Freedom Is Slavery; Slavery Is Freedom

There have been scattered news reports in the U.S. media about the Iraqi government’s objections to signing the so-called Status of Forces Agreement, which will give the United States a legal rationale for being in Iraq for the next [fill in the blank with the number of your choice] years. So Patrick Cockburn’s Independent article earlier this week isn’t totally brand new information. But Cockburn’s piece is much more specific than the other reports I’ve seen, and also the sourcing is much more direct: Details of the plan, which Bush administration officials have been trying to keep very closely guarded, were leaked to the British paper:

America currently has 151,000 troops in Iraq and, even after projected withdrawals next month, troop levels will stand at more than 142,000 – 10 000 more than when the military “surge” began in January 2007. Under the terms of the new treaty, the Americans would retain the long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq. American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law for US troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad government.

The precise nature of the American demands has been kept secret until now. The leaks are certain to generate an angry backlash in Iraq. “It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty,” said one Iraqi politician, adding that if the security deal was signed it would delegitimise the government in Baghdad which will be seen as an American pawn.

The US has repeatedly denied it wants permanent bases in Iraq but one Iraqi source said: “This is just a tactical subterfuge.” Washington also wants control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000ft and the right to pursue its “war on terror” in Iraq, giving it the authority to arrest anybody it wants and to launch military campaigns without consultation.

Mr Bush is determined to force the Iraqi government to sign the so-called “strategic alliance” without modifications, by the end of next month. But it is already being condemned by the Iranians and many Arabs as a continuing American attempt to dominate the region. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful and usually moderate Iranian leader, said yesterday that such a deal would create “a permanent occupation”. He added: “The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans.”

Clearly, the heat coming off this story is starting to make the White House sweat a bit more than they would like: Today, the Defense Department put out this press release (my emphasis):

The United States is not seeking permanent military bases in Iraq as it negotiates legal and military agreements with the Iraqi government, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker said here today.

Speaking at the State Department, Crocker called published reports that the United States is trying to set up permanent bases “flatly untrue.”

“There clearly is going to be a need” for a U.S. and coalition military presence in Iraq beyond the end of the year, Crocker said. But the status of forces agreement, when adopted, “is not going to be forever, particularly as it related to the status and authority of coalition forces in Iraq,” he said.

“So I’m very comfortable saying to you – to the Iraqis, to anyone who asks – that no, indeed, we are not seeking permanent bases, either explicitly or implicitly, by just intending to stay there indefinitely,” he said.

So what exactly is the distinction between “forever” and “indefinitely”? And if “indefinite” does not imply “permanent,” then where are the U.S. troops going to sleep and eat? In sleeping bags next to picnic tables in the desert?

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