Permanent U.S. bases in Iraq unlikely
A US-Iraq security pact won't set troop levels now, but it could set the stage for long-term strategy.
The US and Iraq are beginning to hammer out a security accord that will define their relationship for years to come, but it probably won't resemble the postwar agreements that have left thousands of American troops in places like Japan, Germany, or South Korea.Skip to next paragraph
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Just how different the US-Iraq relationship will be remains far from clear. But neither the Bush administration nor military analysts believe it's in the US interest to have permanent bases in Iraq and look like the occupying country many in the Muslim world suspect it to be. Nevertheless, it's likely that the next administration, be it Democrat or Republican, will agree to having a substantial number of US forces there for at least some years.
The agreement administration officials are working on with the Iraqi government would probably not affect the number of forces being drawn out of Iraq now. But it would set the stage for a long-term security strategy for the two countries.
The Bush administration and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have already agreed to a set of "principles for friendship and cooperation" that creates a foundation for a more formal agreement that would normalize relations between the two countries.
The US has to have some kind of agreement to have forces in Iraq since the United Nations Security Council Resolution agreed to in 2002 is set to expire within the year. But Democrats and some Republicans are convinced that the Bush administration is doing an end run around Congress that would tie the hands of a future president.
Some members, representing both parties, say the Constitution prevents such a move.
The US maintains "status of force" agreements (SOFAs) with dozens of countries. These accords, which typically don't require congressional approval, merely outline the basic tenets of US presence in other countries in terms of the number of forces to be assigned there, what their roles and missions are, and how, for example, wrongdoing by American personnel could be adjudicated.
A formal treaty is a more comprehensive document between allies that requires ratification and approval by Congress. It delineates a broader agreement, including the security arrangements and how, for example, the US might protect another nation should it be attacked.
Administration officials contend they are not creating a treaty with Iraq, but critics are concerned that a SOFA amounts to one, anyway – or that it will define a larger bilateral security accord to come later.
Although SOFAs include numerous other factors, central to them is the number of American troops that would be assigned to that country. In the case of Iraq, it is hard to determine how many forces should stay there because, unlike most other nations with SOFAs, Iraq is still far from stable.
US troops abroad
Stationed on bases*:
•South Korea 27,014
•United Kingdom 9,825
•Cuba (Guantánamo) 932
*As of Sept. 2007
Source: Defense Department