The United States and Iraq are in the process of negotiating a bi-lateral security agreement. U.S. forces have been operating in Iraq under a United Nations mandate that must be renewed annually. The current pact expires on December 31st.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said the two countries are committed to a series of guidelines as they work out an agreement:
“One of them is full respect for Iraqi sovereignty. This whole exercise of moving from a Chapter Seven UN mandate to a bilateral agreement between sovereign countries is intended to reaffirm Iraq’s full sovereignty. That’s what guides us, and it certainly guides them. There isn’t going to be an agreement that infringes on Iraq’s sovereignty; the Iraqis are not going to accept it. And frankly, we wouldn’t want it. If this is going to endure, as it must, it has to have the full support not only of the Iraqi government but also the Iraqi people.”
Iraq’s neighbor Iran has voiced objection to a U.S.-Iraq security agreement. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that American forces constitute Iraq’s “fundamental problem” in terms of security.
Ambassador Crocker says he believes criticism of a bi-lateral agreement by the Iranian regime is “deliberately intended to make the negotiation difficult.” Mr. Crocker noted that recent military operations in Basra and Baghdad, spearheaded by Mr. al-Maliki and Iraq’s security forces, put into “sharp relief” the problems to stability and progress Iran is causing in Iraq. Those operations, said Mr. Crocker, clearly revealed that Iran is supporting extremist Shia militias with weapons, funding and training:
“It was good that that did get out in the open. Iraqis were able to see it, as well as the rest of the world. That produced a fairly substantial backlash in Iraqi public opinion against Iran among Shia Iraqis as well as Sunnis. One would hope that that will lead to a rethinking in Iran as to what its long-term policy toward Iraq should be -- to support a democratically elected central government or to support militias that are aligned against that government.”
“I don’t think Iran can have it both ways,” said Ambassador Crocker. “And most importantly, it’s not a U.S. position, it’s what the Iraqis themselves are saying. And it would behoove the Iranians ... to listen carefully to that if they’re interested in the long-term stability of their relationship with Iraq and with the region.”