Ali Allawi: This raises huge questions over our independence

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In 1930 the Anglo-Iraqi treaty was signed as a prelude to Iraq gaining full independence. Britain had occupied Iraq after defeating the Turks in the First World War, and was granted a mandate over the country. The treaty gave Britain military and economic privileges in exchange for Britain's promise to end its mandate. The treaty was ratified by a docile Iraqi parliament, but was bitterly resented by nationalists. Iraq's dependency on Britain poisoned Iraqi politics for the next quarter of a century. Riots, civil disturbances, uprisings and coups were all a feature of Iraq's political landscape, prompted in no small measure by the bitter disputations over the treaty with Britain.

Iraq is now faced with a reprise of that treaty, but this time with the US, rather than Britain, as the dominant foreign partner. The US is pushing for the enactment of a "strategic alliance" with Iraq, partly as a precondition for supporting Iraq's removal from its sanctioned status under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. It is a treaty under any other name. It has been structured as an alliance partly to avoid subjecting its terms to the approval of the US Senate, and partly to obfuscate its significance. Although the draft has not been circulated outside official circles, the leaks raise serious alarm about its long-term significance for Iraq's sovereignty and independence. Of course the terms of the alliance for Iraq will be sweetened with promises of military and economic aid, but these are no different in essence from the commitments made in Iraq's previous disastrous treaty entanglements.

The Bush administration has set 31 July as the deadline for the signing of the agreement. Under the present plan, the draft of the agreement will have to be brought to Iraq's parliament for approval. Parliament, however, is beholden to the political parties that dominate the present coalition, and there is unlikely to be substantive debate on the matter. The Shia religious leadership in Najaf, especially Grand Ayatollah Sistani, has not clearly come out against the agreement, although his spokesmen have set out markers that must be respected by the negotiators. The Najaf religious hierarchy is probably the only remaining institution that can block the agreement. But it is unclear whether the political or religious leadership are prepared to confront the US. President Bush, with an eye on history, is seeking to salvage his Iraq expedition by claiming that Iraq is now pacified and is a loyal American ally in the Middle East and the War on Terror.

It is only now that Iraqis have woken up to the possibility that Iraq might be a signatory on a long-term security treaty with the US, as a price for regaining its full sovereignty. Iraqis must know its details and implications. How would such an alliance constrain Iraq's freedom in choosing its commercial, military and political partners? Will Iraq be obliged to openly or covertly support all of America's policies in the Middle East? These are issues of a vital nature that cannot be brushed aside with the Iraqi government's platitudes about "protecting Iraqi interests". A treaty of such singular significance to Iraq cannot be rammed through with less than a few weeks of debate. Otherwise, the proposed strategic alliance will most certainly be a divisive element in Iraqi politics. It will have the same disastrous effect as the treaty with Britain nearly eighty years ago.

The writer is the former finance minister of Iraq

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