Iraq demands all US troops out by 2011
Iraq has demanded a clear commitment from the US that its forces will have left its soil by the end of 2011.
The stance was revealed in a newly toughened-up version of a draft military pact that could eventually see the US presence forced to make their exit much sooner.
With time fast running out to seal the deal, the Iraqi Cabinet today gave Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, approval to submit a series of proposed amendments to the US side for further negotiation.
The changes would eliminate any possibility of the US military staying in the country for more than another three years, according to the source. A previous draft linked the pullout with security conditions on the ground, raising the possibility of the US troop presence being extended.
“The maximum duration is three years. It cannot be extended beyond the three years but it can be reduced,” an Iraqi source close to the matter said, explaining that under the suggested amendments either Baghdad or Washington would be able to accelerate the US withdrawal rate provided a 12-month notice period is given.
Iraq has also changed the Arabic title of the document to make it more appealing for an Iraqi audience, many of whom oppose the US presence in their country.
It will now be known as the “agreement around the temporary presence of US forces in Iraq, its activities and its withdrawal timeline”, the source said.
Further alterations have been made to clarify the immunity status of US soldiers on operation if they commit a crime punishable by Iraqi law. In addition, tighter restrictions would be placed on non-US military and civilian personnel entering and exiting Iraq on US military flights.
Mr Maliki informed a Cabinet meeting today that he had spoken to President Bush by telephone the previous day to let him know that Baghdad wanted to suggest changes to the status of forces agreement.
“He said Bush was welcoming and said: ’Okay we are ready to look into what you propose’,” the source said.
Iraq and the United States must sign the accord before the end of the year, when a United Nations Security Council mandate, authorising the presence of foreign forces in Iraq, is due to expire.
Failure to do so would force Iraq to resort to what it calls “plan B”, asking the Security Council for an emergency extension of the mandate to buy more time.
Officials are already thinking about whether to begin preparing the ground to be ready in case this becomes the only option. Both sides say publicly that the UN route is not desirable, but there is speculation that some Iraqi politicians would prefer to cut the deal with the new US administration than the outgoing one.
The source said the proposed amendments to the pact were “not fundamental”. They largely comprised “grammatical changes in the way it is presented and fine tuning some of the sentences to be far more precise and black and white than they are currently worded,” the source said. “For example, the word ‘should’ we have changed to ‘must’.”
Washington, however, remains wary of making any alterations to a text drawn up after months of tough negotiations and compromises.
Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said today: “We have not received any changes from the Iraqis. We think this is a good agreement, therefore the bar will be high.”
The United States is applying pressure on Iraq to push the pact through its Parliament, spelling out the repercussions of failing to reach an accord.
Last week, officials presented a list of activities to the Iraqi side that would become impossible for the US military to perform from January 1.
The US ambassador to Iraq also told a US newspaper that the lack of a legal basis would mean "we do nothing - no security training, no logistical support, no border protection, no training, equipping, manning checkpoints, no nothing".
Britain, which has just over 4,000 troops largely stationed in southern Iraq, would also be caught out by a failure to reach a deal. London hopes to base its status of forces agreement with Baghdad on the US-Iraq version.