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POLITICS: Iraqi MPs Challenge Coalition Mandate

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 13 2007 (IPS) - The United Nations Security Council has been warned by Iraqi parliamentarians of a potentially “serious” constitutional and political crisis if it decides to renew the mandate of the U.S.-led multinational force (MNF) beyond December 2007, without approval from lawmakers.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen tours Forward Operating Base Assassin in Iraq, Oct. 5, 2007. Credit: U.S. Defence Dept photo

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen tours Forward Operating Base Assassin in Iraq, Oct. 5, 2007. Credit: U.S. Defence Dept photo

A majority of members of the Iraqi parliament – 144 out of a total of 275 – is demanding that any future renewals of the legislative mandate of the 160,000-strong MNF be duly authorised by parliament.

“If we are asked to approve a trade agreement concerning olive oil, should we not have the right to pass an agreement concerning the stationing of foreign military forces on our national soil?” one senior Iraqi lawmaker was quoted as saying.

The existing MNF mandate, established by the U.N. Security Council in October 2003 and renewed in June 2004, November 2005 and November 2006, will terminate Dec. 31.

The Council, however, is expected to meet early next month to approve a fourth mandate renewal, at the request of the United States.

The New York-based Global Policy Forum (GPF) says the letter from the Iraqi legislators warns Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet against recommending a renewal for 2008 without parliamentary approval.

The six-page letter, dated April and made public by the GPF last week, reminds the Security Council that the “Iraqi parliament, as the elected representatives of the Iraqi people, has the exclusive right to approve and ratify international treaties and agreements, including those signed with the United Nations Security Council.”

A statement by GPF says the letter was apparently handed over to the U.N. office in Baghdad sometime in April but never delivered to the 15 members of the Security Council.

Signed by 144 legislators, the letter says: “We the Iraqi members of parliament signing below demand a timetable for the withdrawal of the occupation forces (MNF) from our beloved Iraq.”

Article 58, Section 4 of the Iraqi constitution says the Council of Ministers (the cabinet) must gain the ratification of the Council of Representatives (the parliament) for international treaties and agreements.

James A. Paul, the executive director of GPF, who has been tracking the story, told IPS that Iraq’s parliament has called for a timetable for withdrawal of coalition forces from the country.

“And it has denounced as ‘unconstitutional and unilateral’ any move by the al-Maliki cabinet to request a renewed mandate by the U.N. Security Council for the so-called multinational force,” he added.

Paul also pointed out that parliamentarians taking this position include Shias, Sunnis, seculars and other blocs, in an alliance that unites formerly disparate sectarian groups.

The parliament’s action, he pointed out, reflects the views of 70-80 percent of Iraqis.

An August 2007 poll conducted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) found that 79 percent of Iraqis opposed “the presence of coalition forces in Iraq”, while 72 percent felt that “the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq” was “making security in our country” worse.

In a letter to members of the Security Council early this week, GPF said: “If the Security Council accepts the Iraqi cabinet’s request for an unqualified renewal, the Council will deepen the already serious constitutional and political crisis in Iraq”.

The letter said the Security Council would be well-advised to take into account the constitutional authority and political position of the Iraqi parliament and to seek a mandate renewal that would reflect the political realities in Iraq, including overwhelming public support for a timetable for MNF withdrawal.

“Only such realism can end the violence and prepare the country for reconciliation, towards a peaceful, democratic and fully-sovereign future,” the letter declared.

In approaching another renewal for the year 2008, the Security Council should be aware of the political and constitutional circumstances within which the Iraqi government may send such a request, GPF said.

A majority in the Iraqi Council of Representatives has charged that a request without due consultation and ratification is “unilateral” and “unconstitutional”.

In 2006, a number of leaders of parliamentary blocs had discussions with al-Maliki about the MNF renewal prospect, insisting that he consult with parliament prior to any renewal request, in the spirit of the constitution.

They say that he promised to conform to their demand. But while the parliament was having its own discussions in October and early November in preparation for the renewal process, the government sent a request letter to the Security Council dated Nov. 11, 2006 without submitting the request to parliamentary ratification or taking into account parliamentary concerns, the letter said.

The Council subsequently adopted Resolution 1723 renewing the MNF’s mandate on Nov. 28 last year.

“Washington – apparently unconcerned about democracy in Iraq – is determined to keep troops there, run the show, and to press forward with another U.N. mandate, irrespective of the parliament’s wishes,” says a Middle East analyst monitoring Iraq.

“The Iraqi cabinet and the Security Council can bend to Washington’s will, or move to recognise a democratic future for Iraq. That is the choice that lies immediately ahead,” he added.

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