Iraq’s key Shiite and Sunni leaders have rejected a new open-ended security agreement with the United States that envisages permanent US military bases, immunity to American military personnel and security contractors if they killed civilians and allowing the United States to detain Iraqis indefinitely.
The proposed Iraqi-American agreement would provide a legal framework for U.S. troops to remain in Iraq after Dec. 31, when their U.N. mandate expires. The United Nation's mandate that allows foreign forces to occupy Iraq will not be renewed at the end of the year. So any future U.S. military involvement in the war-torn nation can only continue with such an agreement.
Very little detail is available about the proposed agreement as the negotiations are shrouded in secrecy and Iraqi officials say they'd been instructed by American officials not to discuss the details.
The Guardian newspaper reported in April last that strategic framework agreement between the US and Iraqi government envisages an open-ended military presence in the country. It authorizes the US to "conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security" without time limit. At present U.S. forces are exempt from Iraqi law and have essentially unchecked powers to arrest and jail Iraqi citizens as part of military operations.
Not surprisingly, the agreement has drawn sharp criticism from Iraq’s political and religious leaders. The country's most revered Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has formally objected to the agreement, saying he would not allow the government to sign such a deal with "the US occupiers" as long as he was alive.
An influential Shiite political party leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq is part of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki's ruling coalition, has also denounced the agreement saying several parts of the agreement "violate Iraq's national sovereignty."
At the same time, Omar al-Jabburi, a prominent Sunni lawmaker, says that Iraq is still a country under occupation, consequently any pact arrived at between the unequal partners will be no agreement.
According to Global Policy Forum, at present there are 55 US bases in Iraq, among which commanders have chosen a small number for long-term or “enduring” development. The base-building process is now far along, with construction of major concrete runways, communications, utilities and extensive amenities for troops.
The key facilities are:
- Al-Balad, also known as Camp Anaconda, 68 miles north of Baghdad; all Coalition air activity in Iraq is coordinated at this base
- Al-Talil, 14 miles southwest of Nasiriya, in the south
- Al-Asad, about 120 miles west of Baghdad , near the Euphrates town of Khan al-Baghdadi
- Al-Qayyara , about 50 miles southeast of Mosul, in northern Iraq.
- Camp Victory/Camp Liberty, a complex near the Baghdad International Airport, where the US military command has its headquarters.
These key US bases are enormous. Al-Balad/Anaconda is spread over fifteen square miles while al-Asad and al-Talil bases total nearly twenty square miles each. Even in the vicinity of Baghdad, the US base complex Victory/Liberty is so big that it accommodates a 140 mile triathlon course.
At the center of these bases are large and sophisticated military airfields, with double runways of 10-12,000 feet, that can accommodate many aircraft, including fighters, drones, helicopters and large transport planes. The bases are largely self-sufficient in terms of utilities, including power, phone systems, heating/cooling and hospital facilities.
In addition to these sprawling military bases, the US has built a massive new embassy compound in the center of Baghdad, that occupies 104 acres. It is ten times the size of the average US embassy and six times the size of the UN compound in New York.
A large majority of Iraqis oppose a long-term US presence in their country and consider bases as a key negative symbol of the occupation. Opinion polls have shown that Iraqis believe that the United States is planning to establish and keep such bases, even if the Iraqi government asks to remove them.
In a public opinion poll taken in mid-2006 by World Public Opinion, 78 per cent of Iraqis thought that the U.S. military presence provokes more conflict than it prevents.