In the Sherlock Holmes story "Silver Blaze," the world's mostfamous private detective refers to "the curious incident of the dog in thenight." "But the dog did nothing in the night," replies his interlocutor."That was the curious incident," says Holmes. The dogs aren't barking overthe US-Iraq treaty, either, and that is equally curious.
To begin with, the Iraqi dogs aren't barking. Prime Minister Nourial-Maliki clearly doesn't like the deal that the Bush administration isforcing on him, but will accept it because his government wouldn't survivea week without US military support. The Shia religious authorities will notissue a fatwa against it, because their first priority is to preserve theShias' newfound domination of Iraq. But in fact most Iraqis who know aboutit, hate it.
That includes most of the Iraqi parliament's 270 members, who senta letter to the US Congress last week asking it to reject any US-Iraqsecurity agreement unless the White House agrees to a specific timetablefor withdrawing American troops from Iraq. But Congress will not get tovote on the deal, because the White House has defined it not as a treaty(which has to be ratified by the Senate), but as an alliance (whichdoesn't).
Equally curious is the lack of outcry in the US media. Last weekthe Middle Eastern correspondent of "The Independent," Patrick Cockburn,published two leaked reports about the terms of the "alliance" and thetactics that the Bush administration is using to get the Iraqi government'sapproval by the end of July. Nobody denied them, but hardly any mainstreamoutlet in the US media reported them as a major story, either.
It's not necessarily a conspiracy. The exhausting Democraticprimary campaign finally came to an end last week, and it's very hard forthe media to focus on two stories at once. Besides, the market leaders whodefine what is "news" know that the US public is sick of hearing aboutIraq, and they are sick of it themselves. But it's still remarkable thatthe details of the deal by which the US gets permanent bases in Iraq, andthe threats that are being made to extort Iraqi agreement, are getting solittle coverage.
Cockburn revealed that the United States will retain more thanfifty military bases in Iraq as part of the "strategic alliance" it ispressuring Baghdad to sign. They will not be defined as US bases, however,since US negotiators insist that a perimeter fence with a few Iraqisoldiers on it is a sufficient fig-leaf to make it an "Iraqi base."
However, those American soldiers on "Iraqi bases" will be able tocarry out arrests of Iraqi citizens without prior consultation with theIraqi authorities, if US negotiators get their way. US soldiers, andAmerican civilian contractors as well, will enjoy full legal immunity fortheir actions. So it will remain the case, as it has been since theinvasion, that any American employed by the US government in Iraq can killany Iraqi without having to explain and justify his or her actions to Iraqis.
Indeed, the Unites States will be entitled to conduct entiremilitary campaigns on Iraqi soil without consulting the Iraqi government.The US government is not even willing to tell the Iraqi government whatAmerican forces are entering or leaving Iraq under the terms of the"alliance," apparently because it fears that the government would informthe Iranians.
Terms of this sort are familiar from the era of the Europeanempires, when similar treaties were signed between, for example, theBritish government and its Iraqi colony in the Middle East. Ali Allawi,minister of finance in the Iraqi transitional government 2005-06, warnsthat this is "a reprise of that treaty," and predicts that it will lead tothe same "riots, civil disturbances, uprisings and coup" that filled thequarter-century between the British-Iraqi treaty in 1930 and the Iraqirevolt that finally overthrew the local puppet regime in 1958.
Some sort of treaty is needed to provide a legal basis for acontinuing US military presence in Iraq, since the existing UN mandatelapses at the end of 2008. The particular treaty that the White House isforcing on Baghdad is designed to justify a permanent military occupationof Iraq, and as far as possible to tie the next administration's hands whenit comes to pulling US troops out of the country.
The Iraqi government will probably accept the US demands after someprotests, because its survival depends on American troops. Washington isalso threatening to allow $20 billion of outstanding US court judgementsagainst Saddam Hussein's regime to be executed, wiping out 40 percent ofIraq's foreign exchange reserves, if the government in Baghdad does notcooperate on the treaty.
The trickier question is what happens if President Bush's successoris not the like-minded John McCain. To the extent that they cansuccessfully pretend that the US has won the war in Iraq, they can attach avery high political cost to Barack Obama's pledge to pull US troops out ofthe country, and this treaty also serves as part of that charade. But itdoes not oblige US troops to stay in Iraq forever. It just says they can ifthey want to.
This game is not over, and neither is the war.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articlesare published in 45 countries.