Dan Froomkin, the world's best President Bush chronicler, takes a closer look at the Bush White House plan that will extend the occupation of Iraq by American troops, and why the Iraq-US 'security deal' may be not much more than another attempt to contain Iran :
Despite opposition from both the Iraqi and American people, President Bush appears to be forging ahead on a multi-year security agreement with the Iraqi government that would lock in the occupation status quo.
A British newspaper reports new details about the ongoing secret negotiations: Bush wants to retain the use of more than 50 military bases in Iraq and is insisting on immunity from Iraqi law for U.S. troops and contractors, as well as a free hand to carry out military activities without consulting the Baghdad government. The pact, which Bush has said he does not intend to submit for Congressional approval, would take effect shortly before he leaves office. Reversing it, while possible, would force a future president to break an international commitment.
But there are signs of increasing resistance on the Iraqi side. At a congressional hearing yesterday, two members of the Iraqi parliament said Bush's terms would infringe on Iraqi sovereignty and perpetuate the violence there. They said any agreement should include a timetable for a quick departure of U.S. troops.
And in case the stakes weren't already high enough, the agreement is shaping up to be yet another proxy battle with Iran.
Patrick Cockburn writes in the Independent: "A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.
"The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilise Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.
"But the accord also threatens to provoke a political crisis in the US. President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. . . .
"The US has repeatedly denied it wants permanent bases in Iraq but one Iraqi source said: 'This is just a tactical subterfuge.' Washington also wants control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000 feet and the right to pursue its 'war on terror' in Iraq, giving it the authority to arrest anybody it wants and to launch military campaigns without consultation. . . .
"Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is believed to be personally opposed to the terms of the new pact but feels his coalition government cannot stay in power without US backing."
Anne Flaherty writes for the Associated Press: "Iraqi lawmakers told Congress on Wednesday that they have serious misgivings about a long-term security agreement being negotiated this year with President Bush, putting themselves squarely in line with Democrats who say hashing out a deal before Bush leaves office is bad timing.
"Opposition in the U.S. and Iraqi legislative bodies underscores the political hurdles facing Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as they try to settle the terms under which U.S. troops can continue operating in Iraq after a United Nations authorization expires at the end of the year."
Flaherty writes that the Iraqi lawmakers "said they thought violence in their country would subside after U.S. troops leave, and they embraced the idea of setting a timetable for the troops' departure."
Reuters reports: "A majority of the Iraqi parliament has written to Congress rejecting a long-term security deal with Washington if it is not linked to a requirement that U.S. forces leave, a U.S. lawmaker said on Wednesday.
"Rep. William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat and Iraq war opponent, released excerpts from a letter he was handed by Iraqi parliamentarians laying down conditions for the security pact that the Bush administration seeks with Iraq.
Robert H. Reid writes for the Associated Press about how the proposed agreement "is shaping up as a major political battle between America and Iran. . . .
"The agreement, which both sides hope to finish in midsummer, is likely to be among the issues discussed this weekend when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is due to visit Iran -- his second trip there in a year.
"Ahead of the visit, his party sought to calm worries by insisting that the deal would not allow foreign troops to use Iraq as a ground to invade another country -- a clear reference to Iranian fears of a U.S. attack. . . .
"A lawmaker from al-Maliki's party told reporters Tuesday that the Iraqis and the Americans are far apart on the security agreement. He said negotiations 'are at a standstill, and the Iraqi side is studying its options.'
"'The Americans have some demands that the Iraqi government regards as infringing on its sovereignty,' lawmaker Haidar al-Abadi said. 'This is the main dispute, and if the dispute is not settled, I frankly tell you there will not be an agreement.' . . .
"Most Iraqis view the U.S. insistence that American troops continue to enjoy immunity under Iraqi law as an infringement on national sovereignty. U.S. officials maintain they respect Iraqi sovereignty and are not seeking permanent bases."