Phil Sands, Foreign Correspondent | The National, July 14, 2008
Iraqi delegates attend a conference in Damascus. Phil Sands / The National
DAMASCUS // Iraqi opposition and resistance groups have renewed their demands for an end to all negotiations with the United States while US troops remain on Iraqi soil.
“We reject any kind of agreement that prolongs the occupation for so much as a day,” said Shamil Rassam, chairman of the Iraqi Popular Forces, an anti-occupation group with offices in Syria. “The occupation must be ended immediately and there can be no compromises until the last American soldier has left the country.”
Talks continue between the government in Baghdad and the Bush administration over a controversial status of forces agreement, a treaty that would lay out US military legal rights to remain in Iraq.
Discussions appear to have stalled over the Iraqi government’s insistence the agreement include a timetable for US troop withdrawal, something Washington has insisted would aid insurgents.
The United States has been pushing for a long-term deal to be concluded by the end of the month, and certainly before the next US president takes over the White House in January.
That now seems unlikely and, instead, a temporary one-year agreement between Iraq and the United States is being considered. It would allow basic US military operations to continue after the year-end expiration of the UN mandate that currently gives them legal cover.
Despite the Iraqi government’s taking a harder negotiating line than many expected, Iraqi tribes and political organisations with representatives in Damascus have demanded a zero tolerance strategy: no deals until all US troops are pulled out.
“The security agreement is just a plan to turn Iraq into an American colony forever,” Mr Rassam said. “The only deal that is acceptable to us is one that calls for complete unconditional withdrawal.”
Sheikh Ra’ad Kadhamyi, the head of the Sadrist offices outside of Iraq, said the proposed Iraqi-US deal must include a clear timetable for a rapid US withdrawal.
“Everything we have seen of these agreements so far bring shame to the Iraqi people and will hand control of our country and its resources to the Americans,” he said.
Continued . . .