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I heard part of a conference call the National Security Network organized yesterday about the negotiations for a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq. Skip Gnehm, who’s been ambassador to Kuwait, Australia, and Jordan as well as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, and a number of other prominent positions made a couple of provocative points. One, he points out that “in all of my experience, there are no SOFA agreements that authorize military action.” In other words, we have agreements with Germany, Italy, South Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other countries governing the presence of U.S. military forces in those countries, but none of them authorize the use of military force inside the host country or against the host country’s citizens. Analogies between the SOFA the Bush administration is putting together with Iraq and standard alliance relationships are, in other words, totally invalid.

The other point he made had to do with the problems, historically, that have been posed by pushing too aggressively for these basing deals. He said that Britain had long had a security agreement with Iraq, but “post-WWII there was a moment in time when the British really insisted on the Iraqis that they needed to extend that agreement” which led to “riots on the streets, broad opposition across tribes and ethnic groups” and eventually the Prime Minister had to flee the country. Long story short, “British pressure undermined the government in Iraq, and undermined their own standing in the country.” Here’s Wikipedia’s account of the matter:

Meanwhile, Britain attempted to legalize a permanent military presence in Iraq even beyond the terms of the 1930 treaty, although it no longer had World War II to justify its continued presence there. Both Nuri and the regent increasingly saw their unpopular links with Great Britain as the best guarantee of their own position, and accordingly set about cooperating in the creation of a new Anglo-Iraqi Treaty. In early January 1948 Nuri himself joined the negotiating delegation in England, and on 15 January the treaty was signed.

The response on the streets of Baghdad was immediate and furious. After six years of British occupation, no single act could have been less popular than giving the British an even larger legal role in Iraq’s affairs. Demonstrations broke out the following day, with students playing a prominent part and the Communist Party guiding much of the anti-government activity. The protests intensified over the following days, until the police fired on a mass demonstration (20 January), leaving many casualties. On the following dayt, `Abd al-Ilah disavowed the new treaty. Nuri returned to Baghdad on 26 January and immediately implemented a harsh policy of repression against the protesters. At mass demonstration the next day, police fired again at the protesters, leaving many more dead.

The Monarchy held on to power until the late 1950s, at which point Nuri “was shot dead and buried that same day, but an angry mob disinterred his corpse and dragged it through the streets of Baghdad, where it was hung up, burned, and mutilated.”

Now on the flipside, the Western oil companies who are securing no-bid contracts in Iraq are going to want to hire Western security contractors to defend their interests, and apparently one of the things the Bush administration is pushing for is a continuation of the situation where legally unaccountable foreign mercenaries can be introduced into Iraq willy-nilly.

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