samedi 7 juin 2008

Iraqi MPs in Washington: No to Bush's SOFA, yes to Arab League mediation

by Helena Cobban at June 6, 2008

Speaking to a civil-society audience of 60 people here in Washington DC today, Iraqi MPs Sheikh Khalaf al-Ulayyan (National Dialogue Council) and Dr. Nadim al-Jaberi (al-Fadhila) both roundly rejected the idea of negotiating any binding longterm Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States as long as US forces remain in their country. Both also, intriguingly, said that the Arab League might be the outside party best placed to convene the negotiation required to achieve intra-Iraqi reconciliation.

Ulayyan and Jaberi were speaking at a lunch discussion hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. They have spoken to a number of civil society groups here in the past two days. On Wednesday-- as I noted here earlier today-- they testified about their country's situation at a hearing held by the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight.

While with the Subcommittee, they handed chair Rep. William Delahunt a letter spelling out the view of a majority of Iraq's MPs that any SOFA completed between the two countries should stipulate a total withdrawal of US troops from the whole of Iraq before a date certain.

In that earlier blog post I also highlighted the importance I saw, in today's increasingly transparent global environment, of the contacts that non-governmental groups and individuals (including parliamentarians) can now maintain with their counterparts across national borders without having all such interactions regulated by the national governments involved. Ulayyan and Jaberi's visit to the US-- which was originally also to have included three other Iraqis-- has been organized by the American Friends Service Committee.

Great work, AFSC!!!

I'm hoping to write up a longer account of today's Carnegie Endowment gathering as soon as I can. For now, I'll focus on the questions about the SOFA and the sponsoring mechanism for the still-needed process of internal reconciliation. Those were indeed my main concerns going into the meeting. Someone else asked the two MPs about the SOFA question, and I was then able to ask the two MPs the reconciliation-sponsorship question.

In line with my now three-year-old plan for how the US can get out of Iraq, as laid out in the July 2005 writings linked to here, I also asked the two men what sponsorship they thought would be most effective for the international negotiations required to secure a US troop withdrawal from their country that is speedy, orderly, and complete. (My strong preference is for UN sponsorship.) They did not really address that part of the question. Maybe I'll get a follow-up meeting with them sometime?

By the way, I think my 2005 plan for how the US can withdraw from Iraq has held up remarkably sturdily over time and is still very apposite.

Anyway, back to today's Carnegie event. About the SOFA, Ulayyan said:

We learned about the text being proposed by the US only through the media, and we've seen that it’s very unfair for the Iraqi people. Whoever sees it will see that Iraq would become not just under US occupation but as if it were part of the US! [But without voting rights, I might add. ~HC] It allows the US to use Iraqi territory and US military bases in Iraq for a very long time, and to use them to attack any country around the world from there. And it gives the US troops and civilians complete immunity from prosecution in the Iraqi court system. The US could do anything it wanted in Iraq without being accountable to anyone!

Clearly, for anyone, it would be impossible to enter into an agreement with another party while being threatened by the other person's weapons. Therefore the SOFA can't be concluded as long as there are foreign troops on Iraq's territory. For any agreement to work, there has to be a balance between the two parties to it.

The timing of this attempt at getting a SOFA right now is also not appropriate because it would impede our national reconciliation process.

I had also asked the MPs whether they thought the US troop presence in Iraq was helpful or harmful to the state of internal relations within Iraq. Ulayyan replied on this point:

We do believe the presence of US troops has been very harmful, for the following reasons: Firstly, the American forces have been creating problems inside Iraq to try to justify their own continued presence here. And secondly because many forces in Iraq today have been built up by the US, and they use the US troop presence to avoid dealing with the other parties.
Therefore the withdrawal of the US troops according to a fixed timetable will aid national reconciliation.

To my question regarding what body they thought might be the one best suited to convene the intra-Iraqi reconciliation process, Jaberi replied,

Some suggest the US or the UN or Iran as the best sponsors, or the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Or even Qatar, which as the lady said, did so well in successfully mediating the recent settlement even after the 'big power', the US, had failed. That latter success, by the way, was a way to protest external interventions in Lebanon-- and its showed that a tiny country could solve a problem that a large country could not.
But I see the Arab League as the best institution to sponsor a national reconciliation. First of all, it’s neutral, and secondly, it is the one best qualified to understand Iraq's problems.
We should recall that the Arab League has already been the only institution that has done anything successful at all to bring together the conflicting parties in Iraq-- yes, parties that were actually in conflict at the time there-- and win agreement from them all around some useful proposals for reconciliation. That was during the reconciliation session they hosted in Cairo in 2005.

It came out with some good proposals, and our situation would have been a lot better now if they had been implemented. But what made it fail was that the parties weren’t allowed to implement it. The US administration blocked its implementation because they saw the Arab League as competing with them for influence.

I found it notable that Dr. Jaberi, who represents a majority-Shiite party in Iraq, expressed such faith in the capacities of the Arab League. I should also note that though Fadhila is a majority-Shiite party, the position Jaberi expressed at many points during the discussion was that Iraq needs to thought of and constituted as "the state of the citizen" (dawlat al-muwatin), rather than being constituted on the basis of sectarian quotas of any kind. Indeed, he expressed strong criticism of the UDS for having introduced the whole idea of sectarian quotas into leading government positions, in the first place.

Jaberi's mention of the Arab League as being well qualified to convene the internal reconciliation process was also notable because it echoed a point that Ulayyan had made earlier in response to a general question about the mechanisms for reconciliation.

Ulayyan had said,
There should first of all be committees created for this purpose, with participation from both the [Iraqi] government and the political parties. But first, of course, we need to have the true will for national reconciliation…The process has to be inclusive…
Now that Saddam has left there is no reason for us not to manage our own country!

... And we should have the help of the Arab League and the United Nations in helping to establish the basis on which these reconciliation committees can be built.

Interesting convergence, huh?

Over to you, Arab League?

Notable bottom line there, though, that some possibly well-meaning Americans might still need to have highlighted for them: Both these two men-- and also, I suspect, a large majority of the Iraqi people-- are quite clear that the United States is the party that is just about the worst qualified of all to convene or sponsor a successful intra-Iraqi reconciliation process.
So much for the idea of the so-called "Pottery Barn Rule", eh?

1 commentaire:

Group a dit…

AFSC has done really great job. I am agree with your doubts regarding SOFA.
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