Iraqis want occupation's end, US pushes extension

August 30, 2008

Under pressure from Iraqis opposed to the ongoing occupation of their country, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamil al Maliki released a statement on August 25 calling for the complete withdrawal of all foreign forces from Iraq by 2011.

The call was made in the middle of negotiations of a "status of forces" agreement between Iraq and the United States, which is to replace the current United Nations' authorisation for the occupation of Iraq, which runs out by the end of 2008.

If no agreement is reached, there is no legal basis for the US-led occupation to continue.

Maliki, according to an August 25 New York Times article, stated, "It is not possible for any agreement to conclude unless it is on the basis of full sovereignty and the national interest, and that no foreign soldiers remain in Iraqi soil after a defined time ceiling".

The US was quick to reject any suggestions that a date should be set for any troop withdrawal with Department of Defense spokesperson Bryan Whitman stating that "At the end of the day, nothing changes from the fact that we believe strongly that the withdrawal of U.S. forces, of coalition forces, ought to be based on the conditions on the ground".

Whitman did not specify what the "conditions" that had to be established for withdrawal to happen where.

Disagreements have also broken out between both governments over terms of immunity for US soldiers while serving in Iraq and over Iraqi approval of US military operations.

The US wants complete immunity for all its soldiers, so that they cannot be charged under any Iraqi law. Iraqi government spokesperson Ali al Dabbagh said that it was prepared to grant immunity to US soldiers on bases or conducting military operations, but not in any other circumstance.

In other circumstances, a joint US-Iraqi committee will decide how those accused of crimes should be dealt with.

Also, Iraq wants anyone detained by US forces to be turned over to Iraqi authorities within 24 hours, a demand the US has rejected.

But in what was described as a "further concession", an August 21 British Daily Telegraph article stated the "White House has also given ground on the issue of whether private American contractors operating in Iraq will not be immune to prosecution, as US officials had previously insisted".

Private US contractors which include Blackwater, a mercenary company responsible for murdering 17 Iraqi civilians on
September 16, 2007. An Iraqi Police report described the incident as an "act of terrorism".

Maliki stated "Unless they change, it will be difficult to have the agreement approved".

An Iraqi government official made it clear, however, that the government is committed to leaving the door ajar for an open-ended occupation.

An August 26 Washington Post article quoted a Maliki aide stating, "The agreement will be met with significant public discomfort, so Iraqi officials will resort to using the dates mentioned in the agreement to sell it to the public, even though they might be intended to be used in a guidance way".

"If you ask the prime minister, 'What happens if the situation on the ground changes before 2011?' then he would obviously say that the dates might need to be changed", the aide said.

Iraqi government negotiator Mohammed al Haj Hammoud stated, "There is a provision that says the withdrawal could be done even before 2011 or extended beyond 2011 depending on the [security] situation".

Opposition to the occupation of Iraq is widespread throughout the country. A March opinion poll by Opinion Business Research for Britain's Channel Four found that 70% of Iraqis want foreign forces to leave, while 54.6% want this to happen within six months. Sixty-one percent said that the presence of US forces in Iraq is making the security situation in Iraq worse.

The lack of Iraqi sovereignty while militarily occupied is clear to the general population, as well. A September 2006 poll found that 78% of Iraqis thought that if the Iraqi government were to tell the US to withdraw its forces, the US would refuse.

Furthering pressure on Maliki to negotiate a withdrawal, a major demonstration was held in Najaf to coincide with the arrival of US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, according to an August 23 report.

The demonstration, which involved a large contingent of supporters of cleric Moqtada al Sadr, rejected any security agreement without a timetable for withdrawal and vowed to take up arms if such a treaty was signed.

Even former Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al Jaafari, now leader of the National Reform party, stated "I renounce the humiliating agreement between Iraq and the United States", which he described as vague and solely in the interests of US forces.

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