The Justice for Iraq campaign is based on five demands. This article addresses the first: an immediate end to the occupation.Exit strategy: what exit strategy?
The Status of Forces Agreement stipulates the withdrawal of US combat troops after three years. Justice for Iraq asks Sami Ramadani if this could be the beginning of the end.
In the film “W” Oliver Stone has Dick Cheney reply to a question about an exit strategy: “There is no exit strategy – we’re staying”.
The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), due to be ratified by the Iraqi parliament on 27 November, suggests that the withdrawal of US troops by 31 December 2011 signals an end to the occupation and a return to Iraqi sovereignty. But Iraqi exile and dissident Sami Ramadani says this is yet another deception in the long war on Iraq.
“The Iraqi government and institutions are all located in the US-controlled Green Zone – it’s as if Iraqi soldiers were occupying Capitol Hill with Maliki dictating to Bush. To think that SOFA restores Iraqi sovereignty is ludicrous.”
The purpose of the agreement, he says, is to replace the UN Security Council mandate that runs out at the end of this year. “At the moment the UN has some say. What the US wants is an agreement that legitimises its presence and gets the UN out of the way.”
In fact, Ramadani explains, SOFA is part of a larger treaty that has no fixed timetable – the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA).
SOFA, it turns out, is all about staying.
- First, while SOFA talks of full withdrawal by December 2011, the SFA implicitly suggests that the US will demand a military presence. The SFA implies this by stating that the US would not ask for permanent bases: “How long is permanent or non-permanent?” Ramadani asks. Anything less than forever, it seems, could qualify.
- Second, US military personnel will remain unaccountable to the Iraqi authorities: “If on duty, Iraqi law cannot touch them, and if off-duty soldiers or civilians are arrested by Iraqi security forces they must be handed over to the US authorities within 24 hours. Furthermore, off-duty US soldiers and civilians usually stay within their immune bases and facilities.”
- Third, apparent concessions like the willingness of the US to relinquish Iraqi air space are worthless: “The US has completely destroyed Iraq’s air force so this is meaningless.”
SOFA then, merely adds a few details on security to the SFA. Signed by Maliki and Bush in March 2008, this all-encompassing treaty covers not only the political and military but also the economic and cultural future of the country. Iraq is facing a long-term relationship with the US that will penetrate every aspect of life.
To add to the sense of undiminished pressure on Iraq, the SFA provides for the negotiation of further treaties and, when the SOFA three year period for troop withdrawal has expired, the Iraqi government can ask the US military to stay longer. “And I daresay (they will ask, and) the US will oblige,” Ramadani adds.
Pronouncements by president-elect Obama do nothing to allay fears that the US occupation will continue, albeit in a modified form. “The SOFA and SFA treaties do not contradict anything Obama has said. Forget about interpretations – he (has gone no further than saying that he) is opposed to permanent military bases. And he has insisted on having ‘residual forces’ in Iraq.”
SOFA is likely to be ratified by the Iraqi parliament despite opposition from many quarters. Ramadani says that as far as he can judge, the population is overwhelmingly against it. “However, their wishes are not reflected in the government – there is a huge gap.
“In terms of the forces in parliament, the Sadrist block – about 30 members – is calling for immediate withdrawal, and the 15 members of the Al Fadhila party said they would vote against the agreement unless it is was amended to their satisfaction. Others are also contemplating rejection – quite brave when you consider that the guards and tanks outside parliament are all American.” he adds.
On the eve of the vote, Ramadani speculates: “The US might get its pact agreed if the Iraqi government succeeds in its manoeuvre to pass it through a simple majority rather than the two-thirds required by the constitution to ratify treaties.”
Some members of parliament plan to be absent when the vote is taken. “Those who agree to SOFA are seen as traitors, so they’re reluctant to support it. If you can imagine – it’s like trying to appease Hitler after WWII has started.”
Ramadani thinks that Britain too, could favour a SOFA to legitimise its presence in Iraq: “A document to show the British public that they are no longer in occupation, but are there because the Iraqi government has asked them to stay.”
If Oliver Stone is right that the US launched the occupation without an exit strategy, then the Iraqi people can only despair of a return to normality. Ramadani concludes: “To have even a semblance of normality, the troops must withdraw. The occupation is divisive – it commits and attracts violence; it is a poisonous presence.”
Sami Ramadani lectures in sociology at the London Metropolitan University.