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The overseas press and the U.S.-Iraqi security pact

COMMENTARY | November 28, 2008

Some see agreement for U.S. troop withdrawal by 2012 as win-win; others are skeptical. Al Jazeera interviews find Iraqis holding nuanced views.

By Lauren Drablier

PARISThe Iraqi parliament has voted 148 to 35 to pass the US-Iraq security pact that sets the date of December 11, 2011, for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The agreement has passed through the Iraqi cabinet and parliament; it still awaits approval by Iraq’s president and by Iraqi voters in a referendum set for July 2009.

The decision has been met with mixed views in the Middle East. Some see it as win-win situation in the sense that the U.S. will be able to gradually withdraw within the next three years and Iraqis will finally have their independence from American occupation. 

Many are skeptical as to whether the United States will honor the agreement, although it does fall in line with Barack Obama’s intentions of withdrawing troops from Iraq, albeit, giving him a lengthier deadline than he originally laid out.

According to The Guardian, “The pact provides for, among other things: continued U.S. special operations against al-Qaida, coordinated with Iraq's government; the transfer of control over Iraq's airspace to Iraqi authorities; Iraqi jurisdiction over U.S. forces and civilians in the country; and the transfer of any persons detained by the U.S. to Iraqi authorities within 24 hours. It also specifies that Iraq not be used as a launching or transit point for attacks on other countries.”

Of course, many still remain cautious seeing as the U.S. has not always adhered to international law in the past, many see this as a sign of what to expect from the pact.  In addition, only time will tell what the situation will look like in Iraq in three years from now.  Iraq has long been an occupied territory, even Iraqis do not know what the future holds for them.

Qatar based Al Jazeera interviewed local Iraqis for some insight to how they feel about the agreement in Anbar says 'yes' to security pact:

Ra'ad al Dulaimi, 30, passport officer at Al-Qaem border crossing:

“At the same time this pact should be made more transparent to the Iraqi people…They should be given all the details in order to let them understand the situation more clearly.”

Ali Talib, 30, journalist, Falluja:

“I think this pact is beneficial to the Iraqi people because it sets a deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal.

“However, I am afraid Washington might use this agreement to extend the presence of US troops beyond 2011 or use Iraq to strike neighbouring countries, such as Iran and Syria.

“We want peace with our neighbours, we have suffered enough wars. We do not want the U.S. to push us into another one.”

Fo'ad Mohammed Sahil, 47, medical doctor:

“Although this pact is not perfect, it is a step forward that could ensure a sense of stability to allow the country's economy to grow.”

Shaker H. Al Mashhadani, 56, NGO manager:

“I am hoping that with this security pact, Iraq will now be able to access previously blocked funds.

“These were slapped on us during the sanctions after 1991.

“Everyone knows that funding will bring benefits to the Iraqi people and accelerate rehabilitation and reconstruction projects.”

China View looks at how the agreement favors Obama’s goals for a withdrawal from Iraq in Obama likely to opt for strategic retraction:

“Obama promised time and again during the election campaign that he would get all US combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months once he takes office as the next US president.

“Given the country's current economic condition, the Iraq War-related spending should be the first to lose weight in order to achieve budgetary balance. That's why Obama is expected to honor this particular promise and he will, though he is also obligated to ensure Iraq's security after the U.S. military leaves no matter how challenging that will be.”

In Iraq boots out the Americans, The Economist highlights the challenges behind the agreement and how long it has taken a country long divided by sectarian lines to reach an agreement:

“The deal was not perfect, but marked ‘a solid start for Iraq to regain its full sovereignty in three years.’

“There were no secret articles, he said, and there would be no permanent American bases. Iraq could not be used to attack others (ie, Syria or Iran). There would be, he promised, “no detainees any more, no detention centres any more, no searches or raids of buildings or houses, until there is an Iraqi judicial warrant and it is fully co-ordinated with the Iraqi government.”

“This is a big moment for America and Iraq, yet the Iraqi government was more regretful than jubilant, calling the deal the best it could achieve after more than a year of negotiations.

“The White House said the new deadlines were “aspirational”, but the text leaves less wiggle-room; clauses allowing for a review of the deadline, and the possibility that some American troops would stay on to train and support Iraqi forces, have been deleted. Security has improved markedly. But the political context has also shifted against the Bush administration—and the Iraqis have got their timetable.

