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Secret plan to keep Iraq under US control

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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 destabilise 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 settle-
ment would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential 
nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw US troops if he is 
elected president in November. 


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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 

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 

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 campaigns without 

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Mr Bush is determined to force the Iraqi government to sign 
the so-called "strategic alliance" without modifications, 
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 

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

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 
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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 
referendum 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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