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Security Agreement Déjà Vu

Stephen Farrell


A January 1948 map of Iraq showing British air bases in the country.

November 21, 2008

BAGHDAD — The security agreement allowing U.S. combat troops to remain in Iraq for three years, which Iraq’s Parliament is to vote on Monday, took more than 12 months to negotiate.

Some of that time was taken up with the "vanilla" elements, as one senior U.S. official described them, like taxes, licensing and import-export requirements.

But the knottiest parts were delicate issues touching on sovereignty, including what legal rules apply to American soldiers, and who authorizes military operations involving American troops. The Iraqis insisted on knowing exactly what and who the U.S. will be moving into and within Iraq’s borders after Jan. 1, 2009.

On such issues, the Iraqi negotiators bargained hard, to the point that behind the scenes, U.S. officials used words ranging from "suspicion" to "paranoia" to describe their mindset.

Citing the false beliefs that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that the United States used to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003, one Islamist Shiite lawmaker said that the negotiators had to be sure the Americans would not smuggle wanted people out of Iraq — or sneak in nuclear weapons.

There is some earlier history that might further explain Iraqi skepticism.

The Status of Forces Agreement and the wider Strategic Framework Agreement accompanying it are the latest in a long line of treaties, pacts and agreements negotiated by successive Iraqi governments with powerful western nations dating back to just after the First World War.

Few of these treaties produced terms that satisfied domestic Iraqi nationalists. At least one — in 1948 — ended with riots and the forced resignation of Iraq’s first Shiite prime minister. That fact was unlikely to have been lost on Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s own, Shiite-led, government.

We have collected contemporary reports from The New York Times of some of those previous negotiations. The echoes of today’s headlines are uncanny.

In a treaty signed on Oct. 10, 1922, Britain agreed to prepare the country for independence. But the treaty postponed discussion of exactly how this would happen, and effectively prolonged Britain’s mandate under another form for at least 20 years (a period later reduced).

Oct. 12, 1922 –THE NEW YORK TIMES

Times Past

"In official circles in London the treaty is regarded as the first
important step for securing complete self-government for Irak."
[Read the Original Report (pdf)]

Revised treaties were to follow later in the 1920s, including one in 1927 which said Iraq would become independent by 1932. But it was never ratified, and left open the question of military relations between the two countries.

Jan. 22 1929 - THE NEW YORK TIMES

Times Past

"The Iraq Government refuses to accept the British proposals that a British force should remain in Iraq for a further unspecified period."
[Read the Original Report (pdf)]

The issue was revisited in June 30, 1930, when a new treaty of alliance was signed by the Iraqi government and the British High Commissioner in Baghdad, to run for 25 years. This left Iraq in charge of its internal affairs, but stipulated that Britain would supervise its foreign relations. Britain’s desire to retain long term military bases featured prominently in the discussions.

July 6, 1930 –THE NEW YORK TIMES
'Iraq’s Freedom Now in Sight’

Times Past

"Iraq shall lease to Britain three air bases to the west of the Euphrates and Shatt al-Arab …..Britain has too much to lose to permit any violent change to take place in the Arabian status quo. But it remains to be seen if, out of Iraq, she can prevent it."
[Read the Original Report (pdf)]

Feb. 8, 1931 –THE NEW YORK TIMES

Times Past

"Kurds, Assyrians and Others Want the Protection of a Western Power….
…The treaty concluded between the British Government and Iraq, which has been confirmed by the Iraqian House of Deputies despite the opposition of a large number of Nationalist members, is still a cause of controversy here." [Read the Original Report (pdf)]

Iraq finally gained independence in 1932 but maintained an uneasy relationship with its colonial power. In January 1948, Saleh Jaber, the first Shiite prime minister, tried to revise the 1930 treaty with Britain to be more favorable to Iraq.

Jan. 16, 1948–THE NEW YORK TIMES

Times Past

"Britain signed a twenty-year treaty with Iraq today that in effect guarantees the protection of that country… British and Iraqi armed forces will be interconnected in many ways. Britain will, for instance, under this treaty continue to sell arms to Iraq as heretofore." [Read the Original Report (pdf)]

But the resulting treaty was again rejected, amid violent street demonstrations in which protesters said it did not go far enough to satisfy nationalist ambitions. Facing Sunni opposition and political
intrigue, Jaber was forced to resign.

Jan. 21. 1948 –THE NEW YORK TIMES

Times Past

"The United States Information Offices were stoned…efforts of rioters to reach the British Embassy were halted by the police." [Read the Original Report (pdf)]

The atmosphere surrounding the 2008 negotiations has been altogether more restrained thus far, aside from scuffles in the Iraqi parliament.

Dr. Ala’a al-Ruhaimi, head of the Department of History at Al Kufa University in Najaf, identified similarities between past and present.

"In all of these agreements Iraq was a weak country surrounded by aggressive neighboring countries," he said. "It had three major components disputing with each others -– the Shia, the Kurds and the Sunnis -– and no strong army. All Iraq’s neighbors were just waiting for the right time to devour Iraq."

But in the past, he pointed out, it was the Shiite Arabs and Kurds resisting deals struck by Iraq’s ruling Sunni minority. Today it is the Sunnis who are heading the opposition, though they are of course joined by joined by rejectionist Shiites, including Moktada al-Sadr.

He believes that Iraq’s leaders, having learned the lessons of history, are now intent on asserting themselves more than their predecessors could in the first half of the 20th century, when pragmatism limited ambition.

"I think Maliki believes Iraq is more powerful now, so he has to get a better deal than the previous agreements with the British," Dr. Ruhaimi concluded.

Riyadh Mohammed contributed reporting.

:: Article nr. 48955 sent on 22-nov-2008 03:53 ECT


Link: baghdadbureau.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/20/security-agreement-deja-vu/

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