By Liz Sly
November 8, 2008
BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government is coming around to the view that it would be better to sign a security deal with the Bush administration than to wait to strike a deal with President-elect Barack Obama, spurred in part by fresh U.S. concessions as well as threats by the U.S. to suspend all operations in Iraq if there is no deal by the end of the year, according to Iraqi officials.
The political mood began to shift more than a week ago, before Obama's election victory, after the U.S. delivered a stiff warning that if there is no deal by the end of the year, the U.S. military will be forced to suspend all its operations in Iraq, including the provision of many services such as air-traffic control as well as campaigns against the insurgency.
That appears to have given government officials pause, said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish legislator. "The Iraqi government realizes they still need the Americans," he said. "They still cannot survive on their own."
The Iraqis are still studying the American response to a proposed list of Iraqi amendments to the final draft of the deal and have not decided whether to push to reopen the negotiations on a draft pact that has been in circulation for the past three weeks, Iraqi officials say.
The final draft ran into a wall of Iraqi opposition amid intense Iranian pressure not to sign, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proposed a series of amendments.
The fact that the U.S. appears to have given a "positive" response to some of the demands "will give Maliki a better chance to answer his opponents," said Shiite lawmaker Jalaluddin Sagheer, a prominent member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, one of the most powerful blocs in Iraq's legislature.
Doubts remain on whether there is enough time to win enough support to push the deal through parliament before the Dec. 31 expiration of the UN mandate currently governing the presence of U.S. forces, he said.
But in the most positive indication in weeks that the Iraqi government is leaning toward backing the deal, spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Iraq's al-Hurra TV station that "the chances of signing an agreement are higher than before."
The crucial security pact, known as a Status of Forces Agreement, has been under negotiation since March and was originally aimed at defining the long-term status of U.S. forces in Iraq.
A newly confident Iraqi government has made it clear, however, that it now regards the deal as a treaty defining the terms of an American withdrawal.
The Bush administration has been offering a tentative withdrawal date of the end of 2011, subject to conditions on the ground. The Iraqis want that date firmed up to exclude the possibility that any U.S. troops will remain in the country after that date.
Obama has proposed to bring U.S. combat troops home within 16 months, twice as fast as President George W. Bush, and some officials in the Iraqi government had said they would prefer to wait to negotiate a deal with Obama.
But Obama has also spoken of leaving behind a residual force to fight terrorism, and U.S. officials have been working hard to convince the Iraqis that they are unlikely to get a significantly better deal under Obama than Bush...