Sovereignty In Iraq

[ Posted Wednesday, October 10th, 2007 – 03:54 UTC ]

Sovereignty (n) -- government free from external control

Is Iraq a truly sovereign state, or is the Maliki government a puppet of America? We may know the answer to this crucial question in a very short time. Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki could show independence from American interests in many ways, some of them decidedly not to President Bush's liking.

The first shot across America's bow was Iraq's announcement that they were buying $100 million in weapons from China. They had tried to "buy American," but American factories couldn't deliver the weapons fast enough. There's a war on, after all, and American weapons are needed for American troops. So Iraq went with China, who could deliver the goods on time. Now, $100 million may sound like a lot, but when it comes to the oceans of dollars of war profits to be made in Iraq, it's truly small potatoes. But it's the principle of the thing that stung some in Washington. Our military-industrial complex likes to be seen as the top-dog weapons-supplier to the world, and losing out like this (to China, especially) is just embarrassing.

Then there is the fact of Maliki's civil relations with Iran; which are a lot warmer than America's own relations with Iran. But what is Maliki realistically supposed to do? Ignore the larger country next door with which Iraq shares a huge border? Would America likely ignore Canada or Mexico in this fashion, or do we regularly sit down and talk with them?

But Maliki's diplomacy with Iran makes the U.S. very nervous. If the rumors are true and we start another war (with Iran), which side will Maliki back? Maliki doesn't want a war with Iran, he's got enough problems of his own.

But the real power struggle between Maliki wanting to take Iraq in an independent direction, and America's desire to pull the strings in Iraq is coming down to the acid test of what happens to Blackwater. The recent shooting incident with Blackwater is still mostly in the news in America, but we've kind of moved on to fresher tragedies (the American news-watching audience has the attention span of a hyperactive bumblebee). But in Iraq, they haven't forgotten it. This one incident has become a test case (within Iraq) for Iraq's own government to do what is best for Iraq's people -- namely, chuck Blackwater out of the country.

On a larger scale, my guess is that the first piece of "major legislation" to pass the Iraqi parliament is going to be rescinding Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17 which exempts private security firms from Iraqi law, and which was issued the day before we officially turned over sovereignty to the Iraqis.

Imagine that -- the first important thing the Iraqi government may be able to agree upon is that American security firms need to be held accountable to the Iraqi rule of law; since the Americans have essentially left these people accountable to no law whatsoever. Talk about the student teaching the teacher!

And, if America as a country (and as a government) meant it when we said "Iraq is a sovereign state," then we are just going to have to start playing by their rules. That's what sovereignty is all about, after all -- having control over what happens within your country.

The next subject the Iraq parliament may decide to tackle (after scoring big domestic political points among the Iraqi populace by kicking Blackwater out) may be even more serious -- forcing America to negotiate a "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA) with them.

[OK, I have to admit, that's a pretty silly acronym for even the Pentagon to come up with.]

A SOFA is an agreement between a host nation and another nation (us, in this case) that covers forces based within the host nation. We have been operating in Iraq without a SOFA from the new Iraqi government so far... but now Bush is openly talking about staying in Iraq as long as we've been in South Korea... and even the top three Democratic presidential candidates won't say all our forces will be out -- even by the year 2013 -- so it seems like a sensible time to start talking about a SOFA. But nobody wants to talk about it. Because that would mean admitting to the American public that we intend to actually use those enormous multi-zillion-dollar "Forward Operating Bases" that we've built in Iraq -- for the foreseeable future. And in an election year, nobody wants to admit this -- not Bush, not Republicans, and definitely not Democrats.

But a SOFA may be forced upon us by the Iraqi government. A SOFA would not just cover American bases in Iraq, it would mainly cover legal jurisdictional issues -- when soldiers would be held accountable under Iraqi law, and when they would be held accountable by American law. So you can see why -- if the Iraq government forces new rules upon the security contractors -- this would be the logical next step for them to take.

Which, undoubtedly, Bush isn't going to be very happy about. But again, that's what sovereignty is all about -- the other country being able to do what they want, not what we want.

The Iraqis tried to get America's attention last week, but almost nobody noticed. They came out and openly admitted that political reconciliation in Iraq is just not going to happen. Every faction in Iraq correctly sees the current situation as a power struggle, not as a road to conciliation (which, after all, means sharing power). They're more interested in consolidating the power they already have, and continuing the struggle for more.

