Iraq and US fail to find agreement on troop numbers and future relations


IRAQ:IRAQI AND US negotiators have given up on an attempt to reach by the end of the month separate agreements governing the long-term presence of US troops in Iraq and future economic, political and diplomatic relations.

Instead, negotiators are reportedly seeking to draft a document, dubbed by the US a "temporary operating protocol", to deal with the military as well as lay down general principles governing relations. It would succeed UN authorisation for the deployment in Iraq of foreign forces, which expires at the end of this year.

The original text of the proposed status-of-forces agreement provided for US troop immunity, the right to conduct operations without Iraqi approval, and 58 military facilities and bases. The proposed strategic pact dealing with bilateral relations would have permitted the US to intervene in Iraq's internal affairs. These demands have been compared unfavourably by Iraqis to the treaty imposed by Britain which sparked constant unrest and the eventual toppling of the king on July 14th, 1958.

The Washington Post reported that the protocol under negotiation is likely to cover only 2009 and include a "timeframe" for a pull-out. Rejection of the proposed status-of-forces and strategic partnership accords amounts to a defeat for the Bush administration which, analysts argue, sought to reach advantageous deals before leaving office.

US law-makers have criticised the administration for trying to bind the US to such pacts without legislative approval. In response to US domestic concerns, the White House has suggested accelerating the rate of troop withdrawal from a current level of 147,000 to 120,000 by the middle of next year.

Iraqi premier Nuri al-Maliki has been under strong pressure from dissident Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and other figures to reject US demands and insist on a deadline for withdrawal. In a bid to boost the government's popularity, officials walking the streets with bags of cash have been handing out up to $8,000 (€5,000) to Iraqis they meet.

This initiative has angered the authorities in the Sunni majority Anbar province, Iraq's largest, who say Baghdad is withholding Anbar's share of reconstruction funds. They also criticise the US for failing to hand over control of security in Anbar to local Sunni forces and Mr Maliki for refusing to recruit 100,000 members of Sunni tribal units co-operating with the US into the police and army.