“In America, Ike Skelton, chairman of the House armed services committee, a Democrat, said he was worried by provisions that could result in American troops facing prosecution in Iraqi courts. But the text suggests that this is a remote possibility. Iraq has legal jurisdiction over American troops only in cases of “major and intentional crimes”, and even then only when they are outside their bases and off-duty.

“The deal supports the president-elect’s principle of a firm timetable for leaving Iraq, but allows him to draw out the process beyond the 16-month withdrawal he promised in his campaign.”

In This is no sop. It is a vote to end the occupation of Iraq, the UK’s Guardian views the agreement as a U-turn to Bush’s initial plans and sees the pact as the defeat of American forces in Iraq:

“Two victories in a single month. Amid the encircling economic gloom, it's hard to believe we deserve such good news. First, of course, Barack Obama's election win. And now Iraq's unexpected deal with the American government for the occupation to end at last.

“Debated by the Iraqi parliament today, the agreement has been virtually ignored in many left-liberal circles as well as by most of the mainstream American media. We are so inured to thinking that the US will always get its way in Iraq, thanks to its enormous investment of troops and treasure, that any potentially contrary development is dismissed.

“Well, look at the agreement's text. It is remarkable for the number and scope of the concessions that the Iraqi government has managed to get from the Bush administration. They amount to a series of U-turns that spell the complete defeat of the neoconservative plan to turn Iraq into a pro-western ally and a platform from which to project US power across the Middle East.

“The deal gives Iraq's national resistance almost everything it fought for. How did Nouri al-Maliki's government achieve it? The main reason is that Iraqi nationalism and the occupation's unpopularity have become overwhelming. Opinion polls have long shown that a majority of Iraqis wanted the occupation to end.

“Obama's position is compatible with the pact, and his staff approved it before the Bush team signed. The president-elect wants US combat troops out of Iraq by May 2010, well before the pact's deadline. The joker in Obama's policy is his call for a "residual force" to stay to fight al-Qaida and carry on training Iraqis. The pact allows some US forces to remain, but only after joint "strategic deliberations" in the event of an external or internal threat. As for training, there has to be a separate US-Iraqi agreement.

“From the American point of view, the main thing the pact does is to allow the US to withdraw with dignity. No hasty Vietnam-style humiliation, but an orderly retreat from an adventure which was illegal, unnecessary, and a disaster from the moment of conception”

Moscow News takes a pragmatic stance and looks at what the pact means for Bush, Obama and Iraq.  It also emphasizes what is between the lines in Obama’s legacy from Bush: Three more years in Iraq:

“The Iraqi prime minister and Washington have already declared that parliament is not going to amend the document entitled the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

“The U.S. Department of State told journalists that this is what the agreement amounts to, and that it was the result of tough bargaining. Ostensibly, George W. Bush made incredible concessions, unthinkable just six months ago, and only because the al-Maliki cabinet is getting full control of the country.

“The new agreement separates the U.S. forces from the UN mandate. By and large, it gives official seal to the aggression against Iraq in 2003 and its subsequent occupation. This shows how unrestricted Washington is in its attitude to international law.

“In his election speeches Obama promised to start stage-by-stage withdrawal immediately, and to complete it by next summer. The new agreement delays this by a whole year. The president-elect should feel good about it because his military advisors unanimously say that his promise was unrealistic. Now he can blame Bush for the delay.”

In Iraq's handling of the deal with America evinces a newfound national spirit, The Daily Star of Lebanon emphasizes how the agreement highlights the positive changes in Iraq, including the ability for the Iraqi government to see beyond sectarian lines and vote together on an issue:

“The Iraqi Parliament's approval of a security agreement with Washington on Thursday is the first clear sign since the US-led invasion in 2003 that a spirit of nationalism is alive and well in the war-battered country.

“But the passage of the military pact bodes well for the future of the country because it demonstrates that Iraqis are now putting the interests of the nation above those of their various tribes and sects

“Lawmakers from all sects had expressed reservations about earlier drafts of the agreement. But Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki proved himself a leader for all Iraqis by fighting ferociously to address each of these concerns. Nearly a year of hard bargaining over these issues won the Iraqis some important concessions from Washington, including strict Iraqi control over US military operations and an agreement not to use Iraqi territory for attacks on neighboring states.

