US-Iraqi security pact still unsettled
Amid growing opposition, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on Sunday for more time to negotiate a plan that could begin US troop withdrawals in June 2009.
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After months of negotiations and an end-of-year deadline looming, the ruling Shiite coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Sunday that some points "need more time, more discussion, more dialogue, and amendments to some articles."
As Iraqi and US leaders try to sell the pact to lawmakers in Baghdad and Washington, the deal exposes a potent mix of political and military risks. Upcoming US elections and a nationwide Iraq vote in January further complicate matters.
"We're going through a smoke-and-mirrors process," says Toby Dodge, an Iraq analyst at Queen Mary, University of London. "Maliki is positioning himself for the most nationalistic result [but he also] knows how much he needs the Americans."
Iraqi politicians have criticized the pact for giving away Iraqi sovereignty to foreign occupiers; thousands of Iraqis demonstrated against the deal Saturday, heeding the call to protest by the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
"The Sadrists wouldn't vote for anything – not even for a blank piece of paper," says Mr. Dodge. "So it will be difficult to get it through. The Sadrists have identified a nationalist platform [with which] they can challenge the prime minister."
The latest draft of the deal requires American forces to withdraw from towns and villages to their main bases by June 2009, and to leave Iraq completely by the end of 2011. Any troops staying longer would do so at the specific request of the Iraqi government.
A key sticking point has been the terms of jurisdiction. US soldiers will continue to be subject to American law while on bases and on missions, though Iraq will be able to prosecute US soldiers and civilians if they commit "grave and premeditated felonies" off-base while not on missions, according a draft quoted by Agence France-Presse.
Mr. Sadr summed up much of the opposition to the draft in a statement read to thousands of supporters: "If they tell you that the agreement ends the presence of the occupation, let me tell you that the occupier will retain its bases. And whoever tells you that it gives us sovereignty is a liar."
The current draft represents numerous American concessions, though, from the original that was "spectacularly arrogant," says Dodge, and was reported to provide for a host of permanent bases, unfettered military operations, and blanket immunity for all Americans operating in Iraq.
By one count, as many as 70 US military and State Department lawyers at a time have been working to find language acceptable to both sides. The top US commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, last week accused Iran of trying to pay off Iraqi politicians to undermine the deal.