Iraqis Condemn American Demands
Sides Negotiating U.S. Military Role
By Amit R. Paley and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 11, 2008; A01
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
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
"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
"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
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
Abadi and other Iraqi officials said that assertion is
undercut by the U.S. request to maintain 58 long-term
bases in Iraq. The Americans originally pushed for
more than 200 facilities across the country, according
to Hadi al-Amiri, a powerful lawmaker who is the head
of the Badr Organization, the former armed wing of the
Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the country's largest
Shiite political party.
Iraqi officials said the U.S. government also demanded
the continuation of several current policies:
authority to detain and hold Iraqis without turning
them over to the Iraqi judicial system, immunity from
Iraqi prosecution for both U.S. troops and private
contractors, and the prerogative for U.S. forces to
conduct operations without approval from the Iraqi
The American negotiators also called for continued
control over Iraqi airspace and the right to refuel
planes in the air, according to Askari, positions he
said added to concerns that the United States was
preparing to use Iraq as a base to attack Iran.
"We rejected the whole thing from the beginning," said
Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, a senior lawmaker from the
Supreme Council. "In my point of view, it would just
be a new occupation with an Iraqi signature."
If the talks collapse, several Iraqi officials said,
they would request another one-year extension of the
U.N. mandate. But Iraqi officials said they would also
ask for modifications to the mandate similar to those
they are seeking in the current negotiations.
"All the same issues would then be transferred to the
talks with the U.N. Security Council," Abadi said.
Assuming that violence in Iraq will continue to
decrease, politicians such as Saghir have begun
discussing another option: asking the U.S. military to
"Maybe the Iraqi government will say: 'Hey, the
security situation is better. We don't need any more
troops in Iraq,' " he said. "Or we could have a pledge
of honor where the American troops leave but come back
and protect Iraq if there is any aggression."
The Iraqi government is also upset because it wants
the United Nations to lift its Chapter 7 designation
of Iraq as a threat to international security, which
dates from Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in
1990. Iraqi officials said the United States will not
commit to supporting the removal of the label -- a
position the Iraqis call an inappropriate bargaining
U.S. negotiators also said the agreements would not
obligate the American military to protect Iraq from
foreign aggression, Iraqi officials said, a promise
they believe was a fundamental part of a declaration
of principles signed by Bush and Maliki last winter.
"The prime minister is not happy about this," said
Askari, who helped negotiate the declaration of
principles, which outlined the strategic framework.
"This is not what we agreed on."
Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish member of
parliament who has been briefed on the negotiations,
said the Americans recently had changed their position
on four key issues: Private contractors would no
longer be guaranteed immunity; detainees would be
turned over to the Iraqi judicial system after combat
operations; U.S. troops would operate only with the
agreement of the Iraqi government; and the Americans
would promise not to use Iraq as a base for attacking
"Now the American position is much more positive and
more flexible than before," said Mohammed Hamoud, an
Iraqi deputy foreign minister who is a lead negotiator
in the talks.
In Washington, the White House hastily organized a
closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday after
Sens. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and John W. Warner
(R-Va.), the chairman and ranking minority member of
the Armed Services Committee, respectively, demanded
Monday that the administration "be more transparent
with Congress, with greater consultation, about the
progress and content of these deliberations."
In a letter Monday to Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice, Levin and Warner wrote that Congress, "in
exercising its constitutional responsibilities, has
legitimate concerns about the authorities, protections
and understandings that might be made" in the
Although they have questioned the status of forces
agreement's contents, lawmakers have not raised the
issue of its congressional ratification.
The United States is a party to more than 80 such
bilateral agreements in countries where American
forces are stationed, but its proposals for the Iraq
accord far exceed the terms of any of the others. Such
agreements are traditionally signed by the U.S.
president under his executive authority.
Although the administration has since said that the
security framework is "nonbinding" and would not
include any provisions for permanent bases or specific
troop numbers, lawmakers charged that the White House
was trying to tie the hands of Bush's successor and
said the terms of the accord amounts to a defense
treaty requiring congressional approval.
In a Senate hearing in April, a senior Defense
Department lawyer acknowledged under questioning by
Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) that the Pentagon had no
definition for the term "permanent base" and that it
"doesn't really mean anything."
DeYoung reported from Washington.