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Iraq Papers Wed: The Story of SOFA
Az-Zaman Defends Ex-Regime Associates: A Sign of Things to Come?
By AMER MOHSEN 12/02/2008 5:04 PM ET
Az-Zaman reports that the Iraqi supreme criminal tribunal, set up to try members of the Saddam regime, has produced its sentences in the case of the suppression of the southern rebellion against the regime following the 1991 war. 'Ali Hasan al-Majeed (AKA Chemical Ali) and 'Abd al-Ghani 'Abd al-Ghafour were sentenced to death, while other defendants received sentences varying from life in prison to 15 years. Three of the accused were acquitted.

Al-Majeed has already received a death sentence in the Anfal trial, which keeps his execution pending the Presidential signature on the court orders.

In its international edition, Az-Zaman puts up an unprecedented defense of Saddam's associates, headlining that the court ordered 15 years in prison “to the leader of the battle of Umm Qasr;” one of the few instances of rigid Iraqi resistance to the 2003 US invasion. And while the Iraq edition of the newspaper remained relatively subdued, the International edition refused to describe the 1991 rebellion as an “Intifada,” as it came to be known after 2003 (and is the term used by the tribunal.) Instead, the paper described the suppression of the rebellion as “the Iraqi Army defense in 1991 against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Badr Brigade after they occupied 11 Iraqi provinces, following the Army’s collapse in the Kuwait war.”

In Al-Hayat today, the excellent Baghdad correspondent Mushriq 'Abbas pens an analysis piece on the backdoor deals that prepared for the promulgation of the Washington-Baghdad security agreement. According to 'Abbas, the intense negotiations between Kurdish, Shi'a and Sunni blocs in recent weeks – and the resulting deals - went beyond the immediate ratification of the treaty and may decide the future shape of Iraqi politics.

Drawing on interviews with high-level politicians who participated in the talks, 'Abbas reconstructs the history of SOFA’s ratification: during the last months, an informed source recounts, the promotion of SOFA occurred on two parallel levels; on the one hand, there was the official negotiations between the Iraqi and US governments, on the other, frenetic efforts by the US Embassy in Baghdad to calibrate the agreement with the political interests of the local parties involved.

Two major dilemmas governed the action of the US Embassy, the source says: first, making sure that the passing of SOFA will not deprive the Shi'a I’tilaf and Sunni IAF from “a popular base that allows them to govern the country in the coming phase” – a reference to the broad popular opposition to the agreement. The second objective was to assure that no particular faction takes credit for the passing or rejection of SOFA and use its position vis-à-vis the treaty in domestic political contests.

At times, 'Abbas’ narrative presents SOFA as a coordinated PR campaign between the Iraqi parties and US diplomats to promote the treaty among the Iraqi public. 'Abbas’ sources claim that the frequent changes of heart exhibited by political parties during the prelude to the treaty’s signing were planned moves meant “to direct public opinion and prepare it to accept the final outcome.” While Shi'a parties (such as Hakeem’s SIIC) expressed initial rejection to the treaty, they finally acquiesced under the slogan of necessity “Iraq has no better options.” On the other hand, 'Abbas says, Sunni parties justified their position towards their public under the slogan of “preventing exclusive rule (by the Shi'a),” and by stressing that the agreement with Washington will reduce Iran’s – and consequently Shi'a – influence in the country.

The Kurdish bloc remained supportive of the agreement at all phases, the reports states, owing to the Kurdish perception of US presence as a guarantor of Kurdish autonomy.

Furthermore, 'Abbas quotes unnamed politicians who claim that the White House intentionally proposed a harsh and “exaggerated” first draft of the agreement, allowing the Iraqi negotiator to “defy” American demands and obtain perceived “concessions” from the American side. The “gains” from the treaty were evenly divided, which was no coincidence, 'Abbas states. The Maliki government was credited for the successful negotiation of the agreement, while the bundle of political reforms passed at the last moment was seen as the work of the Sunni Dialogue front and Dulaimi’s the Conference of the People of Iraq. Finally, linking the treaty to a popular referendum in July (a longtime demand of the opponents of the treaty) was mandated in the Parliament, but regarded as an achievement of the Islamic Party.


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