Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Iraq's Parliament gears up to vote on the treaty

CBS and AP report the vote in Parliament on the treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement was supposed to take place right now:

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports from Baghdad that the ruling Shiite and Kurdish parliamentary blocs have enough votes to approve the agreement, but the government wants it to win by a convincing margin - in part because one of this country's most influential Shiite clerics, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has said he can accept the agreement, provided it has broad public support.
Shiite Lawmaker Ridha Jawad Taqi told the Associated Press the government's Shiite and Kurdish blocs, which account for about 140 seats, or a slight majority in the legislature, were willing to hold a national referendum on the deal in 2009. That amounts to a concession to many Sunni Arab legislators, who have said they would support the security pact Wednesday if it was put to a nationwide vote next year.
So the deal, if approved in the parliamentary vote, could still be rescinded if it fails in the popular referendum.

AP's Qassim Abdul-Zahra calls the referendrum "a key concession" (and notes the vote has already been delayed again)and notes: "The proposed deal would let American troops stay in Iraq through 2011, meeting a longtime Iraqi demand for a clear timetable for their exit."

The treaty is not about withdrawal. It does not promise it. It governs 2009 with an option for either side to modify the agreement and/or to cancel the agreement for 2010 or 2011. If it runs through its year and two additional pick up options, it would last to 2011 but even then it might be modified. Don't try explaining that to Alissa J. Rubin and Campbell Robertson who shame themselves and their paper (New York Times) in the opening paragraph of "Backers of Iraq-U.S. Pact Seek Votes in Parliament:"

Intensive last-minute negotiations were under way on Tuesday to corral votes in the Iraqi Parliament for a security and strategic framework agreement that, if approved, would be a road map for the complete withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in three years.

Road map? How very White House of them. Do they and the other liars grasp that 2011 isn't that far away and that they can and will be publicly called out come 2011 if the year ends and US troops remain in Iraq? Do they not realize that? Do they not grasp that the anger which fueled the take-down of Judith Miller will be nothing compared to the anger December 31, 2011 if US troops are still in Iraq? Are they just so eager to draw targets on themselves?

The treaty governs 2009, try focusing on the known. That is what reporters are supposed to be do. They're not supposed to offer conjecture in hard news.

Add Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) to the list of liars for this report. And don't think I won't continue this site through 2011 just to call out everyone of the damn liars by name and remind how they lied and helped prolong the illegal war. Again, if the takedown of Judith Miller seemed like something, just wait until the end of 2011 if US troops are not home and Americans need someone to toss on the fire. Gotta have a sac-sac-sacrifice, as Tori Amos sings ("I I E E E").

Tina Susman and Saif Hameed's "Iraq lawmakers make demands before security pact vote" (Los Angeles Times) can be seen as a slight improvement over Susman's previous reporting on the treaty and the following can be read as her escape hatch:

Proponents, led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, say the accord would put Iraq on the road to sovereignty by scaling back U.S. troops' autonomy beginning next year and by setting a Dec. 31, 2011, deadline for a full troop withdrawal. Opponents, led by Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr, say it doesn't get rid of the U.S. forces soon enough and leaves loopholes for the Americans to do as they please.

"I noted opponents said loopholes!" you can hear Susman insist while pointing at Alissa J. And Rubin better grasp that when there's a takedown, it's almost always a woman. She really better grasp that. Gordo lied as much as Miller in the lead up to the illegal war (and Miller may not have lied -- she may have truly believed what she was reporting -- you probably don't command a company of US troops and send them in search of WMDs if you're in on the lie) and he has repeatedly lied in his attempts to start a US war with Iran; however, only Miller is no longer with the New York Times. Do we want to talk about the political reporter who got punished (female) and the male (just as bad) who got rewarded.

The only thing worth noting from Rubin and Campbell's report is this:

"It is, as far as I know, unprecedented in a SOFA," said Oona Hathaway, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has criticized the method by which the agreement was negotiated. "When we have active military operations, almost always there is a treaty or some agreement that has been approved by Congress that serves as a basis, and the SOFA just carries out the details."

Hathaway testified in a Congressional hearing (chaired by US House Rep Bill Delahunt) last week:

"I will focus my remarks on what I believe are the three most pressing legal issues regarding the proposed bilateral agreement with Iraq," declared Professor Oona Hathaway of UC Berkeley's School of Law in her opening statements. "There are, of course, many others I'm happy to talk about. And then I'll conclude by outlining what I think are the possible ways for addressing these concerns."

1) "The agreement in my view threatens to undermine the Constitutional powers of President-elect Obama as commander-in-chief and it does so in two ways.
a) So first this agreement gives operational control to a Joint Military Operations Coordination Committee which is made up of Iraqis and Americans and is jointly led by both sides according to the agreement."

The concern of Hathaway is that before US commanders could engage in military operations in the field they would have to receive approval from the JMOCC with only an exception for self-defense. Hathaway noted this was unprecedented and that US command control has never been handed out over to foreign powers other than a very narrow peace keeping situation approved by the Congress.

b) "The proposed agreement also undermines the Constitutional powers of President-elect Obama as commander in chief by binding him to observe specific timetables that are outlined in the agreement for the withdrawal of US troops."

