Democrat-Led House Lays Legal Groundwork for Korea-Style Bases in Iraq

It seems the Democratic-led House of Representatives Thursday approved an amendment that, contrary to the leadership’s intention, lays the legal groundwork for a protracted – if not “permanent” — U.S. military presence in Iraq.

During debate on the 2008 Foreign Operations bill, the House approved by voice vote an amendment submitted by Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King that inserted the word “permanent” before “basing rights agreement” in the following text:

“SEC. 685. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used by the Government of the United States to enter into a basing rights agreement between the United States and Iraq.”

As King has pointed out in the past, the United States has never had a “permanent” basing rights agreement with any country where, like Germany, Japan, and South Korea, Washington has based troops for decades. So the amendment, if it becomes law, means that the administration may now use funds to enter into any kind of basing rights agreement with the government of Iraq that it wishes – be it five, ten, 25 or even 50 years. Jim Fine of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) explained the effect of the amendment in a memo last month after King almost succeeded in getting the same amendment attached to the defense authorization bill.

What is remarkable is that, for several years now, virtually every independent regional expert (American Enterprise Institute fellows excluded) in Washington, including the Iraq Study Group, has repeatedly called for the U.S. to forswear any interest in maintaining military bases in Iraq as a means of reassuring the Iraqi population – both Sunni and Shi’a (Kurds are another matter) – about its intentions. They have also said such a step might induce greater cooperation on the part of Iraq’s neighbors, notably Iran and Syria, by reassuring them that Washington does not intend to use Iraq as a base to mount attacks against them.

Several surveys of Iraqi public opinion have not only shown overwhelming opposition (except among Kurds) to Washington’s sustained control of military bases, but also overwhelming skepticism among all Iraqis that Washington has any intention of giving them up. See, for example, this article about a poll by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) from January 2006. No doubt skeptical Iraqis will feel vindicated by Thursday’s vote.

For more on the U.S. bases in Iraq, you may wish to read a recent dispatch by Tom Engelhardt, the finest and hardest working essayist and editor of the post-9/11 era, who has kept a steady eye on Washington’s “baser” intentions since even before the 2003 invasion.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.