London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Disagreements between Iraqi and US delegations over issues relating to “sovereignty” in a draft strategic agreement organizing relations between the two countries disrupted the negotiations between the two sides. A prominent Iraqi official said that Iraq is discussing “alternatives” to the agreement, including “staying under UN protection.”
Official Spokesman for the Iraqi Government Ali al-Dabbagh said, “Currently, there is open talk on the need to look for alternatives to the long-term security agreement between Iraq and the United States.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat by phone from his office in Baghdad, Al-Dabbagh said, “At its meeting today [3 June], the Council of Ministers discussed the objections to the provisions of the agreement. There should be agreement between two fully sovereign countries respecting the Iraqi people’s rights and sovereignty or no agreement at all.” He emphasized, “We do not need an agreement that compromises our sovereignty and harms our people’s rights.”
Al-Dabbagh said, “The Iraqi Government’s vision differs from that of the Americans who think that the agreement will give them almost totally a free hand in Iraq and that, as a military force, they must have absolute powers. This stand contravenes Iraqi sovereignty and our people’s rights. No Iraqi political force or party would accept this. The issue of the country’s sovereignty and people’s rights cannot be compromised at all. It is not subject to discussion or even mere talk.” He added, “The agreement must respect Iraq and the Iraqis or there should be no agreement. We are not compelled to sign the agreement or submit to it. The agreement must respect our sovereignty and rights.” The official spokesman for the Iraqi Government said, “Currently, there is open talk on the need to look for alternatives, if no plan is agreed upon. These alternatives include signing a cooperation agreement instead of a long-term security agreement and staying under the United Nations protection to protect Iraqi funds, in addition to many other alternatives that are under discussion. “Al-Dabbagh denied that the negotiations between Iraq and the US Administration on the agreement have been suspended. He explained, “The negotiators went back to their higher political authorities for consultation. We do not consider the negotiations as having been suspended. Iraq has not submitted and will not submit to any pressure or influence. As a matter of fact, the Americans did not press for accepting the agreement.” Earlier, a leader of the Al-Da’wah Party announced that negotiations between the two sides came to an end.
Negotiations have been held between the United States and Iraq to reach agreement on the “status of the forces” with the aim of imparting a legal status to the presence of the US Army in Iraq after the 31st of December when a mandate under an international resolution organizing the presence of these forces in Iraq expires. The French News Agency quoted MP Abbas al-Bayyati who represents the ruling coalition assaying, “There are three points that need further discussions. They are the right to detain, the right to enter and exit, and the extent of the immunity granted to US soldiers and security contractors.” He added that there are questions about “the fight against terrorism and whether the US forces will enjoy an absolute right to detain people or whether the Iraqi side will have a larger role.”
The Political Council of the Iraqi National Security that consists of senior officials and political groups recommended that there is a need to continue the negotiations with the United States in order to reach an agreement that will “satisfy the Iraqi people and not harm their interests.” Al-Bayyatiadds, “The other issues have to do with the forces’ entry and exit. The entry and exit of the forces must be regulated by a clear mechanism, such as imposing entry visas and designating entry and exit points and airports.” He continues, “As for the immunity, there is a question as to whether a [US] soldier or an employee of a security firm who commits a crime will stand trial at Iraqi courts or whether the immunity will be limited to the performance of duty.”
On the other side, however, the Iraqi demands seem to be absolutely contrary to what the Americans are seeking. A source familiar with the draft agreement says, “The Americans demand to control the airspace, enjoy open facilities on land and at sea, have the right to arrest and imprison any Iraqi who they believe poses a threat, and carry out military operations against terrorism without consulting Baghdad.” The source who refused to give his name adds, “The Iraqis demand that they be considered a sovereign government. Also, they assert that the Americans must not be granted facilities without their approval. They want the status of the American bases that will be established to be reviewed as is the case in Turkey.” The source says, “The Baghdad government insists that US forces do not move from their temporary bases without its approval and knowledge. Also, it insists that the movement of the US Army funds be subject to the Central Bank and that a written approval by the Iraqi Government be secured for any military operation.” The same source adds, “The Iraqis reject the arrest of any Iraqi without their consent. Also, they demand that the US forces be given limited corridors in the Iraqi airspace and that US soldiers’ legal immunity be limited to military operations, on the condition that such operations be carried out after securing Baghdad’s approval.”
In response to Al-Dabbagh’s statements that agreement between the two sides might not be reached, Mirembe Natango, spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Baghdad, said, “These are negotiations conducted between two sovereign countries that work together.” In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Natango added that the talk about disagreements or failure to reach agreement is premature. She explained, “No final agreement has been reached on any issue to date, and it is premature to say that agreement has been reached.” Natango pointed out that negotiations are continuing between Iraqi and US officials at various levels. She said, “Several drafts are currently exchanged between the two sides, and no final draft has been formulated.”