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Publication: Conservative Review
Secret plan to keep Iraq under US control

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               THE CONSERVATIVE REVIEW   
                   June 6, 2008
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Secret plan to keep Iraq under US control 
-by Patrick Cockburn

 Bush wants 50 military bases, control of Iraqi airspace and
 legal immunity for all American soldiers and contractors...

A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate 
the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, 
regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election 
in November.

The terms of the impending deal, details of which have 
been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an 
explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear 
that the accord, under which US troops would occupy 
permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest 
Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destab-
ilise Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the 
basis for unending conflict in their country. 

But the accord also threatens to provoke a political 
crisis in the US. President Bush wants to push it 
through by the end of next month so he can declare a 
military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been 
vindicated. But by perpetuating the US presence in 
Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges 
by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, 
to withdraw US troops if he is elected president in 
November. 

The timing of the agreement would also boost the 
Republican candidate, John McCain, who has claimed 
the United States is on the verge of victory in Iraq 
– a victory that he says Mr. Obama would throw away 
by a premature military withdrawal.

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America currently has 151,000 troops in Iraq and, even 
after projected withdrawals next month, troop levels 
will stand at more than 142,000 – 10 000 more than when 
the military "surge" began in January 2007. Under the 
terms of the new treaty, the Americans would retain the 
long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq. American 
negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law 
for US troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry 
out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq 
without consulting the Baghdad government. 

The precise nature of the American demands has been kept 
secret until now. The leaks are certain to generate an 
angry backlash in Iraq. "It is a terrible breach of our 
sovereignty," said one Iraqi politician, adding that if 
the security deal was signed it would delegitimise the 
government in Baghdad which will be seen as an American 
pawn. 

The US has repeatedly denied it wants permanent bases 
in Iraq but one Iraqi source said: "This is just a 
tactical subterfuge." Washington also wants control of 
Iraqi airspace below 29,000ft and the right to pursue 
its "war on terror" in Iraq, giving it the authority 
to arrest anybody it wants and to launch military camp-
aigns without consultation. 

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Mr Bush is determined to force the Iraqi government to 
sign the so-called "strategic alliance" without modi-
fications, by the end of next month. But it is already 
being condemned by the Iranians and many Arabs as a 
continuing American attempt to dominate the region.

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful and usually 
moderate Iranian leader, said yesterday that such a deal 
would create "a permanent occupation". He added: "The 
essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into 
slaves of the Americans." 

Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is believed to 
be personally opposed to the terms of the new pact but 
feels his coalition government cannot stay in power 
without US backing.

The deal also risks exacerbating the proxy war being 
fought between Iran and the United States over who 
should be more influential in Iraq. 

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Although Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any 
agreement limiting Iraqi sovereignty, political observers 
in Baghdad suspect they will sign in the end and simply 
want to establish their credentials as defenders of Iraqi 
independence by a show of defiance now.

The one Iraqi with the authority to stop deal is the 
majority Shia spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-
Sistani. In 2003, he forced the US to agree to a referen-
dum on the new Iraqi constitution and the election of a 
parliament. But he is said to believe that loss of US 
support would drastically weaken the Iraqi Shia, who won 
a majority in parliament in elections in 2005.

The US is adamantly against the new security agreement 
being put to a referendum in Iraq, suspecting that it 
would be voted down. The influential Shia cleric Muqtada 
al-Sadr has called on his followers to demonstrate every 
Friday against the impending agreement on the grounds 
that it compromises Iraqi independence. 

The Iraqi government wants to delay the actual signing 
of the agreement but the office of Vice-President Dick 
Cheney has been trying to force it through. The US 
ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, has spent weeks 
trying to secure the accord.

The signature of a security agreement, and a parallel 
deal providing a legal basis for keeping US troops in 
Iraq, is unlikely to be accepted by most Iraqis. But 
the Kurds, who make up a fifth of the population, will 
probably favour a continuing American presence, as will
Sunni Arab political leaders who want US forces to 
dilute the power of the Shia. The Sunni Arab community, 
which has broadly supported a guerrilla war against US 
occupation, is likely to be split. 

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