Caught in a vice: Looking less than comfortable, Iraqi Prime

Minister al-Maliki is greeted by Iranian President Ahmadinejad

in Teheran, June 8.



Novosti, Russia

Iraq's Impossible Mission: Reconciling Iran and the United States


"The Iraqi Prime Minister has made his second visit to Tehran this year. Iranian authorities have offered strategic cooperation to Iraq, including in the military sphere. This is happening precisely at a time when talks on a long-term security deal between Baghdad and Washington have stalled."


By Maria Appakova


Translated By Igor Medvedev


June 9, 2008


Russia - Novosti - Original Article (Russian)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki assures Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that an Iraqi-U.S. security deal is no threat to Iran. It's doubtful that he was persuaded.


BBC NEWS VIDEO: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki tries to reassure Iran about a proposed security pact between Baghdad and Washington, June 9, 00:01:28RealVideo

MOSCOW: Accompanied by several cabinet ministers, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made his second visit to Tehran this year. Iranian authorities have offered strategic cooperation to Iraq, including in the military sphere.


This is happening precisely at a time when talks on a long-term security deal between Baghdad and Washington have stalled. Let's say that this is an agreement which is absolutely not in Tehran's interests.


This puts the Iraqi prime minister is a very difficult position. He wants good relations with Iran and the United States. Ideally, he would like treaties with both of them, but that's unrealistic given tense Iran-U.S. relations.


But what can al-Maliki do? He can't do without Iranian help given its influence within Iraq's Shiite community. Iran could escalate the situation in Iraq from within at any time. But conversely, it could also reduce tensions. In any event, the Iraqi prime minister can't afford to quarrel with Tehran.


But at the same time, he badly needs a treaty with the Americans. The U.N. mandate for the international military continent in Iraq expires on December 31, 2008. But Iraqi security forces are far from strong enough to stand without Western support and Al-Maliki can't replace international forces with Iranian troops. Neither the United States, nor Iraq's Arab neighbors would allow this to happen - and even if they did, it would lead to conflict with Iraq's Sunni and Kurdish communities. When Tehran offered assistance to Baghdad, it is unlikely that Tehran had troop deployments in mind - this would be too much.


The only chance al-Maliki has to guarantee calm is to reconcile its two greatest allies the United States and Iran. Up to now he has made little progress. During his latest visit to Tehran, he tried to persuade Iranian government that a treaty between Baghdad and Washington doesn't threaten Iran.


"Iraq will not become a base for U.S. aggression against neighboring countries," said al-Maliki, trying to dispel rumors about U.S. plans in respect to Iran, which have been published in several newspapers, including the British Independent in regard to a draft treaty between Washington and Baghdad . As far as how reliable this information is there is no obvious evidence, but its publication made a lot of noise and jeopardized further talks between Iraq and the United States.


The most controversial paragraphs of the "draft treaty" cited by the media provide for the establishment of about 50 U.S. military bases; immunity for American troops and contractors from Iraqi laws; freedom of action for the United States in conducting arrests and taking military action without prior consultation with Iraqi authorities; control over Iraqi air space at altitudes below 9,000 meters; control over military contracts signed by Iraq and decision-making power in the security sphere for the next few years; and the right to carry out attacks from Iraqi territory against "any country that poses a threat to international stability." That last item is certainly an allusion to Iran.


These provisions could not help but cause outrage in Iraq and beyond, but primarily in Tehran. However, American officials deny that these ideas are embodied in the draft treaty.


Thus, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker has assured that any future agreement "will not infringe on the sovereignty of Iraq." And given that the document will be subject to Iraqi Parliament approval and public debate, it's out of the question to even suggest the unconditional acceptance of these conditions, which according to the media, the Americans are insisting upon.


Moqtada al-Sadr: His staunch opposition to a long-term security agreement with the United States is giving Prime Minister Maliki and President Bush heartburn ...


Al-Jazeera TV, Qatar: Interview with Moqtada al-Sadr recorded just after the outbreak of violence in Basra, Mar. 29, 00:10:16RealVideo

But in Iraq, at the behest of a number of high-profile politicians like influential Shiite leader Muktada al-Sadr, the protests have already begun. Iraqi MPs write letters to the U.S. Congress promising to oppose any treaty with the United States - and not only in the security sphere - unless the timing and method of withdrawal of foreign forces from their country is clearly laid out. So it's not hard to imagine what might happen in Iraq if what has been published in the media turns out to be true. Washington could hardly be so naive as to pour more oil on the Iraqi flames.


Washington insists that the leaks which resulted in the publication of some of the draft treaty are part of a well-organized provocation by opponents of any agreement between Iraq and the United States. Suspicion falls above all, on Iran. But the deliberate leak could also have come from the U.S. side in order to test Iraqi reaction, and perhaps make them more pliable to a more favorable version of the treaty that has not been published. Although the terms mentioned seem outrageous, some of them be under actual discussion. For instance, freedom of movement and legal immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq.


But in any case, the publication in the media has done the job - negotiations between Iraq and the United States have ground to a halt. Meanwhile, there's little time left to come to a decision. Not only is the U.N. mandate for a foreign military presence expiring. But so is the presidency of George W. Bush, who with al-Maliki has been the one to conduct the strategic partnership talks. Last November, both politicians set the deadline for a decision at July. Now it's clear that the deadline will not be met.


If media reports are to be believed, Washington is so desperate to make the needed arrangements for the deal that it has threatened to lift the immunity from part of Iraq's hard currency accounts in the Federal Reserve. Due to this, according to The Independent, Iraq may lose about $20 billion out of the $50 billion in the account.


[Editor's Note: U.S. negotiators are using the existence of $20 billion in outstanding court judgments against Iraq in the U.S., to pressure their Iraqi counterparts into accepting the terms of the military deal ].


If talks with the United States drag on much longer, al-Maliki will likely have to ask the U.N. to extend the mandate for the presence of foreign troops in Iraq. But who, other than the Americans, would want to stay? If Barack Obama wins the presidential election in November, the American contingent could be withdrawn whether the U.N. extends their mandate or not. Debate in Congress on the agreement with Iraq may be as fierce and long as the debate in the Iraqi parliament.



So for the time being, Tehran has no grounds for concern. Nevertheless, the Iranian authorities aren't going to leave things to chance, so are upgrading their contacts with Baghdad. The Iraqi government will find it increasingly torn between Tehran and Washington.






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[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US June 12, 7:30pm]