.S. plans to maintain permanent military bases in the country and three out of four believe that if their government were to demand a timetable for withdrawal, Washington would ignore it (according to the poll's authors, that finding was a major driver of the significant support among all groups of Iraqis for attacking coalition troops).

It is possible, even probable, that the Maliki regime will veto the resolution passed today. The White House's separatist allies in Baghdad have consistently found ways to bypass the assembly. Al Mutlaq said today that the nationalist bloc probably doesn't have the the two-thirds majority required to override a veto.

He warned, however, that the more the al-Maliki regime does to sideline the Iraqi parliament, the more Iraqis will be compelled to turn to violent resistance to the occupation. He said: "It will lead to many groups withdrawing from the political process and could only make things even worse."

The resolution passed today is only one part of the nationalists' effort to bring about a U.S. withdrawal. Nassar al Rubaie said of the measure's passage: "All of this is just our backup plan, but our other and more specific resolution setting a timetable will come soon." He promised that nationalists in parliament would force debate on a "clean" and binding resolution requiring occupation forces to withdrawal from the country in the immediate future. "We'll start the deliberations next week," he said. "We have enough signatures for that one already."

Raed Jarrar is Iraq consultant to the American Friends Service Committee. He blogs at Raed in the Middle. Joshua Holland is a senior writer at AlterNet.