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Can the U.S. and Iraq Have a Long-Term Relationship?

Iraqi society and the broader Muslim world are debating a proposed long-term security arrangement between Iraq and the U.S. But will Tehran's allies smother it?

by
Mohammed Fadhil

Bio

June 4, 2008 - 12:30 am

The debate over immediate security conditions is taking a back seat in Iraq now as the debate over long-term fixes, particularly the U.S.-Iraq agreement, takes the lead.

The national scope of this debate goes beyond the talk of politicians –who are trying to use their position on the agreement for electoral campaigning– and people’s talk in the streets to Friday prayer sermons. Interestingly, the issue has also attracted curiously broad attention from Arab and regional leaders and media. Most notably, in his first speech following a crisis that brought Lebanon to the brink of a new civil war and on a day no less than the anniversary of his “victory” in the south, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah dedicated a significant portion of his speech to the U.S.-Iraq agreement. In Iran, hard-line cleric Ahmed Khatami also denounced the proposed treaty in an earlier Friday sermon, warning Baghdad’s government that signing the agreement would be a betrayal of the Muslim world and particularly of the Shia faith. This frenzy with which Iran and allies scramble to preempt the agreement has a downside — their speeches embarrassed their allies in Iraq, making them appear as mere puppets.

It’s neither strange nor ironic that the pro-Iran extremists have made such a fuss about an agreement whose terms are yet to be fully made public — rumors and exaggerations of half-truths are enough to make the public in a place like the Middle East feel uneasy about any given issue. It’s enough for an aide of Sadr to tell fanatic followers that the treaty would grant the U.S. control over 99% of Iraq’s riches to make them take to the streets to denounce the agreement. This cleric didn’t need to find facts to back his argument: the crowd is easy to convince, thanks to widespread ignorance; sentimental rhetoric is more attractive to them than facts, numbers, and science.

Like I wrote a moment ago, some politicians have already begun using their positions from this agreement for electoral campaigning. Former PM Ibrahim Jaafari emerged with a new political alliance with supposed backing from Iran and Ayatollah Sistani. He showed his true colors too early when he made his main theme that the agreement is bad and our neighbors don’t like it. By “neighbors” I can only think of Iran and Syria, as I don’t see a reason for any other neighbor to be upset with the agreement.

I personally don’t have a full text of the agreement’s draft but I’ve always been a proponent of establishing a strategic alliance with the U.S. For our government, I hope that accepting or rejecting it would be based on its impact on Iraq’s interests.

Will Iraqis accept the agreement? No one can tell at this point, and this is the difference between democracies and non-democracies. Had the question been posed in Iran or Syria, it would take one man’s word to offer an answer. I am pleased to see that our government is dealing pragmatically with the issue and is seeking the opinion of countries that have experience with long-term U.S. military presence. The government sent delegations to Germany, Japan, and South Korea to listen to what they, not the mullahs, have to say about it.

If not for the lack of information about this agreement, the clergy in Najaf wouldn’t have considered calling for a referendum on it. The ignorance of the public as to the content of the agreement makes it easy for a cleric to manipulate the outcome of such a referendum and still make it look as if it was the people who made the decision. All he needs to do is issue a fatwa that tells the simple, faithful citizen that his or her vote today could make the difference between hell and heaven. Such a disgusting exploitation of the trust of people who are just beginning to learn the alphabet of knowledge!

The political map when it comes to positions on the agreement looks something like this:

  • For: Kurds, the Iraqi list of Ayad Allawi, and part of the Accord Front (Sunni)
  • For, with reservations: the Islamic Party of VP Tariq Hashimi
  • Undecided: SIIC of Abdul Aziz Hakim
  • Against: Sadrists and Ibrahim Jaafari’s new group

As to PM Maliki and what’s left of the Da’wa Party (Jaafari took part of the party with him when he split), the man is being very careful here. He’s trying to make a choice between two sources of power, and it’s indeed a difficult one for a Shia Islamist. On the one hand he’s got the political achievements he made on his own as a statesman and his recent successes in terms of security and reconciliation; on the other there’s Shia unity and the blessings of the Najaf clergy.

The scale is very delicate and I think Maliki will wait for it to stop before he makes adjustments to his position. However, these adjustments are unlikely to move him far away from his current position and I see that ultimately the agreement will be signed, if with some modifications. Sorry, Tehran!

Mohammed Fadhil is PJM Baghdad editor. His own blog is Iraq the Model.
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