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Hundreds of Iraqi residents took to the streets on Wednesday in support of the Iraq-US Security Pact. The Iraqi government agreed on Sunday to keep US troops in the country for three more years, although it is conditional on approval from the Iraqi Parliament later this month. McClatchy Baghdad bureau chief Leila Fadel states that she “sees a lot of bitter battles once this agreement is put into place. “

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Iraq-US Security Pact
Producer: Zaa Nkweta

ZAA NKWETA, TRNN: Hundreds of Iraqi residents took to the streets on Wednesday in support of the Iraq-US security pact. The Iraqi government agreed on Sunday to keep US troops in the country for three more years, although it is conditional, on approval from the Iraqi Parliament later this month.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I assure you that there are no secret clauses or annexes in the agreement, nor permanent military bases in Iraq. Iraq will never be a conduit or a staging ground for an attack on any other nation.

NKWETA: Despite Prime Minister al-Maliki’s assurances, the agreement does not have the support of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Sadrist movement. Other government officials have expressed their reservations.

ADNAN AL-DULEEIMI, HEAD OF IRAQI NATIONAL ACCORDANCE FRONT/SUNNI BLOC: We are, in principle, with the security pact. But we in the Front have many reservations, among which is the release of all prisoners in the US jails without preconditions.

NKWETA: Neighboring Iran has also expressed disapproval of the deal. I spoke to McClatchy Baghdad bureau chief Leila Fadel in Iraq about what the implications of the passage of the status of forces agreement would mean, and if for all intents and purposes it was a done deal.

LEILA FADEL, MCCLATCHY BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: At this point it’s unclear. Because it passed the cabinet the way it did, it looks like it may pass the Parliament, but there’s still a lot of opposition. Of course, the Sadrists, who are the followers of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are vehemently against it, as well as the Sunnis from the Tawafiq bloc, which is the Iraqi Accordance Front. They also feel that they haven’t been consulted enough on what’s in the agreement, that what they wanted to be included is not in there, and they are unwilling to vote for it. And so today’s discussion in the Parliament was canceled because of the continued fighting over the agreement. The Iraqi government drove a very, very, very hard deal, and they negotiated for nine months. And the draft that came out is something drastically different than the original, first draft the United States gave to Iraq. And there is, really, in the agreement a sense of restored sovereignty that doesn’t exist right now. Although the US military and the US State Department talk about Iraq as a sovereign nation, a lot of things that are happening here in Iraq are really under US control: they control the airspace; they can detain people whenever and however they want without arrest warrants; they can conduct operations on their own; they have 150,000 troops here. And so we look at what is in the agreement. Once it goes into place, if it is passed, the US would have to get arrest warrants, judicial orders from courts, when they go search homes. They have to inform the Iraqi government of everything they do, which currently they don’t do. They go after high-level targets on their own that they feel are a threat, and they detain people for years at a time with no arrest warrant. And so once this agreement goes into place, it actually gives Iraq a sense of power over the US military that it has never had, which is very concerning for some US Department of Defense officials. And then, when it comes to the jurisdiction issue, a lot of Iraqis say that on paper they have something but in practice it will amount to nothing. But there is a very remote possibility that the Iraqi government could prosecute a US soldier in Iraq, because basically what it says is that if a very serious crime or a premeditated crime is committed by a US soldier off-base, the Iraqi government can request in writing, 21 days after the crime is discovered, to prosecute, and then a joint committee would decide whether a soldier—between the US and Iraq—whether a soldier is off or on duty and where they would be tried. Of course, this is very hypothetical, and the Iraqis all say no, that we would never be able to, and they tried to get even more power in the jurisdiction issue, but they knew that the Americans would give nothing more. They’ll take the airspace back—right now the US military controls that, including civilian flights, like Iraqi airlines. They’ll take that back on the first day this agreement is implemented. They will take over the Green Zone, which is where the US embassy, many foreign embassies, government buildings are, Department of Defense officials, the US officials all live; they’ll take power over the Green Zone once again. They will have power over everything that the US military does. There will no longer be the ability for anybody to go out and conduct an operation without first informing the Iraqi government, which currently happens. They will have the right to prosecute private contractors, and this is a really big coup for the Iraqi government, because when they were issued with Blackwater specifically, which protects State Department officials, the most obviously famous one being the one in Nisour Square last year, where 17 people were killed and it was found that Blackwater was at fault: they could do nothing; they could prosecute no one; they had no say when it came to that issue. Once this agreement goes into place, they will have say. Also, the US military has to get out of their villages, cities, towns by June 30, 2009. They have no right to be in these areas. And that means that when they’re off the US base, if they’re not conducting an operation with the Iraqi forces or in conjunction with the Iraqi government, they have no right to be there. And so it does in a sense restore so much power to the Iraqi government. The other thing is that they struck every line that gives an option for extension to either the US or Iraqi government, meaning there is no option to extend this agreement. Of course, there are loopholes, and you can see that the writing is very creative. So now you can amend the agreement if you put it in writing and both parties agree. So, come 2011, the Iraqi government and the United States want an extension, it is a possibility. But when you read the agreement, what you see is every top piece of information about extension or any possibility has been struck. And so I think the way this agreement should really be looked at is the end of what is deemed a US occupation here, because now all that power that they wield in this country will technically be gone. Of course, they have exemptions from taxes and licensing, but in general they’re going to be extremely limited and the Iraqi government will have a lot more say about what happens in their country. President-elect Barack Obama had proposed or insinuated trail that he believed that they could pull out all US troops by 2010 and leave a residual force of 30,000 to 35,000 people here. Under this agreement, the Iraqi government has negotiated it, so it’s really not an option. If for some reason the Iraqi government decides or agrees to amend the agreement, maybe they could leave a force, but they’ve written it in a way that basically says the Americans must withdraw, and it’s even called the Withdrawal Agreement. I think time will tell. I see a lot of bitter battles in the future once this agreement goes into place, because this is going to have to change drastically how the military operates, and it also gives the Iraqi government the right to demand things that they couldn’t do before. And so I see that whatever is in this agreement will come under a lot of dispute. Also, because the language is very broad and a lot of it talks about setting up procedures and mechanisms with joint committees—which are not talked about at all: What are these mechanisms? What are these procedures? All of that will have to be narrowed down once the agreement—if it does pass the Parliament. So when you talk to Iraqis, for example, a lot of them say, “Well, it sounds great, but I know there are great loopholes.” And that’s actually true when you look at this agreement. Although it sounds great—2011, Americans leave—and if that’s what Iraqis want, it’s great for them, but there’s always a way to get around things, and that’s the issue we’ll see come to light once it does pass, if it does pass.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Leila Fadel is the chief of the Baghdad bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She has covered the war in Iraq for Knight Ridder and now McClatchy on and off since June 2005, as well as the 34-day war in Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel in the summer of 2006. Prior to joining the McClatchy team she worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as a crime and higher education reporter.

Fadel graduated from Northeastern University in Boston in 2004 and has lived in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. She speaks conversational Arabic. She was named print journalist of the year by the Houston Press Club for her work in 2005 and won a Katie Award from the Dallas Press Club in 2006 for her portfolio of work.

Her Iraq reporting won her Print Journalist of the Year honors from the Houston Press Club citing her work from "Bedford (Texas) to Baghdad."