Monday, November 17, 2008

Iraq may pass a security pact letting US stay till 2011

Nov. 17: U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, left, and Iraqi FM Hoshyar Zebar shake hands after a signing ceremony for U.S.-Iraq security pact.

BAGHDAD — Iraqi lawmakers Monday began debate over a pact with the United States that will allow U.S. forces to remain for three more years, while an Iranian official close to that country's leadership praised the Iraqi Cabinet for approving the deal.

The comments from Iran's judiciary chief marked the first time that the deal has met with clear-cut approval in neighboring Iran. Meanwhile, Syria, target of a deadly cross-border raid by U.S. forces in recent weeks, criticized the deal as virtual surrender to America.

More than two-thirds of the 275-seat legislature attended Monday's session, raising confidence that parliament will be able to muster a quorum for the Nov. 24 vote. The session ended after the agreement's text was read to lawmakers, the first step to adopt legislation.

Lawmakers are expected to meet again on Tuesday.

The proposed Status of Forces Agreement not only sets a date for American troop withdrawal - 2011 - but also puts new restrictions on US combat operations in Iraq starting on January 1 and requires a military pullback from urban areas by June 30. The pact goes before parliament in a week or so.

For the deal to go as planned, the security situation must keep improving.

The U.S. signed similar security pacts with Germany and Japan after World War II, and South Korea after the conflict there. In each case a sizeable contingent of U.S. troops remains. Today, there are 56,200 U.S. servicemembers in Germany, 33,100 in Japan and 26,300 in South Korea.

Can Obama change what is being done now, when he becomes President?

The pact can be changed if either President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office Jan. 20, or the Iraqis want to alter it. Each side has the right to repeal the agreement after giving one year's notice, a senior Iraqi lawmaker has said.

Obama Vows to Close Guantanamo

In his first television interview since the election, President-elect Barack Obama said Sunday he plans to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay and rebuild the nation’s moral stature. His comments came in an interview with Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes.

Steve Kroft: “There are a number of different things that you could do early on pertaining to executive orders.”

Barack Obama: “Right.”

Kroft: “One of them is to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Another is to change interrogation methods that are used by US troops. Are those things that you plan to take early action on?”

Obama: “Yes. I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture, and I’m going to make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.”

Syrian minister criticizes Iraq-U.S. security pact

Syria's information minister says the security pact with the U.S. approved by the Iraqi Cabinet amounts to an "award to the occupiers" of Iraq.

After months of haggling, the Iraqi Cabinet on Sunday approved the pact that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq for three more years. The deal is to go before the Iraqi parliament for final approval later in November.

Syria's information minister, Mohsen Bilal, told the AP on Monday that rather than rewarding the U.S. occupiers with the pact, Iraqis should get an apology from Washington for the damage done to their country.

Iraqi neighbors and U.S. adversaries Iran and Syria have opposed the pact in the past and say an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces would be the best solution.

Last month, the U.S. launched a cross-border assault against a Syrian village allegedly used to smuggle foreign fighters into Iraq. The deal contains conditions that the U.S. not use Iraqi land to launch attacks against any neighboring country.

The proposed Status of Forces Agreement not only sets a date for American troop withdrawal - 2011 - but also puts new restrictions on US combat operations in Iraq starting on January 1 and requires a military pullback from urban areas by June 30. The pact goes before parliament in a week or so.

Internal Iraqi opposition

The 30-strong Sadrist bloc will move heaven and Earth - including massive nationwide protests - to bloc the pact in the Iraqi National Assembly.

Sadrist spokesman Ahmed al-Masoudi stressed this Sunday thatthe pact "did not mean anything" and "hands Iraq over on a golden platter and for an indefinite period".

Masoudi is right on the money when he says the overwhelming majority of popular opinion is against it and the Sadrists and many Sunni parties insist a popular referendum to approve it is essential.

Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's position is and has always been "end the occupation now". That happens to be the same view from Tehran: the pact further extends Iraq's agony as an American colony.

Iran's unusual positive stance

Iranian state TV has been spinning it as a victory for the Maliki government - stressing the US was forced to make concessions (in fact Maliki did not extract all the concessions he wanted in terms of prosecuting US troops for crimes in Iraq . The pact calls for joint panels of U.S. and Iraqi judges to try cases involving serious crimes committed by off-duty U.S. servicemembers in Iraq. So while Iraqi judges would be involved, the U.S. would not cede full jurisdiction to them. Second, it is almost unheard of for a U.S. troop to be off duty and off base in Iraq.).

However, last week, a spokesman for the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq said he would "directly intervene" if he felt the pact was against Iraqi sovereignty.

Will Iran Move in?

"Many Iraqis suspect that Iran wants to annex southern Iraq, which is over 80 percent Shia, has the major Shia holy places and oil fields that would increase Iranian exports by over 50 percent."


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