Since March, the US and Iraqi governments have been "secretly" negotiating a long-term agreement that would provide a legal basis to define the United States role for the occupation of Iraq to continue after the current U.N. mandate expires on 31 December. "We can't extend the U.S. forces permission to arrest Iraqis or to undertake the responsibility of fighting terrorism in an independent way, or to keep Iraqi skies and waters open for themselves whenever they want," Maliki said in his first detailed comments on the negotiations. "One of the important issues that the U.S. is asking for is immunity for its soldiers and those contracting with it. We reject this totally," he added. (The next time some dipshit compares the occupation of Iraq with our forces in Korea, Japan, Germany, etc...ask them how many mercenaries we have running around shooting up those countries willy-nilly, murdering civilians at traffic roundabouts and be prepared for a blank stare.)
Back in November it was announced that bu$h and Maliki intended to finalize the agreement by the end of July of this year, shooting for an endorsement by the 275 member Iraqi parliament by years end.
That, however, looks unlikely.
Iraqi officials have begun to raise their voices in protest to the American draft proposals, on the grounds that the Americans were attempting to walk all over Iraqi sovereignty and "consolidate the occupation" - making explicit the implication that an agreement was unlikely before we have a different president.
Iraqi sources in Amman told the Middle East Times that Maliki assured leaders of the large Iraqi community in the Jordanian capital that his government would not accept a pact that in any way threatens Iraqi sovereignty. Sources close to the Prime Minister told the Middle East Times that Maliki told them in a meeting in Amman that the government has turned down four U.S. drafts proposed since March, adding it will take time before arriving at an agreement which would not cement U.S. presence, and getting it endorsed through parliament. Those same sources said that Maliki assured leaders of the large Iraqi community in the Jordanian capital that his government would not accept a pact that in any way threatens Iraqi sovereignty.
The Iraqi prime minister's remarks sharply contrasted with Bush's insistence, during a visit to Germany this week, that he was confident that differences would be ironed out and at reaching a strategic deal with Iraq.
Iraqi lawmakers have said they were facing U.S. pressure to meet deadlines on core issues regarding the status of their country that should take months to negotiate, particularly as the country is still in a state of war and with the large presence of the 150,000-strong U.S. troops currently there.
Last week, a majority of Iraq's parliament wrote to the U.S. Congress rejecting a long-term pact with America if it excludes a commitment to withdraw U.S. forces.
"The majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms obligating the occupying American military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq," the letter to Congress said.
Iraqi lawmakers said Baghdad had turned down two U.S. drafts this week alone, after a "toned-down version" with ambiguous wording allows the U.S. military free access to Iraqi bases and fails to set a time limit.
U.S. officials have insisted that Washington was not seeking "permanent bases" nor planning to use Iraq as a launching pad to attack neighboring countries, such as Iran and Syria.
Sources close to the negotiations have revealed that the rejected U.S. drafts on using Iraqi military bases excluded a time limit on access to the bases to "conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security." The authorization for these operations was identified as "temporary."
On immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, the latest draft dropped the protection of civilian security contractors and confined immunity to U.S. military personnel only.
Iraqis strongly oppose the presence of tens of thousands of foreign private security contractors, after last year's killing of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad by Blackwater, a U.S. firm protecting American officials in Iraq.
Lawmakers, however, are also opposing immunity for U.S. troops and have vowed not to sign any deal that would protect the soldiers from suspected war crimes.
The negotiations will continue "until an agreement is reached" but Iraqi officials have made it abundantly clear that they will not rush headlong into the arms of the Americans just so political deadlines can be met in Washington. Especially if the agreement doesn't offer safeguards to Iraqi sovereignty and an end to occupation.
And by the way - don't go thinking that Sadr is beat down and gone back to his video game addiction. On Friday, he announced the formation of a new armed group to fight U.S. forces in Iraq. "The resistance will be carried out exclusively by a special group which I will announce later," Sadr said in a statement read out at a mosque in the Iraqi Shiite town of Kufa. "We will keep resisting the occupier until liberation or martyrdom."