Saturday, May 31, 2008

Two different kinds of "rejection"

AlHayat, which has the most comprehensive account of the treaty story this morning, begins its story, headed "Shiia-Sunni unity in rejection of the treaty..." this way:
Political and religious currents came together yesterday in rejection of the proposed Iraq-US treaty, considering it "an infringement on sovereignty" and "binding future generations"; and observers stressed that the latest version includes text relating to the establishment of 400 locations and bases [for the American forces], exemption [from Iraqi legal process] for American soldiers and citizens, and elimination of any responsibility [on the American side] for participation in the rebuilding of Iraq.
In the course of the article, the journalist goes on to underline the difference between two types of "rejection": Absolute rejection of any treaty being arrived at under the US occupation--in other words, linkage of treaty-rejection to a demand for actual troop-withdrawal--by the Sadrists and the Sunni resistance (he quotes from a statement by the Political Office for the Iraqi Resistance which describes the proposal as "a gift of something by those who do not own it, to those who do not deserve it") on the one side, and the conditional rejection of particular points by the GreenZone politicians on the other.

The journalist stresses that the objections attributed to the Supreme Council, and likewise to the Islamic Party of Iraq, are objections to particular clauses only, and he notes: "These protests [by Hakim and Hashemi respectively] have not stopped the Iraqi Foreign Ministry from announcing that the negotiations will be continued; and informed sources said Crocker has informed the Iraqi politicians that the US rejects holding a general referendum on the clauses of the agreement adding that it would be bad if Iraq were unable to exit from Clause 7" (of the UN charter, which governs the current status of US forces in the country).

It is worth noting that both the Sunni politician Hashemi and the Shiite politician Hakim are on the same page in this, both saying they reject certain terms proposed by the Americans, but both part of the government that is willing to continue the negotiations. This is contrary to the suggestion that the NYT is still trying to convey, namely that there is a sectarian division involved in this:
But there are many Iraqi politicians who support the negotiations, including Sunni leaders who view an American military presence as a bulwark against what they fear could be an attempt by Shiite leaders backed by Iran to renew a sectarian grab for Baghdad and the mixed areas around the capital.
Failing to note at the same time that Shiite leaders like Hakim and Maliki also support the negotiations, and the decisive point is not Sunni versus Shiia, but rather that if the US forces were to leave, the result would be to threaten the toppling of the current ruling group--Sunni and Shiia alike--by nationalists--also Sunni and Shiia alike.

The other potentially misleading part of today's news is the idea that Sistani is determined that there should be a national referendum on any such treaty or agreement, and since a referendum would certainly lose, that he is in effect against any such agreement. AlHayat, which has staked out a position in this by reporting previously that sources close to Sistani said he was bound and determined there will have to be a referendum, today acknowledges that Sistani's representative in Karbala didn't mention the referendum idea in his Friday-sermon comments on the issue:
[Sistani's] representative in Karbala didn't touch on the issue of a referendum in his Friday sermon yesterday, but he stressed that the marja'iyya is "attentive to what is being planned," and he said it is "desirous of getting Iraq out of Chapter 7, which it has been in since the beginning of the decade of the 90s..."
which is about as ambiguous as you can get.

Moreover, according to a SupremeCouncil website, another cleric in the Sistani group, Sheikh Sadreddin Qubanji, said in his Friday sermon at a major Najaf place of worship that the people reject any agreement that doesn't protect the complete sovereignty and interests of Iraq.
However, he stressed that this rejection does not go to the root of the agreement, as is being propagated in channels of communication outside of Iraq to the effect that this is the selling of Iraq to America....The Imam urged those in authority in Iraq and outside of Iraq to study the agreement carefully, and to respect the views of Iraqis, and not to launch emotional images and generalities against them, and to be objective in disussions of this matter.
And later on he said any agreement would have to respect certain basic principles:
and these are: national sovereignty and avoiding any infringement of it; participation of all political entities in the writing of the clauses; that it be clear and transparent; that it respect the will of the Iraqi people; and the need to expose it to Parliament, to the people, and to the religious marja'iyya."
To me this does not read like a radical insistence on submitting any agreement to a national referendum. Moreover, the reference to foreign media exaggerations, and the need to be calm and objective, suggests a degree of concern about being railroaded. (Which does not, of course, alter the fact that close scrutiny by Sistani's circle certainly adds to the problems the Americans are going to have in trying to carry out what was originally supposed to be a quiet wink-and-a-nod perpetuation of their control over the country).

Another point that calls out for comment this morning is that the Bush administration and the right generally do not appear to have a strategy for dealing with the problem of having this in the spotlight. For instance, last Tuesday it was reported that US officials were telling Iraqi authorities to hurry up and reply to charges (in Nasrullah's speech) that the GZ politcal process is a sham, and to assert that it is purely Iraqi and that the politicians are completely autonomous. Finally, yesterday, President of the Republic Talabani went ahead and enunciated this as a reply to Nasrullah, at a time when people are no longer focused not on Nasrullah but on the US-Iraq treaty.

And it appears the US info-ops machine has nothing substantive to say about the broad Iraqi opposition to the treaty, except to split hairs by saying it isn't a treaty, only a "status of forces agreement" and a "strategic framework agreement", and to insist there isn't any demand for "permanent" bases (without saying what "permanent" means) or fixed troop-levels (in other words, without touching on the issue of uncontrolled troop-presence, troop-movements, powers of "arrest" without reference to Iraqi legal proceedings, exemption of Americans from Iraqi law, and so on).

The reason for this info-ops failure is plain to see. The argument they are mobilized to make has always been that without a US troop-presence there would be civil war (and as noted above, the NYT took a half-hearted stab at keeping this theme alive), but the Sunni-Shiia politial unanimity in opposition to the treaty makes this a harder argument to make. So they are stuck.

Americans, for their part, are trained at being kept in the dark on any kind of "national security" topics like this, so that the theme of absolute secrecy surrounding the talks, a key point for the Iraqis, doesn't even seem to be an issue in the English-language media.


Blogger John Robertson said...

Trained at being kept in the dark, indeed. Thanks for trying to crack some light into the closet, Badger.

John Robertson

7:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Badger - Crocker is lying here and I posted about that at my site.

11:49 AM  
Blogger rmwarnick said...

Thanks for the Al Hayat scoop on treaty provisions. Sounds like old-school colonialism. Can't find out anything in the U.S. media, of course-- they aren't even asking what's in the treaty!

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Crocker is lying? you mean his lips are moving?

11:02 PM  
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