From Seumas Milne in today's Guardian America:
Bush is trying to impose a classic colonial status on Iraq
US efforts to force Iraqis to swallow permanent vassal status and give up control of their oil echoes British imperial history
Big Oil is back with a vengeance.
It's a similar story when it comes to the future of the US occupation itself. The last thing on anyone's mind, we were told when the tanks rolled in, was permanent US control, let alone the recolonisation of Iraq. This was about the Iraqis finally getting a chance to run their own affairs in freedom. But five years on, George Bush and Dick Cheney are putting the screws on their Green Zone government to sign a secret deal for indefinite military occupation, which would effectively reduce Iraq to a long-term vassal state.
In April, I was leaked a draft copy of this "strategic framework agreement", intended to replace the existing UN mandate at the end of the year. Details of the document, which came from a source at the heart of the Iraqi government, were published in the Guardian - including indefinite authorisation for the US to "conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security". Since then, much more has emerged about the accompanying "status of forces agreement" the US administration wants to impose: including more than 50 US military bases, full control of Iraqi airspace, legal immunity for US military and private security firms, and the right to conduct armed operations throughout the country without consulting the Iraqi government.
This goes far beyond other such agreements the US has around the world and would shackle Iraq with a permanent puppet status. Not surprisingly, it has led to uproar in the country and opposition in the US, where congress will be denied a vote on the arrangement because the administration has chosen not to call it a treaty.
But it also evokes powerful memories in Iraq, which has been down this road before. After Britain invaded and occupied Iraq during the first world war, it imposed a strikingly similar treaty on its puppet government in 1930 in preparation for the country's nominal independence. Just as in George Bush's version, Britain awarded itself military bases, the right to conduct military operations, and legal immunity for its forces - though the proposed new US powers and restrictions on Iraqi sovereignty go even further than in the pre-war colonial treaty.
To add to this sense of imperial revival, the four oil companies now preparing to return in triumph to Iraq were the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company, which Britain gave a free hand in the 1920s to dine off Iraq's wealth in a famously exploitative deal. The Anglo-Iraqi treaty and those bitterly unjust oil concessions dominated Iraqi politics for decades, feeding riots, uprisings and coups until the monarchy was overthrown, the tables turned on the oil companies and the British were finally sent packing by the radical nationalist General Qasim in 1958.