This is momentous news, but America greeted it with a collective yawn. Remember, the "surge" was not a strategy, it was a tactic. This tactic was supposed to achieve a goal (lessening violence, improving security), which was supposed to provide "breathing space" for the strategic goal (Iraqi political reconciliation) to take place. In other words, whether the tactic has been successful or not is now a moot point. Because the overall strategy has been rejected by the political leaders in Iraq.

Nobody knows what this means, and the shocking thing is: nobody is even talking about it. What is going to happen (for instance) if al-Sadr's militia takes over the port of Basra and the surrounding oil fields? Are we going to allow one militia to control the flow of oil out of Iraq? What happens if Maliki endorses such a situation? This is just one example of the kind of thing we could be facing very soon in Iraq -- Shi'ites taking control of sectors of Iraq in a power struggle. It is by no means the only scenario possible, if such a power struggle comes nakedly out in the open.

What are we going to do if Maliki (or whichever cabinet minister) announces that there will now be a religious test for the police and army -- and only Shi'ites can join? Maliki is already seriously upset at America for making friends with the Sunnis in al-Anbar, and encouraging them to join Iraq's armed forces. So what happens if Maliki just bans them from serving?

This is, again, sovereignty. Short of overthrowing Maliki's government by force or by stealth, the United States can't really legally do anything if Maliki decides to take Iraq in a direction we don't particularly want them to go in.

The Blackwater incident was just what made the pot boil over -- it has been simmering and bubbling for a long time now. Maliki has to prove to the average Iraqi-on-the-street that he is running Iraq independently from George Bush's wishes. The Blackwater case gives him a perfect opportunity to do so. If Maliki backs down (he has already moved the goalposts back -- as he now wants Blackwater out "in six months"), he will have proven to his fellow countrymen that not even their own safety is more important to him than being a pawn of America (which does not bode well for his future political prospects).

But if Maliki does not back down, he may actually take the first few steps on the road to true sovereignty. Where that road will lead him (and Iraq) remains to be seen. Since this is what we keep saying we want (an independent Iraq), it will be interesting to see what America's reaction to such fledgling steps towards a truly sovereign Iraqi government will be.

The word "sovereignty" has as its base "sovereign" -- a king or other single ruler of a country. The Queen of England, for instance, does not stand when her national anthem is played, because she literally is the state (she does not salute the anthem because she herself is being honored). A sovereign ruler embodies the nation itself. Iraq had that under the dictatorship (and personality cult) of Saddam Hussein. That era is over. But even though the state of Iraq is no longer represented by one man, the concept of Iraqi sovereignty did not go away with Saddam. What remains to be seen is how Maliki will grasp the reins of this awesome power, and where he will take the country of Iraq after taking control. And that's something that nobody (except Maliki) can predict accurately.

But we'd better start thinking about the possible outcomes.


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


4 Comments on “Sovereignty In Iraq”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I don't know why but it always comes as a surprise and disappointment when the US yet again pays lip service only to ideals such as sovereignty, democracy and freedom while doing the opposite.

    Iraq has a long road ahead to achieve sovereignty and if they are not carefull they will end up being divied up among the powers in the region.


  2. [2] 
    spermwhale wrote:


    Yeah Stan, this country use to be a pretty good place to live. A lot of us grew up proud of what our flag stood for as well as the government behind it.
    Iraq may well have a long road ahead. I only wonder how we will find OUR way back.


  3. [3] 
    benskull wrote:

    Interesting article. What a mess over there. I wonder whether US planned for things to head in this direction, expected it or what. I heard a debate the other day from NPR podcast, about spreading democracy in the middle east, good or bad? There were some interesting points. Cheney's daughter spoke, and obviously had the same point of view as her father. An argument from a russian dissenter prior to Putin, said, if the US truly wants democracy in the middle east, then what about Saudi Arabia? Forget the many other nations around the world that we support that are NOT democratic states, Saudi Arabia, is a monarchy, the wealth goes straight into the pockets of royalty. If our mission were truly to spread democracy, are we going to invade Saudi Arabia? Things are definately complicated over there. CW, what do you think of Bill Richardson? Sperm, it is sad. Our govt is in need of massive reform. I don't know if Hillary is up to it. Next year worries me. The populace needs to start waking up and putting more pressure on those in office.

  4. [4] 
    benskull wrote:

    PS, I read some chomsky that quoted a poll which said, that while a decent percentage (cant remember but @40-60) of Iraqis are in favor of democracy, a very small percentage(less than 5) of them beleive that that is the true purpose of our occupation. If the US practiced what it preached EVERYWHERE, people might have more faith in our 'vision'.

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