Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- A leading figure in the ruling Unified Iraqi Coalition stated that the United States has given up the idea of signing a military agreement with Iraq, and proposed the idea of a security protocol to be appended to the framework agreement, which deals with defining relations between the two countries in the areas of economy, construction, and culture.
Meanwhile, followers of the Al-Sadr Trend, led by the young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, staged demonstrations over the weekend to express their rejection of the signing of an agreement on the status of the [US] forces. Two Iraqi teams are negotiating with a US party to work out two agreements before the end of July. The first agreement, which is broader, deals with the general framework of relations between the two countries over which neither party said there are any differences. The second framework agreement deals with the status of the US forces in Iraq, an issue that has provoked wide controversy in the country.
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Askari said, “No agreement has been reached as yet, but there is no dead-end as the talks are continuing.” He added, that “The US party has given up the idea of a military agreement and has proposed instead the idea of a security protocol to be appended to the framework agreement.”
Al-Askari said that the talks between the two parties are continuing, stressing that the Iraqi government put forward a proposal for scheduling the withdrawal and evacuation of the multinational forces, as this would be the other side of any agreement. It is to be recalled that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said at a reception of the Arab ambassadors accredited to the UAE during his visit to Abu Dhabi last Sunday that “the negotiations with the US party are continuing, and the current orientation is to reach a memorandum of understanding for the evacuation of the US forces or a memorandum of understanding for scheduling their withdrawal.” Al-Askari added, that “The United States is talking of five years as a time frame for the withdrawal of its forces effective from the date of signing the agreement, whereas the Iraqi party proposes two to three years as a maximum for their withdrawal.”
Al-Askari stressed that Iraqi forces will take over the security tasks in all Iraqi governorates by the end of this year. He added that the multinational forces will have withdrawn outside the Iraqi cities by the middle of 2009, and by the end of2010, all the multinational forces will have withdrawn. He said that the only exception will be the air cover, which these forces will continue to assume for the Iraqi forces until the latter are able to take charge of the security of the airspace in 2011.
Regarding the strategic framework agreement and whether it will be signed separately from the security agreement, Al-Askari told Asharq Al-Awsat, “Even though there are no problems over the framework agreement, and much of it has been successfully worked out, the Iraqi government does not want to sign it separately from an agreement that defines the status of the US forces.” He affirmed that the framework agreement “stipulates freeing Iraq from the mandate of Chapter Seven, protecting Iraq’s financial assets, compliance with democracy, respect for the constitution and economy, and finding solutions to Iraq’s problem with its creditors.”
Observers believe that the two parties may sign the strategic framework agreement on the stated date (end of this month) to save face until agreement is reached over the future of the US forces in Iraq.
For his part, sheikh Hamid al-Muallah, adviser to the Iraqi prime minister and a leading figure in the Higher Islamic Council, said that the current discussion revolves around the constants that have been declared, which include refraining from infringing upon Iraq’s sovereignty and agreeing on a time frame that does not conflict with previously reached agreements. In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, he said: “The current discussion is linked to the development of the Iraqi forces on the ground and the extent of their capability and readiness to assume the security tasks in all Iraqi governorates and carry out their security missions on their own.” He stressed that “Iraq demands reviews and assessment of the situation of the Iraqi forces within specific time frames, for instance, every six months or every year, and that this issue must not be left in a state of flux and lack of transparency.”
Al-Muallah added, “There is a need for reviews and for reports on the state of readiness reached by the Iraqi security forces so that we can gradually do without the multinational forces.” He added that “the Americans believe that an objective scheduling of the withdrawal of their forces should consider the development of the Iraqi forces in taking over the security tasks, whereas the Iraqi party sees that while this view is sound, it demands that this be subject to timetables and not be left in a state of uncertainty.”