Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The "center-left" and the Iraq-agreement scam Wednesday, November 26
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has adopted a much looser interpretation than the Iraqi government of several key provisions of the pending U.S.-Iraq security agreement, U.S. officials said Tuesday — just hours before the Iraqi parliament was to hold its historic vote. That's pretty clear: "Officials in Washington said the administration has withheld the oficial English translation of the agreement in an effort to suppress a public dispute with the Iraqis until after the Iraqi parliament votes." I, the military occupying authority, sign an agreement with you the occupied country, and I wait until after you have signed it to tell your people, or my people, what I think it means. Nice.
These include a provision that bans the launch of attacks on other countries from Iraq, a requirement to notify the Iraqis in advance of U.S. military operations and the question of Iraqi legal jurisdiction over American troops and military contractors.
Officials in Washington said the administration has withheld the official English translation of the agreement in an effort to suppress a public dispute with the Iraqis until after the Iraqi parliament votes.
"There are a number of areas in here where they have agreement on the same wording but different understandings about what the words mean," said a U.S. official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
This was not only so as to not let the Iraqis know what the American interpretation is going to be, it was also to block discussion in America.
A U.S. official, however, said the aim was also to head off any debate in the U.S. media. The administration fears that any discussion "may inadvertently throw this thing of the rails," said the official, who couldn't be named because he wasn't authorized to speak to reporters. Here are three of the points on which the American interpretation is going to be something of a surprise:
In plain language: (1) You can have some criminal jurisdiction under a scheme that will to be determined in discussions that will be dragged out over the coming three years, during which time we will continue to have jurisdiction. (2) We won't use your territory to attack any other state, but we can invade another state if it is hot pursuit or legitimate self-defence. (3) We will inform you of our military operations, but in terms so vague the information will be meaningless to you.
Among the areas of dispute are:
- Iraqi legal jurisdiction over U.S. troops or military contractors who kill Iraqis on operations. The agreement calls for Iraq to prosecute U.S. troops according to court procedures that have yet to be worked out. Those negotiations, administration officials have argued, could take three years, by which time the U.S. will have withdrawn from Iraq under the terms of the agreement. In the interim, U.S. troops will remain under the jurisdiction of America's Uniform Code of Military Justice.
- A provision that bars the U.S. from launching military operations into neighboring countries from Iraqi territory. Administration officials argue they could circumvent that in some cases, such as pursuing groups that launch strikes on U.S. targets from Syria or Iran, by citing another provision that allows each party to retain the right of self-defense. One official expressed concern that "if Iran gets wind that we think there's a loophole there," Tehran might renew its opposition to the agreement.
- A provision that appears to require the U.S. to notify Iraqi officials in advance of any planned military operations and to seek Iraqi approval for them, which some U.S. military officials find especially troubling, although Robert Gates, the secretary of defense, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command, and Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, all have endorsed it.
"Telling the Iraqis in advance would be an invitation to an ambush," said one U.S. official, who said the Iraqi government and security forces are "thoroughly penetrated by the insurgents, the Iranians, the Sadrists (followers of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr) and ordinary folks who just sell scraps of intelligence."
The administration has sought to assuage such concerns by arguing that the pact doesn't require the U.S. to give the Iraqis detailed information about planned operations, two officials said. For example, they said, the administration interprets the agreement to mean that U.S. commanders would merely need to inform their Iraqi counterparts that they plan to launch counterterrorism operations somewhere in an Iraqi city or province sometime during the month of January.
Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings says he and others have been aware of this issue of opposite interpretations (and obviously keeping their mouths shut about it). McClatchy puts it this way:
Specialists who follow the Iraq war said they were aware of the differing interpretations. Michael O'Hanlon, of the Brookings Institution, a center-left research group in Washington, said there are "these areas that are not as clear cut as the Iraqis would like to think." He said the two governments "have agreed to punt together on a number of important issues." "The two governments", perhaps. But not the people in either case. Not the American people, who think this is something to be supported based on the suppression of information about their own government's interpretation of it; and certainly not the Iraqi people, to whom those three points would be anathema.
Marc Lynch, in defence of the government's duplicity and the silence of himself and others, says: "important part here isn't witholding of text - it's the clearly divergent interpretations of key passages intentionally left vague." Slippery, that Marc. What McClatchy is telling us is that the withholding of the text was precisely to suppress that discussion about "divergent interpretations". A topic that McClatchy tells us "specialists who follow the Iraq war" have said they were aware of, but who kept their months shut. And now we know the reason why. It was ultimately to prevent Iraqis and Americans alike from knowing what is being done in their name. The vote scheduled for today (Wednesday) has been postponed until tomorrow at the earliest. The Iraqi political parties are working on a "charter for political reform" and perhaps a proposal for a referendum six months after parliamentary approval, both ideas no doubt aimed mainly at giving the Sunni parties cover for a yes vote.