October 30, 2008, Baghdad – Iraq wants to remove any possibility that U.S. troops could remain after 2011 from a proposed security agreement now under negotiation, a Shiite lawmaker close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Thursday.
The current draft would have U.S. soldiers leave Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011, unless the government asks them to stay to help with training or other missions. But Ali al-Adeeb, a member of the prime minister’s inner circle, said the government wants that possibility removed.
“The Iraqi side wants to remove any mention of a possible extension of U.S. troops, fearing that the existing clause might be subjected to misinterpretation or could bear different interpretation because Multinational Forces might demand for extension depending on their evaluation of the security forces or the incomplete readiness of the Iraqi forces,” al-Adeeb told The Associated Press.
The Bush administration’s hope to secure the deal while in office was fading with the new Iraqi demands.
“The window for any kind of discussions, negotiations is rapidly coming to a close,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Thursday, alluding to Jan. 20 when a new president takes over.
Wood said officials continue to go over the Iraqi proposal for changes, but he repeated the administration’s insistence that the existing draft is a “good text.”
Iraqi lawmakers have to approve
Administration officials are troubled by the proposed Iraqi amendments to a text U.S. negotiators had thought was complete. And even if those issues are resolved, there is still no guarantee that the Iraqi parliament will approve the so-called Status of Forces Agreement. Failure to bridge the gaps would leave two options: extend the U.N. mandate after its current Dec. 31 expiration or suspend all U.S. operations in Iraq.
U.S. officials have urged the Iraqis to consider what could happen here if the U.S. suspends military operations.
Violence is down here sharply after the Sunni revolt against al-Qaida and the routing of Shiite militias in Baghdad and southern Iraq last spring. But the U.S. military also provides considerable help to Iraqi ministries in infrastructure and quality of life projects which would have to stop.
The White House, State Department and Pentagon on Thursday all refused to discuss possible alternatives to securing a deal, saying they are still reviewing Iraq’s proposed amendments received on Wednesday.
But officials bristled at suggestions that negotiations, which ran from May until earlier this month, could be reopened. They also insisted that they are not yet looking at extending the United Nations mandate.
“Once we have something to say on it, we will,” Wood told reporters. “But for the moment, we’re just taking our time in reviewing it to make sure that we’ve got a good sense of what it is the Iraqis have put forward.”
U.S. sources voice pessimism
Privately, U.S. officials briefed on the Iraqi amendments are growing pessimistic about an agreement.
One official said there was a chance that some of the four main points of contention — the withdrawal deadline, demand for inspections of U.S. arms shipments and a ban on using Iraqi territory for attacks on neighboring states — could be “finessed.”
But Iraqi demands for more jurisdiction over American soldiers — currently limited to troops who commit major crimes while off duty and off base — likely crossed a “red line” for the administration and Congress. Congressional approval of the agreement is not required, but lawmakers will almost certainly protest any surrender of U.S. authority over U.S. troops.
Al-Adeeb said the Iraqis want a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee to decide whether U.S. soldiers accused of crimes off base were really on authorized missions.
“We are waiting for a response from the U.S. negotiators on how much they can accommodate,” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Thursday on CNN. “I think both sides here have reached the moment of truth. The time window is closing, and a decision has to be made as soon as possible.”