TEHRAN, Iran – Two hard-line newspapers seen as speaking for Iran's clerical establishment called Monday for Iraqis to oppose a strategic framework deal with the United States, Tehran's first public condemnation of the arrangement.
The papers accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of caving in to American demands over the pact.
Al-Maliki's government and the U.S. began negotiations in March on the deal meant to provide for long-term bilateral ties and a status of forces arrangement regulating U.S. military operations in Iraq.
The Jomhuri-e-Eslami daily said in a front-page editorial that the deal would be "capitulation the U.S. has imposed on the oppressed Iraqi people," and urged Iraqis to turn to "a popular revolution" that would bring about the "expulsion of the occupiers" from Iraq.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have said they aim to finish negotiations on the deal by July and submit the draft to Iraq's parliament for ratification. The document could run into trouble if it is perceived as being too generous to the Americans.
The hard-line Jomhuri-e-Eslami claimed the agreement would allow the United States to set up 14 military bases across Iraq, authorize a long-term American military deployment in the country, give judicial immunity to U.S. nationals and allow the U.S. to use Iraqi land, sea and airspace to launch military attacks in the region.
The commentaries Monday likely will only add to tensions between al-Maliki's government and Iran. Iran hosted Maliki during the reign of former dictator Saddam Hussein, but Tehran-Baghdad relations have been strained in recent months over accusations by Iraqi government officials that Iran was arming and training Iraq's Shiite extremists — a claim backed by Washington but denied by Tehran.
An Iraqi delegation visited Iran earlier this month to convince Iranian officials to halt their alleged support for the Mahdi Army, led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, showing them evidence that Iran was arming and training the Shiite militia.
The Iranians dismissed the purported evidence as fabrication, fed to the Iraqi government by the U.S. military in Iraq, and said, according to Iraqi officials, that the weapons seized from the Mahdi Army militiamen and bearing Iranian markings came from arms dealers and not from any official Iranian organization.
"The U.S.-cooked agreement turns Iraq into a full-fledged colony, so that Iraqi officials will be totally powerless but American military officials will have full powers to commit any action they want," the paper said.
It also denounced al-Maliki for approving the outlines of a "humiliating" agreement. The Iraqis should turn to clerics, academics and political activists and rise up against the pact, the paper advises.
"Silence in the face of capitulation ... is an unforgivable sin that will spoil the future of this country," it said.
Hezbollah, another hard-line newspaper, said the deal with the U.S. will only bring "captivity" to Iraq and that the Americans will turn Iraq "into their permanent base in the Middle East" and use the country for their own plans, including "containing Iran."
"Signing this agreement will undoubtedly pave the way for captivity of the Iraqi people in the clutches of the American occupiers more than before," it said and called on Iraq's top Shiite clerics to order a public uprising against the deal and "take up the banner of struggle against colonialism."
The hard-line papers are closely affiliated with Iran's clerical establishment, based in the country's religious capital of Qom, 80 miles south of Tehran. Jomhuri-e-Eslami is supportive of the anti-West faction in the government. Hezbollah backs the Lebanese Shiite militia on the same name, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.