Dogs of war are silent over US-Iraq treaty

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2008, 12:00am

In the Sherlock Holmes story Silver Blaze, the world's most famous private detective refers to 'the curious incident of the dog in the night'. 'But the dog did nothing in the night,' replies his interlocutor. 'That was the curious incident,' says Holmes. The dogs aren't barking over the US-Iraq treaty, either, and that is equally curious.

To begin with, the Iraqi dogs aren't barking. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki clearly doesn't like the deal that Washington is forcing on him, but will accept it because his government wouldn't survive a week without US military support. The Shiite religious authorities will not issue a fatwa against it, because their first priority is to preserve the Shiite's new-found domination of Iraq. But, in fact, most Iraqis who know about it, hate it.

Equally curious is the lack of outcry in the US media. Last week, the Middle Eastern correspondent of The Independent, Patrick Cockburn, published two leaked reports about the terms of the 'alliance' and the tactics that the Bush administration is using to get the Iraqi government's approval by the end of the month. Nobody denied them, but hardly any mainstream US media outlet reported them as a major story, either.

Cockburn revealed that the US will retain more than 50 military bases in Iraq as part of the 'strategic alliance'. They will not be defined as US bases, however, since American negotiators insist that a perimeter fence with a few Iraqi soldiers on it is a sufficient fig leaf to make it an 'Iraqi base'.

However, those American soldiers on 'Iraqi bases' will be able to carry out arrests of Iraqi citizens without prior consultation with the Iraqi authorities, if US negotiators get their way. US soldiers, and American civilian contractors as well, will enjoy full legal immunity for their actions. So it will remain the case, as it has been since the invasion, that any American employed by the US government in Iraq can kill any Iraqi without having to explain and justify his or her actions to Iraqis. Indeed, the US will be entitled to conduct entire military campaigns on Iraqi soil without consulting the Iraqi government.

Some sort of treaty is needed to provide a legal basis for a continuing US military presence in Iraq, since the existing UN mandate lapses at the end of the year. The particular treaty that the White House is forcing on Baghdad is designed to justify a permanent military occupation of Iraq.

The Iraqi government will probably accept US demands after some protests, because its survival depends on American troops. Washington is also threatening to allow US$20 billion of outstanding US court judgments against Saddam Hussein's regime to be executed, wiping out 40 per cent of Iraq's foreign exchange reserves, if the government in Baghdad does not co-operate on the treaty.

The trickier question is what happens if Mr Bush's successor is not the like-minded John McCain.

This game is not over, and neither is the war.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries