Under Iraq troop pact, U.S. can't leave any forces behind

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 18, 2008 

BAGHDAD — The status of forces of agreement between the United States and Iraq is now called the withdrawal agreement, and that's exactly what it is: an ultimate end to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

If Iraq's parliament endorses the agreement, in six weeks American forces would have to change the way they operate in Iraq, and all U.S. combat troops, police trainers and military advisers would have to leave the country by Dec. 31, 2011. President-elect Barack Obama's campaign plan to leave a residual force of some 30,000 American troops in Iraq would be impossible under the pact.

Unless the agreement is amended, which would require the formal written approval of both sides, in three years there no longer would be any legal basis for U.S. armed forces or civilian contractors of the Department of Defense to remain in Iraq.

If Iraq wants American forces to leave earlier, it could terminate the agreement with one year's notice. The United States has the option to do the same.

The American military now can come and go as it pleases in Iraq. It raids homes without judicial approval, controls Iraq's airspace, detains civilians without warrants for as long as it wants and conducts unilateral operations against high-value targets, including a recent cross-border attack on an al Qaida in Iraq member in Syria that was condemned by Iraq, the Arab League and Syria.

The agreement forbids attacks on other countries from inside Iraq, and if it were approved, beginning Jan. 1 all U.S. operations would have to be conducted in cooperation with the Iraqi government.

"It is not permitted to use Iraqi land, water and airspace as a route or launching pad for attacks against other countries," the pact says, according to an Arabic copy that McClatchy obtained.

The military also would have to get arrest warrants from the Iraqi government, judicial orders for raids on homes and to consult in advance on every operation, including the attacks on high-value targets that American forces now routinely conduct on their own.

Privately, U.S. military officials worry about sharing sensitive information with their Iraqi counterparts, out of fear of revealing intelligence sources and methods but also because many officials still suspect that some of the Iraqi security forces are working with Shiite Muslim militias or Sunni Muslim insurgents.

All detainees in American custody who are wanted by the Iraqi government would be handed over based on arrest warrants or else released, and anyone detained by U.S. forces during approved operations if the agreement is implemented next year would have to be handed over to Iraqi authorities within 24 hours.

The Green Zone, where American contractors, some military personnel and officials live and work, would come under Iraqi control on the first day of next year. U.S. soldiers currently protect the area in central Baghdad, and checkpoints are manned by Peruvian mercenaries. State and Defense department officials breeze through the checkpoints, while most Iraqis are subjected to long searches.

American Embassy personnel plan to move to a new embassy compound before the Green Zone is turned over to the Iraqis at the end of the year. The embassy staff members already live in the new 104-acre compound, but most of the offices haven't been moved yet.

Control of Iraqi airspace would be transferred to the Iraqis the day the agreement took effect, and after that the Iraqi government would issue annual permits to all U.S. military aircraft. Currently, the U.S. controls all air traffic over Iraq, including civilian flights, and it could shut down Iraq's airspace. Of course, the Iraqi government could seek American or other help with air traffic control and with the protection of the Green Zone.

In provinces that have been turned over to Iraqi control, U.S. troops couldn't remain in cities, villages or towns after the agreement took effect, and as of June 30, all American combat troops would have to be in agreed-on locations outside populated areas. They'd have no right, beginning next year, to venture off their bases and outposts without Iraqi authorities' approval and cooperation.

While the agreement doesn't give Iraqi officials blanket authority to search U.S. mail and cargo, it does give them the right to "ask the U.S. forces, in their presence" to open containers based on viable intelligence.

The Bush administration refused to meet Iraqi demands for legal jurisdiction over American military personnel, but the agreement does give Iraqi authorities the right to prosecute private contractors, and it leaves a remote possibility that a U.S. service member could be prosecuted in Iraq for major and premeditated crimes.

The Iraqi government would have to request jurisdiction by notifying the U.S. in writing within 21 days of the discovery of a crime, and a joint American-Iraqi committee would decide whether the service member was off- or on-duty, and where he or she would be tried.

"I am deeply troubled by the sections of the agreement that could result in U.S. troops facing prosecution in Iraqi courts," Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. "I am also troubled by vague language in the agreement that will likely cause misunderstandings and conflict between the U.S. and Iraq in the future."

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

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U.S. agrees to set withdrawal date with Iraq

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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