Monday, November 26, 2007

Till Death Do US Part

BAGHDAD - Iraq's government, seeking protection against foreign threats and internal coups, will offer the U.S. a long-term troop presence in Iraq in return for U.S. security guarantees as part of a strategic partnership, two Iraqi officials said Monday.

In a televised address Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said his government will ask the U.N. to renew the mandate for the multinational force for one final time, with its authorization to end in 2008. He insisted that the U.N. remove all restrictions on Iraqi sovereignty.

U.S. troops and other foreign forces operate in Iraq under a U.N. Security Council mandate, which has been renewed annually since 2003. Iraqi officials have said they want that next renewal — which must be approved by the U.N. Security Council by the end of this year — to be the last.

The two senior Iraqi officials said Iraqi authorities had discussed the broad outlines of the proposal with U.S. military and diplomatic representatives. The Americans appeared generally favorable subject to negotiations on the details, which include preferential treatment for American investments, according to the Iraqi officials involved in the discussions.

Preferential treatment for U.S. investors could provide a huge windfall if Iraq can achieve enough stability to exploit its vast oil resources. Such a deal would also enable the United States to maintain leverage against Iranian expansion at a time of growing fears about Tehran's nuclear aspirations.

"We believe, and Iraqis' national leaders believe, that a long-term relationship with the United States is in our mutual interest," Lute said.

The Iraqi officials said that under the proposed formula, Iraq would get full responsibility for internal security and U.S. troops would relocate to bases outside the cities. Iraqi officials foresee a long-term presence of about 50,000 U.S. troops, down from the current figure of more than 160,000.

On Sunday, Iraq's Shiite vice president hinted at such a formula, saying the government will link discussions on the next extension of the U.N. mandate to an agreement under which Iraq will gain full sovereignty and "full control over all of its resources and issues."

He said the government would announce within days a "declaration of intent" that would not involve military bases but would raise "issues on organizing the presence of the multinational forces and ending their presence on Iraqi soil."

One official said the Iraqis expect objections from Iraq's neighbors. Iran and Syria will object because they oppose a U.S. presence in the region.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia will not like the idea of any reduction in their roles as Washington's most important Arab partners.

-----Hmmmm, I await with clich├ęd and bated breath for the "opposition's" next move on the grand chess board.

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