Rival Iraqi Shiite Camps Both Blast U.S. Security Agreement

07/18/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

You can add two more Iraqi voices to those speaking out on the need to regulate U.S. military action in the country, or remove it altogether.

In an interview published Thursday by the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, Iraq's Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi said any renewed security agreement between Baghdad and Washington must "restrain or end the mission of multinational forces." (Original Arabic version available here.)

Abdul-Mahdi's interview clearly falls in line with a broader pattern of statements by elected officials in Baghdad who feel that major changes, even a timeline for withdrawal, must be made before any new security agreement is signed with the United States.

Speaking about the impunity with which he sees U.S.-led officials currently operating, Abdul-Mahdi told Asharq al Awsat:

"These forces arrest people according to their whim and enjoy full immunity. They enter and leave without the knowledge of Iraqi authorities and they carry out missions on their own. Such behavior must be restrained even if these forces are to remain for a single day, and regardless of their fate and whether we ask for their withdrawal or for them to remain for a while longer. Their presence must be regulated. The upper hand must be in Iraqi hands. In such issues, the Iraqi will must be in control. If we need anyone, we need him to play the role of an assistant and not to rule over us. This is the problem and this is what we are currently arguing about."

In the past, John McCain has attributed such rhetoric to the realities of the Iraqi political arena, where an occasional dig at the U.S. is quite obviously worth a few votes. And it's true that Thursday's remarks from Abdul-Mahdi are not surprising, given that he is a high-ranking leader in the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), which is allied with Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki -- who himself has been making some noises about needing to see a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.

As the Christian Science Monitor reported this week, the ISCI and Maliki are preparing to do electoral (and maybe some street) battle in provincial elections this October, with the portion of Iraq's Shiite electorate devoted to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Given that fact, a quick scan through today's Arabic-language press reveals a telling state of affairs. Even among two rival Shiite political cliques, there is agreement over one thing: the potentially damaging influence of an extended American military presence, and their mutual willingness to consider doing without it.

Speaking to the Palestinian-owned Al Quds al Arabi, Sadrist foreign relations adviser Sheikh Hassan al-Zarqani echoed Vice President Abdul-Mahdi when speaking derisively about the proposed security agreement, saying:

"[W]e clearly and publicly rejected this humiliating accord that undermines Iraq's sovereignty and the will of the Iraqis on all levels. There is no equality in this agreement since ... the US, enjoys all elements of power and supremacy, while ... the Iraqi government, is weak and frail." (Original Arabic here. Translation from subscription-only Mideastwire.com.)

Moreover, al-Zarqani called attention to a recent religious ruling, or fatwa, from the holy city of Najaf, which held that any further security agreement with American forces would be binding only to "those who signed it." Simply put, al-Zarqani was suggesting that if his partisans were ever to win enough control to impose their own will, they'd just as soon disregard any signed security agreement with the United States, regardless of the conditions currently being negotiated.