Iraq and the United States are negotiating terms for a continued U.S. presence there once a U.N. mandate expires at the end of 2008, but quarrels over troop levels have led to an impasse. A reporter outlines the ongoing negotiations, which have become contentious.
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"Status-of-forces." It doesn't sound very dramatic, but it's the name for an agreement now being negotiated that would provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to stay in Iraq after December 31st, when the current United Nations mandate expires.
Today, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki said the talks are at an impasse because, quote, "the American version of the agreement infringes hugely on the sovereignty of Iraq, and this is something that we cannot ever accept."
Among the key points of contention: whether U.S. forces can conduct operations without the permission of the Iraqis; the extent to which U.S. forces and private contractors are subject to Iraqi law; and how many bases the U.S. can maintain in Iraq and for how long.
Trudy Rubin is foreign affairs columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and has been following this story, and she joins us now.
Well, Trudy, first, explain why this status-of-forces agreement is needed in the first place. What is it intended to do for the future?
TRUDY RUBIN, The Philadelphia Inquirer:
The reason is that there has to be some legal basis for Iraqi troops to — sorry, for U.S. troops to be in Iraq.
Up until now, it has been a U.N. mandate, but that implies less than full sovereignty, because it allows U.S. troops to be virtually in control of everything they do. The Iraqis want a bilateral arrangement, like the U.S. has with 80 other countries, so they can be a normal country again.