Iraq’s parliament is considering two accords that would pave the way for U.S. forces to begin withdrawal by the middle of next year, as well as give Iraq courts authority over U.S. troops and civilians who violate local laws.
Aides of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said before last week’s Cabinet vote that sent the accords forward that the leader would not submit the agreements to parliament unless he were sure it would receive two-thirds support. At the time, Iraq watchers considered such a result unlikely because of the rift between Maliki’s Dawa Party and the competing Shiite dominated Supreme Iraqi Council.
This week, however, U.S. officials expressed a degree of optimism that it might pass parliament, despite the history of strong opposition of followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who oppose the pacts per se, and the Sunni Arab-backed Accordance Front, which steadfastly maintains that the public should vote on the pacts.
The first pact is a status-of-forces agreement, called a SOFA, which would codify legal protections for U.S. military personnel and property in Iraq, according to a new report from the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington-based think-tank.
The second pact parliament is debating is a “strategic framework agreement” that address issues the first agreement does not include, including those encompassed in a “declaration of principles” President Bush and Prime Minister al-Maliki signed in November 2007.
Among the thorny items addressed in the framework agreement are: the U.S. role in defending Iraq from internal and external threats, U.S. support of political reconciliation, and U.S. efforts to confront terrorist groups, according to the Council on Foreign Relations report.
As things stand now, multinational forces, international consultants, and U.S. personnel are immune from the Iraqi legal process, the report said.
All that would change when the SOFA is approved and finally kicks in.
The U.S. has SOFA agreements with host countries and allies all around the globe, perhaps most famously with its defeated foes of World War II, Japan and Germany.
Newsmax conferred with a retired Marine Corps judge advocate who had served the ambassador to Tokyo as a Japanese liaison officer, an American military lawyer who monitors the trials of servicemen tried in the local Japanese courts.
He gave an example of how a typical SOFA ordinarily works: “If a U.S. Marine would commit, say, rape or robbery against a Japanese citizen while off-duty and off-base, the Japanese would have what is called ‘primary’ jurisdiction over that accused criminal.
“The Marine would be held in American military detention until demanded for trial by the Japanese procurator,” the expert noted. “If convicted, the Marine would have to serve his sentence in a Japanese correctional facility, with U.S. military visitation and in some cases extra rations.
“Once the SOFA goes into effect in Iraq, the U.S. service member there could be handled the same way.”
In addition to a U.S. military trial observer, the military member would be provided a bilingual attorney from the host country to represent him or her at government expense, the expert said.
Many U.S. lawmakers were wary of the accords, worried that our service members and civilians would be liable to be tried for “war crimes” in Iraqi courts, according to media reports. An example might be if an overzealous serviceman killed an Iraqi civilian during an operation.
But regardless of whether the shooting were justified, it would have occurred while in a “duty” status, thus leaving primary jurisdiction with the military and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Meanwhile, as the parliament wrestles with the language in the pacts, anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr lambasted the cabinet’s approval and urged supporters to fight the Americans.
But other historic opponents of the pact appear to have lost the sharp edge to their opposition, according to the Council on Foreign Relations report.
Prime Minister Maliki, for instance, succeeded in gaining support for the pact among some Shiite and Kurdish leaders. Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who objected to original versions of the accord, did not publicly disavow the version passed by the cabinet.
To U.S. officers, a SOFA is an ordinary and helpful way to do business with a host country, but to Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers, it is a dangerous instrument of the militant West — a way to keep a thumb on a defeated and oppressed people.
The Institute for the Study of War recently translated some propaganda set forth by followers of Muqtada Al-Sadr. The list below contains both demands and instructions on how to react to the treaty: To raise the awareness of all classes of people regarding the terms of the agreement and its dangers. To join parliamentary and political action to unite the political parties and groups against the agreement. To escalate the media campaign, to be carried out by those with relevant expertise only. To participate in weekly protests after prayers every Friday in all parts of Iraq. Each person should participate in his own place, until receiving further instructions or until the agreement is canceled. To undertake a popular referendum, if the government agrees to establish one. If it does not, the Offices of Martyr Sadr all over Iraq and abroad must cooperate with other forces that oppose this agreement and work to gather millions of signatures opposing it. To form Iraqi political and religious delegations and send them to:
a) Regional states, especially neighboring ones, calling on them to support the Iraqi people and stand with it against this agreement.
b) Some Western states, the United Nations, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the European Union, but not to any state that participated in the occupation of Iraq. To renew the call in popular, political, and even religious terms for the occupier to leave or to create a timetable for the occupier’s withdrawal. To warn the government against signing the agreement because it is against the interests of the Iraqi people, and to inform the government that it has no right to sign the agreement. To seek a more active role for the Hawza (Shiite religious academy) and to request that the Hawza take a stand against this agreement as it sees appropriate.
As Newsmax reported this week, retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey has told colleagues at the U.S. Military Academy that, if the SOFA fails to move through parliament, this would be “a shameful outcome, which would return our U.S. military units to their base areas and begin a unilateral withdrawal and the cessation of formal U.S. support for the Iraqi government.”
This, of course, is a likely scenario in the event of failure, but Prime Minister Maliki reportedly has considered another: going hat-in-hand to the U.N. and asking for a return to the mandate that allowed the Coalition Forces to invade in the first place.
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