Locking Us Into Iraq?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, November 27, 2007; 1:44 PM

Is President Bush trying to tie the hands of his successor when it comes to Iraq?

While Washington is focused on today's pretend peace conference in Annapolis, this week's big Mideast news may well have come yesterday, when Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki quietly signed a momentous agreement about the future of U.S.-Iraqi relations.

Without any advance notice or public ceremony, Bush and Maliki agreed to a framework that calls for important decisions -- about such key issues as permanent U.S. military bases, long-term troop deployment and accountability for private contractors -- to be set in stone before Bush leaves office. And, while approval of the Iraqi parliament will be required, the U.S. Congress apparently won't get any say.

Peter Baker and Ann Scott Tyson write in The Washington Post: "The nonbinding statement sets the parameters for talks on a formal pact. Those negotiations will address thorny issues such as what mission U.S. forces in Iraq will pursue, whether they will establish permanent bases, and what kind of immunity, if any, should be granted to private security contractors such as Blackwater Worldwide."

Olivier Knox writes for AFP: "US 'war czar' Lieutenant General Douglas Lute said that next year's talks would cover issues at the heart of the bitter US debate over the war. . . .

"'The shape and size of any long-term, or longer than 2008, US presence in Iraq will be a key matter for negotiation between the two parties, Iraq and the United States,' the general said.

"Lute's remarks were notable in that top US officials, starting with Bush, have repeatedly denied seeking permanent bases in Iraq or that the US deployment -- currently at roughly 162,000 troops -- is open-ended.

"The Bush-Maliki agreement was also expected to raise eyebrows with one provision that cited the need to promote the flow of international capital to Iraq but 'especially American investments.'

"Monday's announcement means that the Bush administration and Iraq will work out the future of US forces in Iraq in the shadow of the November 2008 US presidential election and despite sky-high US public opposition to the war.

"Any resulting agreement could limit the ability of Bush's successor to break with the current US strategy, as Democratic candidates have promised to do amid increasingly vocal calls for a US withdrawal.

"While Maliki said any final deal would require the Iraqi parliament's approval, Lute said the accord would not need backing from the US Congress, which is in the hands of Bush's Democratic foes."

The agreement calls for bilateral negotiations to begin "as soon as possible," with the hope of finalizing a deal by summer. That deal would then govern the U.S. presence in Iraq once the U.N.-mandated occupation ends in December 2008, just weeks before the inauguration of Bush's successor.

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