Iraq Pullout Deal in Doubt Due to Disagreements
by Corinne Reilly & Nancy A. Youssef
http://www.azcentra l.com/arizonarep ublic/news/ articles/ 2008/10/18/ 20081018us- iraq1018. html
October 18, 2008
BAGHDAD – A draft agreement by U.S. and Iraqi negotiators that calls for withdrawing American troops by 2012 appears to be facing obstacles in Iraq that could kill the deal before it’s implemented, lawmakers in Baghdad said.
After seven months of wearisome back and forth, negotiators completed the draft this week. Both governments are reviewing it. Although the agreement doesn’t require congressional approval, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are reaching out to key members of Congress and asking them to support it.
In Iraq, the Political Council for National Security, Cabinet and parliament must approve.
The campaigns of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and Republican rival John McCain, both on Senate committees that deal with the issue, have been briefed.
Progress on the accord follows a compromise on the biggest point of contention: the legal jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel in Iraq.
Under the draft now being discussed, Iraq could prosecute American troops accused only of committing major, premeditated crimes while they were off-duty and outside U.S. bases. Some Iraqis argue that that doesn’t go far enough, especially because U.S. troops and contractors rarely move around the country unless they’re on duty.
The draft also calls for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraqi cities by mid-2009 and from the country entirely by 2012.
An agreement is necessary because a U.N. mandate allowing American troops to operate in Iraq will expire Dec. 31. If an accord governing their continued presence isn’t reached by the end of the year, U.S. forces in Iraq technically could become illegal occupiers.
Despite this week’s movement, concern is widespread that the pact, which the United States hopes to finalize by the end of the year, won’t win Iraqi approval.
Whether the draft will survive is questionable, lawmakers here said.
“It’s very hard to judge at this point,” said Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite Muslim lawmaker and a close adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “There are some who will fundamentally oppose any agreement with the Americans, regardless of the terms.”
He said others may reject the draft because they thought that Iraqi negotiators had given up too much concerning legal jurisdiction over U.S. troops.
Mithal al-Alusi, a secular Sunni Muslim member of parliament, said that he would support the draft if it made it to a vote in parliament. He added, “Many could oppose it because they are agents of Iran. It will ultimately be a fight between true Iraqi patriots and those who have been taken over by the Iranians.”
Upcoming elections in Iraq could complicate matters, said Salim Abdullah al-Juburi, a spokesman for parliament’s largest Sunni bloc.
“Unfortunately, not everyone will look at the agreement from the point of view of what is best for Iraq,” he said. “Some will think only about the impression their decision might have on voters.”
He said that he expected members of the United Iraqi Alliance, the largest Shiite bloc in parliament, to oppose the agreement because of Iran’s influence.
“I won’t decide my opinion until I have the opportunity to scrutinize the draft,” he added.
Other lawmakers previously have made up their minds. “I won’t vote for this agreement as it stands, and anyone who would is a traitor to the Iraqi people,” said Bahaa al-Araji, a lawmaker with the Sadrists, followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. “Many of the points included in the draft I read are contrary to the Iraqi constitution and Iraqi law.”
On Friday, U.S. negotiators in Iraq, along with Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top American commander here, had a video conference with senior aides in both houses of Congress to brief them about the draft’s terms. At the same time in Iraq, top government officials and party leaders had a similar meeting.
A statement issued late Friday by the Iraqi government said its meeting had ended without any formal decisions. Discussions will continue in the coming days, the statement said.
The agreement also discusses a larger role for Iraqis in U.S. military operations.