Oona Hathaway: Here the specifics of the timetables are fairly clear, it's sixteen months for withdrawal from the cities, towns and villages and three years withdrawal from Iraq. What is uncertain is what President-elect Obama would have to do if he wanted to withdraw early. There are two different texts that we are working with. One is a translation of the Arabic language text which has been -- as Chairman Delahunt said -- made available by the Iraqi government. That text says the following, it says, "The United States recognizes Iraq's sovereign right to request a US forces withdrawal from Iraq at any time. The Iraqi government recognizes the United States' sovereign right to request a United States forces withdrawal from Iraq at any time." So the language here seems to me suggest the United States can request the right to withdrawal but cannot simply withdraw early. And if that is in fact what the agreement says then that creates serious concerns because, of course, President-elect Obama campaigned on a promise of withdrawing forces much earlier than three years and this would seem to require him to get the approval of the Iraqi government in order to actually carry out that promise. Now the English language version which I just received last night states what seems to be quite different, it states the following, "The government of Iraq recognizes the sovereign right of the United States to withdraw the United States forces from Iraq at any time." So there is -- that seems to give much more leeway to the president to withdraw troops earlier though, of course, if conditions on the ground turn out to make it difficult or impossible or unsafe to withdraw troops earlier than three years he would have to obtain the approval of the Iraqi government in order to keep troops in the country longer. In any case, this raises obvious concerns about which of these texts we should be believing and whether they in fact say the same thing. But the basic concern I have here is that this agreement commits the president to abide by timetables that he has had no role in shaping and may even make it more difficult for him to meet his campaign promise of bringing troops home within sixteen to eighteen months.

2) "The conclusion of this agreement without any Congressional involvement is unprecedented and, in my view, unconstitutional."

Oona Hathaway: So presidents can enter into agreements on their own -- they're called Sole Executive Agreements. But these agreements must be within the president's own independent powers. This agreement goes far beyond the president's own independent, Constitutional powers in several ways. Now the administration has responded to this critique in the past by saying, "This is simply a Status Of Forces Agreement -- a SOFA. We've got hundreds -- we've got more than a hundred of these around the world. All of these have been concluded as Sole Executive Agreements entered by the president by himself. So what are you so concerned about?" And the answer is: This is not a SOFA. This is, in fact, a much more comprehensive agreement than any Status of Forces Agreement that is out there and includes a variety of provisions that, as far as I'm aware -- and I've read about sixty to eighty of these agreements, that have never been a part of any Status Of Forces Agreement. In particular the provisions granting authority to US troops to engage in military operations, the grant of power over military operations to this joint committee that I mentioned earlier and the specification of timetables for withdrawal of military forces. These are unprecedented in a standard Status Of Forces Agreement, have never been part of a standard Status Of Forces Agreement and extend, in my view, far beyond what the the President can do without obtaining Congressional approval. The administration has also suggested that the agreement doesn't really grant the authority to fight and therefore it does not need to be approved by Congress. In my view that is manifestly incorrect. This agreement is -- the entire purpose is to grant the authority to fight. It is meant to replace the UN mandate. The UN mandate is the authority under which US troops are currently present in Iraq and the entire reason for the proposal of the agreement at this time is because that mandate is about to expire and when it does there will no longer be a legal authority for the United States troops to be present in Iraq. This agreement gives in fact gives that authority to fight to replace the UN mandate. So to suggest that it doesn't do that and therefore need not be approved by Congress clearly is not correct.

3) "If the administration proceeds as planned the war will likely become illegal under United States law when the UN mandate expires on December 31st."

Oona Hathaway: At present, domestic legal authority for the war in Iraq is based on House Joint Resolution 114 which was passed in October of 2002. The resolution authorizes the president to use the armed forces for two purposes. One, to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq and two to enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq. And let me take the second first. The second is, in my view, what is currently operative at this moment. There is a Security Council resolution in effect that is currently governing the presence of US troops and, therefore, it is the case that, in fact, we are -- that the president may enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq as long as that resolution is in effect this domestic legal authority is also in effect. But when the mandate expires at the end of the year -- as it is due to expire -- that no longer, that legal basis for the war in Iraq no longer exists. So then we're left with the first part of the authorization: To defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq. Now this was enacted, remember, in 2002 when Saddam Hussein was in power and we were hearing about threats of Weapons of Mass Destruction. And so it was clear what the threat posed by Iraq was, it was posed by the government of Iraq. Of course, that government has changed and those same threats to the United States do not exist. And, in fact, the bilateral agreement with Iraq recognizes this change. That agreement itself states that, "The danger posed to international peace and stability by the former Iraqi government is now gone." So this agreement, to my mind, says what we all know to be true which is that the threat that this resolution was meant to address has been resolved and there no longer is this threat by the government of Iraq against the United States. So once this mandate expires at the end of the year -- if it is not renewed -- then legal authority for the war in Iraq as a matter of United States' law no longer exists. So what do we do? And this is where I am going to end. There are, in my view, two legal options available. The first, as Chairman Delahunt mentioned, is renewal of the UN mandate. A simple renewal of the mandate for six months would address all these problems. It would give legal authority as a matter of international law for US troops to be present but it would also extend authority as a matter of US law because the resolution that I just mentioned clearly incorporates any future Security Council resolutions and extensions of those resolutions. So that is a very real and I think one of the best options available. There's' a second possible option as well which is submitting this agreement to Congress for approval. If Congress were to approve this agreement then all these concerns would also be addressed, then this would no longer be a Sole Executive Agreement and the Congress would have had a chance to address, consider and respond to the concerns that might be raised about the substance of the agreement and if it chooses to approve the agreement, these Constitutional and legal concerns that I've raised would be addressed.

The above is all from that day's snapshot.

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