A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee as Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.). That position currently is held by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Iraqis Condemn American Demands
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
BAGHDAD, June 10 -- High-level negotiations over the future role of the U.S. military in Iraq have turned into an increasingly acrimonious public debate, with Iraqi politicians denouncing what they say are U.S. demands to maintain nearly 60 bases in their country indefinitely.
Top Iraqi officials are calling for a radical reduction of the U.S. military's role here after the U.N. mandate authorizing its presence expires at the end of this year. Encouraged by recent Iraqi military successes, government officials have said that the United States should agree to confine American troops to military bases unless the Iraqis ask for their assistance, with some saying Iraq might be better off without them.
"The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq," said Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite politician on parliament's foreign relations committee who is close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore.' "
Congress has grown increasingly restive over the negotiations, which would produce a status of forces agreement setting out the legal rights and responsibilities of U.S. troops in Iraq and a broader "security framework" defining the political and military relationship between the two countries. Senior lawmakers of both parties have demanded more information and questioned the Bush administration's insistence that no legislative approval is required.
In Iraq, the willingness to consider calling for the departure of American troops represents a major shift for members of the U.S.-backed government. Maliki this week visited Iran, where Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, urged him to reject any long-term security arrangements with the United States.
Failing to reach agreements this year authorizing the future presence of American forces in Iraq would be a strategic setback for the Bush administration, which says that such a presence is essential to promoting stability. Absent the agreements or the extension of the U.N. mandate, U.S. troops would have no legal basis to remain in Iraq.
President Bush has spoken directly to Maliki about the issue in recent days and instructed his negotiating team to show greater flexibility, Iraqi politicians said. U.S. officials circulated a draft of the status of forces agreement over the weekend without many of the most controversial demands, buoying hopes that a deal could be reached, according to Iraq lawmakers.
David M. Satterfield, the State Department's top adviser on Iraq, said he is confident the pacts can be finalized in July, a deadline that Bush and Maliki endorsed last year. "It's doable," he told reporters in Baghdad. "We think it's an achievable goal."
U.S. officials have refused to publicly discuss details of the negotiations. But Iraqi politicians have become more open in their descriptions of the talks, stoking popular anger at American demands that Iraqis across the political spectrum view as a form of continued occupation.
"What the U.S. wants is to take the current status quo and try to regulate it in a new agreement. And what we want is greater respect for Iraqi sovereignty," said Haider al-Abadi, a parliament member from Maliki's Dawa party. "Signing the agreement would mean that the Iraqi government had given up its sovereignty by its own consent. And that will never happen."
Iraqi officials plan to present the status of forces document and the security framework to parliament as a single agreement.
In a news conference in the heavily fortified Green Zone, Satterfield repeated several times that the U.S. goal is to create a more independent Iraq. "We want to see Iraqi sovereignty strengthened, not weakened," he said.