By Ramzy Baroud
World media rashly celebrated the "historic" security pact that allows for US troops to stay in Iraq for three more years after the Iraqi parliament ratified the agreement on Thursday, 27 November. The approval came one week after the Iraqi cabinet did the same.
Thousands of headlines exuded from media outlets, largely giving the false impression that the Iraqi government and parliament have a real say over the future of US troops in their country, once again playing into the ruse fashioned by Washington that Iraq is a democratic country, operating independently from the dictates of US Ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker and the top commander of US troops in Iraq, General Ray Odierno. The men issued a joint, congratulatory statement shortly after the parliamentary vote, describing it as one that would "formalise a strong and equal partnership" between the US and Iraq.
Jonathan Steel of the British Guardian also joined the chorus. "Look at the agreement’s text. It is remarkable for the number and scope of the concessions that the Iraqi government has managed to get from the Bush administration. They amount to a series of U-turns that spell the complete defeat of the neo-conservative plan to turn Iraq into a pro-Western ally and a platform from which to project US power across the Middle East."
Even Aljazeera.net English seemed oblivious to the charade. It assuredly wrote that the agreement "will end the 2003 invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein. It is effectively a coming-of-age for the Iraqi government, which drove a hard bargain with Washington, securing a number of concessions — including a hard timeline for withdrawal — over more than 11 months of tough negotiations."
Most attention was given to dates and numbers as if their mere mention was enough to compel the US government to respect the sovereignty of Iraq: 30 June 2009 is the date on which US forces will withdraw from Iraqi cities and January 2012 is the date for withdrawal from the entire country. Also duly mentioned is a hurried reference to opposition to the agreement represented in the "no" vote of the "followers of Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia leader", which caused, according to the BBC "rowdy scenes of stamping, shouting and the waving of placards during the debate".
The dismissal of the opposition as "followers" of this or that — portraying those who refuse to be intimidated by US pressure as a cultic, unruly bunch — also has its rewards. After all, only a real democracy can allow for such stark, fervent disagreements, as long as the will of the majority is honoured in the end.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali Al-Dabbagh knew exactly how to capitalise on the buzzwords that the media was eagerly waiting to hear. The success of the vote would constitute a "victory for democracy because the opposition have done their part and the supporters have done their part".
Of course, there is nothing worth celebrating about all of this, for it’s the same charade that the Bush administration and previous administrations have promoted for decades, in Iraq and also elsewhere. "Real democracy" in the Third World is merely a means to a specific end, always ensuring the dominion of US interests and its allies. Those who dare to deviate from the norm find themselves the subject of violent, grand experiments, with Gaza being the latest example.
What is particularly interesting about the Iraq case is that news reports and media analysts scampered to dissect the 18- page agreement as if a piece of paper with fancy wording would in any way prove binding upon the US administration which, in the last eight years, has made a mockery of international law and treaties that have been otherwise used as a global frame of reference. Why would the US government, which largely acted alone in Iraq, violated the Geneva Conventions, international law and even its own war and combat regulations, respect an agreement signed with an occupied, hapless power constituted mostly of men and women handpicked by the US itself to serve the role of "sovereign"?
It’s also bewildering how some important details are so conveniently overlooked; for example, the fact that the Iraqi government can sign a separate agreement with the US to extend the deadline for withdrawal should the security situation deem such an agreement necessary. Instead, the focus was made on "concessions" obtained by the Iraqis regarding Iraq’s jurisdiction over US citizens and soldiers who commit heinous crimes while "off duty" and outside their military bases. This precisely means that the gruesome crimes committed in prisons such as Abu Ghraib and the wilful shooting last year of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater mercenaries in Nisour Square in Central Baghdad is of no concern for Iraqis. And even when crimes that fall under Iraqi jurisdiction are reported, such matters are to be referred to a joint US-Iraqi committee. One can only assume that those with the bigger guns will always prevail in their interpretation of the agreement.
In fact, a major reason behind the delay in publishing the agreement in English (an Arabic version was first publicised) is the apparent US insistence on interpreting the language in a fashion that would allow for loopholes in future disagreements. But even if the language is understood with mutual clarity, and even if the Iraqi government were determined to stand its ground on a particular issue, who is likely to prevail: the US government with 150,000 troops on the ground and a massive imperial project whose failure will prove most costly to US interests in the Middle East, or the government of Nuri Al-Maliki, whose very existence is a US determination?
More than five years have passed since the US occupied Iraq, leaving in its wake a tragedy that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, destroyed civil society, thus allowing for the growth of one of the world’s most corrupt political regimes, and introducing the same terrorists to Iraq that the Bush administration vowed to defeat. Nothing has changed since then. The US attacked Iraq for its wealth and the strategic value of controlling such wealth. The Bush administration and their allies have tried many times to distract from this reality, using every political cover and charade imaginable. The facts remain the same, as does the remedy: The US must withdraw from Iraq without delay, allowing Iraqis to pick up the pieces and work out their differences as they have done for millennia.
-Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers, journals and anthologies around the world. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London).