ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT (AFP) — US military chief Michael Mullen bluntly warned Iraq on Tuesday that it risked security losses of “significant consequence” unless it approves an agreement on a legal basis for US forces there.
Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also charged that Iran was working hard to scuttle passage of the so-called Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA.
“We are clearly running out of time,” said Mullen.
Mullen said that when the current UN mandate runs out December 31, Iraqi security forces “will not be ready to provide for their security. And in that regard there is great potential for losses of significant consequence.”
The admiral, who is on a visit to Europe, made the comments as the Iraqi cabinet took up a draft status of forces agreement negotiated over a period of months with the United States.
It calls for a drawdown of US combat forces from Iraq by the end of 2011 and includes US concessions on jurisdiction over US troops accused of serious crimes while off duty or off base.
But the agreement has ignited fierce debate in Iraq with radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr leading protests against it.
Mullen said debate was healthy in a democracy but he was “increasingly concerned with what I see in terms of the public rhetoric as this debate goes on in Iraq,” because Iraqis did not appear to recognize the seriousness of the situation.
“It is also clear that the Iranians are working very hard to make sure this does not pass,” he said. “This should not be lost on the Iraqi people.”
He said US diplomats and military leaders in Iraq had made an “extraordinary effort to move this to conclusion on the part of the United States.”
“It’s time for the Iraqis to make a decision,” he said.