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Secret US Plan for Military Future in Iraq

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                          VIEWPOINT
"Exploring The Powerful Issues & Emotions of The Middle East" 
  Reaching out to 51,228 Viewpoint readers around the globe
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Editor's Note:

We hope that you become more informed about the Middle 
East thru Viewpoint. Here is another story that Hardball 
or CNN seemed to have missed. 

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Secret US Plan for Military Future in Iraq
By Seumas Milne

Document outlines powers but sets no time limit on troop 
presence. 

A confidential draft agreement covering the future of 
US forces in Iraq, passed to the Guardian, shows that 
provision is being made for an open-ended military 
presence in the country. 

The draft strategic framework agreement between the US and 
Iraqi governments, dated March 7 and marked "secret" and 
"sensitive", is intended to replace the existing UN mandate 
and authorises the US to "conduct military operations 
in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for 
imperative reasons of security" without time limit. 

The authorisation is described as "temporary" and the 
agreement says the US "does not desire permanent bases or 
a permanent military presence in Iraq". But the absence of 
a time limit or restrictions on the US and other coalition 
forces - including the British - in the country means it 
is likely to be strongly opposed in Iraq and the US. 

Iraqi critics point out that the agreement contains no 
limits on numbers of US forces, the weapons they are 
able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi 
citizens, going far beyond long-term US security agreements 
with other countries. The agreement is intended to govern 
the status of the US military and other members of the 
multinational force. 

Following recent clashes between Iraqi troops and Moqtada 
al-Sadr's Mahdi army in Basra, and threats by the Iraqi 
government to ban his supporters from regional elections 
in the autumn, anti-occupation Sadrists and Sunni parties 
are expected to mount strong opposition in parliament to 
the agreement, which the US wants to see finalised by the 
end of July. The UN mandate expires at the end of the 
year. 

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One well-placed Iraqi Sunni political source said 
yesterday: "The feeling in Baghdad is that this agreement 
is going to be rejected in its current form, particularly 
after the events of the last couple of weeks. The 
government is more or less happy with it as it is, but 
parliament is a different matter." 

It is also likely to prove controversial in Washington, 
where it has been criticised by Democratic presidential 
candidate Hillary Clinton, who has accused the 
administration of seeking to tie the hands of the next 
president by committing to Iraq's protection by US forces. 

The defence secretary, Robert Gates, argued in February 
that the planned agreement would be similar to dozens of 
"status of forces" pacts the US has around the world and 
would not commit it to defend Iraq. But Democratic Congress 
members, including Senator Edward Kennedy, a senior member 
of the armed services committee, have said it goes well 
beyond other such agreements and amounts to a treaty, which 
has to be ratified by the Senate under the constitution. 

Administration officials have conceded that if the agree-
ment were to include security guarantees to Iraq, it would 
have to go before Congress. But the leaked draft only 
states that it is "in the mutual interest of the United 
States and Iraq that Iraq maintain its sovereignty, 
territorial integrity and political independence and that 
external threats to Iraq be deterred. Accordingly, the 
US and Iraq are to consult immediately whenever the 
territorial integrity or political independence of Iraq 
is threatened." 

Significantly - given the tension between the US and Iran, 
and the latter's close relations with the Iraqi administr-
ation's Shia parties - the draft agreement specifies that 
the "US does not seek to use Iraq territory as a platform 
for offensive operations against other states". 

General David Petraeus, US commander in Iraq, is to face 
questioning from all three presidential candidates on 
Capitol Hill today when he reports to the Senate on his 
surge strategy, which increased US forces in Iraq by about 
30,000 last year. 

Both Clinton and Democratic rival Barack Obama are 
committed to beginning troop withdrawals from Iraq. 
Republican senator John McCain has pledged to maintain 
troop levels until the country is secure. 

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