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US-Iraq troop deal "crushing defeat" for Bush

In an article on ipsnews.net, journalist and investigative historian Gareth Porter analyzed the final draft of the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement on the US military presence in Iraq.
He states that the agreement “represents an even more crushing defeat for the policy of the George W. Bush administration than previously thought.” The deal not only calls for a clear deadline for a withdrawal of combat troops by 2011, it will also be unlikely the a residual non-combat force of US Troops would be allowed to remain in Iraq for training and support purposes. Porter also states: “The clearest sign of the dramatically reduced US negotiating power is the willingness of the United States to give up extraterritorial jurisdiction over US contractors and their employees and over US troops in the case of major and intentional crimes that occur outside bases and while off duty.” The Real News Network spoke to Gareth Porter.

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Story Transcript

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CARLO BASILONE, TRNN: In an article on ipsnews.net, journalist and investigative historian Gareth Porter analyzed the final draft of the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement on the US military presence in Iraq. He states that the agreement represents an even more crushing defeat for the policy of the George W. Bush administration than previously thought. The deal not only calls for a clear deadline for a withdrawal of combat troops by 2011; it will also be unlikely that a residual non-combat force of US troops would be allowed to remain in Iraq for training and support purposes. Porter also states: "The clearest sign of the dramatically reduced US negotiating power is the willingness of the United States to give up extraterritorial jurisdiction … over US contractors and their employees and over US troops in the case of major and intentional crimes that occur outside bases and while off duty."

GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST AND HISTORIAN: This is a major departure for the US government, which never previously in its long history of stationing troops abroad for long periods of time, particularly in Korea and Germany, has allowed a host government to have any jurisdiction over those troops. So this is a major concession by the United States government, and it indicates just how desperate the Bush administration has been to get some kind of agreement, no matter how much it has to concede to the Iraqi government in the agreement.

BASILONE: Now, why are they so desperate to have this agreement?

PORTER: Well, first of all, I mean, the Bush administration had staked a great deal of its political prestige, I would say, in the United States, for its own public, on getting an agreement that somehow could be pointed to as a victory for the administration in terms of its aim of continuing US military presence. And it was talking about continued presence even after the al-Maliki government, al-Maliki himself, declared last July that he was going to demand and was demanding that the US would have to withdraw its forces on a date certain. They were saying, "No, we’re not going to. It’s going to be a conditions-based withdrawal." And then, even after they began to shut up about that issue, they continued to tell US media, news media in Baghdad, that despite the claims of the Iraqi government, the agreement still was going to allow the United States to have a residual force for some period of time to come after the withdrawal of the combat forces. That turns out, of course, not to be true. The actual text that we now have makes it clear that the only way that there could be a residual force is if the present agreement is actually revised, and that would require an act of the Iraqi Parliament. Now, that of course is simply not going to happen; it’s very clear that’s not going to happen. So the fact is that the Bush administration has been simply completely defeated on stationing US troops, whether [they’re] combat troops or training and support troops.

BASILONE: Despite the US concessions in the deal, there are still demands for changes from political leaders in Baghdad and from the people of Iraq. One reason is that many feel that the Iraqi government still does not have enough legal jurisdiction over US troops; another is that many, like the tens of thousands who protested against the deal on the weekend, believe that any agreement would legitimize the US occupation. Only Kurdish groups have given the draft deal full support. In Washington on Tuesday, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the door to reopening negotiations is pretty far closed, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Admiral Michael Mullen said that he was "increasingly concerned" about the public criticism by Iraqi politicians and warned, "We are clearly running out of time," and that Iraq risks security losses of "significant consequence" if it does not approve the accord. On Wednesday, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabagh replied, "We received with concerns statements from US Chief[s] of Staff Michael Mullen and they are unwelcome in Iraq…. The deal must not impose on Iraqis’ will and the statement was an inappropriate way to address Iraqis."

PORTER: I interpret that Mullen comment in particular as really aimed at the US audience, and the reason is that surely by now the US military leadership, as well as the civilian leadership and the Pentagon, have shed their illusions that they’re going to get anything more out of the Iraqi political system. This was aimed at trying to shore up the position of the US military leadership and the Bush administration at home, that they’re not going to be completely humiliated by this. They’re still trying to put on a face that suggests that they’re really bargaining hard, [inaudible] they haven’t already been crushed, they suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Iraqi government and political system, which is the reality.

BASILONE: What are the chances of this being signed by December 31? And what happens if it doesn’t get signed?

PORTER: I have to believe that the chances are diminishing with every passing day. The political atmosphere in Iraq has grown increasingly hostile. I think it’s much more difficult today for any political figure, certainly in the Shiite community, to support this draft. And so the chances of actual passage in the Iraqi Parliament are very small. Basically the Iraqis are going to say, "We’ll try again with a new administration in Washington."

BASILONE: But what does that mean for US if they don’t have a UN mandate to stay there? What does that mean for US troops in Iraq?

PORTER: Well, what I said in my article and my understanding is that the US troops would be confined, essentially, to their base. They have no mandate to stay in Iraq, and without any approval by the Iraq government, they would be risking, I think, a serious incident by venturing out to try to do military operations at this point. So I think the likelihood is that they would stay in their bases and, basically, hunker down and wait to see what’s going to happen next. Either a move in the United Nations to see if there would be some temporary approval for a station of US troops or waiting until the new US president takes office.

BASILONE: What are the chances of the UN Security Council approving an extension?

PORTER: Well, there, of course, you run into the problem of a Russian and a Chinese veto. It’s hard to say, but certainly there’s been a lot of speculation that the Russians would take advantage of this situation to cause problems for the US and not approve a new UN mandate. On the other hand, if it were simply a temporary affair for a very few weeks with various caveats that would require US troops to remain in their bases or something like that, then it might well be that they could get a temporary mandate, a sort of bridging mandate, if you will.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.