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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rice in Baghdad: Security Agreement Drafted

Cross-posted by Maggie at Maggie's Notebook

Iraq and America near the conclusion of the long-awaited security agreement between the two countries with U.S. troop withdrawal and military "immunity" at the top of the list. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice arrived in Baghdad today to tie-up lose ends.

On Wednesday night, American and Iraqi officials confirmed that negotiators from the U.S. and Iraq had finalized a draft agreement. Rice cautioned that her visit should not signal that a final agreement is ready, but rather that the negotiations "...have moved forward in a positive way." This agreement will be ready when it's ready," she said.

The historic pact is tasked with sobering details, including the withdrawal of American troops, an ongoing presence of U.S. troops in the country, "immunity" for American military, immunity for independent contractors, Iraq's troops taking a greater lead in combat missions, Iraq's role in America's military "authority" within the country, and measures to soothe the fears of surrounding Arab nations:

The International Herald Tribune says that Iraq's Prime Minister Hoshyar Zebari declined to confirm an actual timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal, but quotes Zebari as saying:

"Both sides have reached the conclusion that there is no need for any further negotiations," he said. "A draft agreement is there. It is now a political decision."

In contrast, according to MSNBC, the draft agreement includes "the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq's cities by next June 30 [2009]"

In addition to spelling out that U.S. troops would move out of Iraqi cities by next summer, the Iraqi government has pushed for a specific date — most likely the end of 2011 — by which all U.S. forces would depart the country. In the meantime, the U.S. troops would be positioned on bases in other parts of the country to make them less visible while still being able to assist Iraqi forces as needed.
Zebari was asked about the reactions of nearby countries to the agreement. Speaking in Arabic, he said:
...this decision (agreement) is a sovereign one and Iran and other neighboring countries have the right to ask for clarifications. ... There are clear articles (that) say that Iraq will not be used as a launching pad for any aggressive acts against neighboring countries and we already did clarify this.
Moqtada al-Sadr a controversial and militant cleric, railed against the pact, saying that Washington was trying to "twist Baghdad's arm to sign it."
Today, Condoleezza Rice, the occupation foreign secretary, arrived in Iraq to try to put pressure on the government of Iraq to accept terms dictated by the occupation to sign this ominous treaty," said a statement read out by Sadr political adviser Liwa Smeism at the cleric's office in Najaf.
Secretary Rice will also attempt to get Iraq's failed election law back on track to allow an October 1st "provincial vote. The legislation stalled over how to "run the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk."