by Travis Sharp
An English translation of the U.S.-Iraq security agreement was released this week by the American Friends Service Committee. The agreement already has come under fire in Iraq because many Iraqi lawmakers oppose it and now are seeking to reopen negotiations. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, however, said October 21 that “There is great reluctance to engage further in the drafting process…I don’t think you slam the door shut, but I would say it’s pretty far closed.”
Below is a brief look at four elements covered in the agreement.
TIMELINE FOR WITHDRAWAL
The agreement states that “U.S. forces shall withdraw from Iraqi territories no later than December 31st, 2011.” It also states that “U.S. combat forces will withdraw from all cities, towns, and villages as soon as the Iraqi forces take over…no later than June 30th, 2009.” The agreement hedges, however, by asserting that these withdrawal dates can be extended or reduced subject to both countries’ approval.
This means, in theory, U.S. forces could begin coming home sooner than 2011. “The U.S. government recognizes the Iraqi government’s sovereign right to request a withdrawal of U.S. forces at anytime,” the agreement reads. As Ilan Goldenberg explains:
“Only if the Iraqi Government asks the U.S. Government to specifically maintain additional forces in Iraq can the timeline be extended. The United States cannot ask for and has no real control over an extension of any kind. Considering that the U.S. presence is overwhelmingly unpopular, any consideration or request from an Iraqi government for an extension of the timeline would be tantamount to political suicide.”
On the issue of legal authority over American soldiers, the text establishes that the United States has primary jurisdiction over American soldiers and civilians both inside U.S. installations and when they are on duty outside installations.
On the other hand, Iraq has primary legal jurisdiction over off duty soldiers and civilians who commit “major and intentional crimes” outside U.S. installations. These major crimes will need to be defined by a joint committee. Iraq also has primary legal jurisdiction over contractors with the United States and their employees.
The agreement states that while both countries waive their rights to request compensation for injury or death occurring during official U.S. combat duties, the United States will continue its pattern of paying “fair and reasonable compensation” for third party claims.
The agreement still contains ambiguous language on security commitments similar to language unveiled in the November 2007 draft.
For instance, the agreement says that joint military operations are to be undertaken “for the purpose of deterring external and internal threats against the Republic of Iraq.” The problem is that the document says that military operations must respect “Iraqi sovereignty and national interests as defined by the Iraqi government.”
Does this mean the Iraqi government gets to dictate the missions for American forces according to Iraq’s national interests? And who exactly – Sunni, Shiite, Kurd – determines Iraq’s national interests? Henry Kissinger said the problem with Europe was that it lacked a single telephone number you could call to get Europe’s policy. The same can be said of Iraq.
As the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation noted back in January, this language might be interpreted as requiring U.S. support for the Iraqi government against both external and internal security threats without regard for whether or not the Iraqi government has made efforts to address the sources and causes of the threat, or whether or not the threat is pursuing a legitimate grievance against the Iraqi government.
Iraqi leaders might try to use U.S. armed forces against external threats to advance their own sectarian interests. U.S. forces might be drawn into an internal dispute over what exactly constitutes a proper security threat to Iraq. For example, Iraqi Kurds might argue that the United States is required to confront Turkey over its military actions against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. Or, Iraqi Shiites might assert that the United States is required to confront Sunni Arab governments that are accused of arming and abetting Sunni insurgents entering Iraq.
If the elected Iraqi government were to be forced out by violence, this language might be interpreted to require the United States to intervene to restore the elected government or to oust a government – even a stable government – that came to power through undemocratic means.
This language also might grant the Iraqi government the right and responsibility to define who is attempting to impede, suspend, or violate Iraq’s constitution, and could therefore require the United States to act against activists in Iraq whose activities or political ideology might not necessarily conflict with U.S. interests. This could mean that the United States is compelled to curtail activities in Iraq that are core U.S. values, such as promoting human rights, improving government transparency, and building democratic institutions.