“This does not mean that the Americans can wash their hands of the entire Iraq war. Indeed, it is their duty to use their remaining time in the country to help the Iraqis build the institutions that will allow them to maintain their newfound spirit of national unity.”

Iran’s Press TV claims the deal was reached through political blackmail in Iraq passed US deal out of force:

“A member of Iran's Guardian Council said on Friday that Washington had threatened to topple the Iraqi government if it resisted the security deal and therefore forced the ratification of the controversial agreement.

“Iraq's al-Morsad reported on Oct. 10 that US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte had warned that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would be 'ousted' unless he signed the US-proposed security pact.

“Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi has also claimed that the Bush administration had threatened to cut off vital services to Baghdad if it further delayed the accord, saying the threats were akin to 'political blackmail'.”

In Stormy Iraqi Parliament Endorses Security Pact the Middle East Times explores the implications for the Iraqi government:

“The reading of the pact, known as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), was overwhelmed by the Sadrists pounding on tables with chants of "No, no to the agreement," and "No, no to the occupation."

“But that did not prevent a quick count of a show of hands in a session that was aired live on Arab news channels.

“In a news conference after the vote, the Iranian-backed Sadrists said the pact is not binding on the Iraqi people, describing it as illegitimate and unconstitutional.

“With a banner written in Farsi behind them, they insisted this was not a security pact, but a "tutelage agreement" that legitimizes the American occupation, vowing to mobilize their supporters against the deal and to escalate their opposition to the continued presence of U.S. troops in the country.

“But the reform document that was endorsed indicated a commitment to greater Sunni participation in decision-making and in the state's public institutions, stressing that no one party or sect has the right to dominate positions of influence in the country.”

The International Herald Tribune discusses the differing opinions in Iraq in Feelings are mixed as Iraqis ponder U.S. security agreement:

“Some (Iraqis) were elated that a date for the American departure had officially been set, others were angered that the Iraqi government had been, in their view, bullied into an deal by an occupying force; others worried that the agreement would leave the central government with too much power, and still others were not at all convinced that a superpower would voluntarily withdraw from a much weaker country.

“Opposition to the pact was most virulent from senior leaders loyal to the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who issued a statement on Friday declaring three days of mourning to mark the pact's ratification.

“At Friday prayers in Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite district in northeastern Baghdad, Sayyid Hassan al-Husseini thundered against the pact's supporters, delivering specific critiques of the agreement's provisions and criticizing the fact that it was made with the Bush administration rather than with president-elect Barack Obama, who has proposed a shorter timetable than the one outlined in the agreement.

“But in interviews with Iraqis in cities around the country, there was less concern about the agreement itself than a widespread skepticism that the Americans would actually adhere to it.

“‘In the security agreement much has been achieved,’ said Khadum al-Quraishi, 40, a teacher from Diyala province. ‘But as to ending the occupation in three years, that's implausible. America occupied Iraq for its interests, and it would not leave Iraq after so many enormous losses.’

“‘Iraq's sovereignty remains incomplete with the presence of the foreign forces,’ said Ahmed Saafi in a sermon in Kerbala. ‘But supporters of the agreement are optimistic that it will give Iraq eventually the full sovereignty. Some are pessimistic, for our previous experience proves the opposite.’

“‘Frankly speaking, the agreement is very clear,’ Alaa Mohammed, a 29 year old journalist from the southern city of Basra, said on Thursday, shortly after seeing the ratification vote on television. ‘But some members of Parliament disagreed with it just to attract attention. They have no idea about what benefits the people. What I saw today made me feel I want the forces to stay longer, because without these forces we will eat each other.’”

In Iraqi MPs vote: US troops gone by 2012, Australia’s The Age explores what the pact means for Iraqis:

“The approval of the referendum was seen as a way to ensure that the Americans respect the pact's terms — at least in the coming months, said Adnan Pachachi, a senior member of the secular Iraqiya Party. The referendum will make the Americans ‘more careful and they will not make mistakes that will cause the Iraqi people to reject the agreement’, he said.

“‘In 2003 we didn't have a right to decide, but now we have a chance … to deal with the occupation forces,’ said Dhiaa al-Deen al-Fayeh, a member of the Shiite majority bloc in parliament.”

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