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Talks to keep U.S. troops in Iraq provoke ire

Proposal to extend America's military role years into the future meets lawmaker resistance, from Washington to Baghdad.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 10, 2008

Concerns: Iraqi parliamentarians Nadim al-Jaberi (l.), and Khalaf al-Alayyan spoke before a House panel June 4 about negotiations for a long-term US troop presence in Iraq.

Jose Luis Magana/AP

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Washington

An agreement the United States is negotiating with Iraq on the conditions for the long-term stationing of American forces there is under fire from national legislative leaders in both countries.

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At the same time, an accord that would permit the US to keep soldiers on Iraqi soil for years to come – the same kind of agreement that governs the US military presence in South Korea, Japan, and Germany – faces criticism from some of Iraq's neighbors, especially Iran.

Some Iraqi parliamentarians fear the proposed agreement would keep Iraq an occupied country and a venue for the US to fight its battles with Al Qaeda and Iran. Some in the US Congress worry a deal could tie the hands of the next president on Iraq policy. Both groups say the executive branches of the two countries are too tight-lipped about a negotiating process that was supposed to be transparent.

"Any [details] we have about this agreement have come through the media, but what we have learned tells us this agreement is totally unfair to the Iraqi people," says Khalaf al-Alayyan, a Sunni sheikh and parliamentarian leader of the Iraqi National Dialogue Council, a party favoring a US withdrawal. "Whoever has a chance to look at it would realize Iraq [under the proposed agreement] would not just be an occupied country, but as if it were part of the United States."

In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, four senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week accused the Bush administration of reneging on its promise of transparency with the Congress on the negotiating process. The bipartisan letter said the administration had committed to consulting closely with Congress "throughout the entire process" but that "scant detail" has been forthcoming so far.

The US-Iraq security accord was at the center of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's visit Sunday to Tehran, where he tried to assuage Iranian leaders' concerns about a permanent US presence on their doorstep. "We will not allow Iraq to become a platform for harming the security of Iran," Mr. Maliki said, according to IRNA, the state-run Iranian news service.

The Maliki government wants the agreement with the US to replace a United Nations mandate for the stationing of foreign forces in the country, which expires at year's end. But its growing economic and political relationship with Tehran is testing its ability to simultaneously pursue a US-Iraqi accord.

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