Iraqis Doubt Security Agreement Will End US Presence

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McClatchy Newspapers

Iraqis Doubt Security Agreement Will End US Presence

by
Adam Ashton

An Iraqi army soldier walks in front of Iraqi army vehicles at the scene where a roadside bomb exploded in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008. (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed)

BAGHDAD - Iraqi and American leaders say that a new security pact
will have all U.S. forces and military contractors out of Iraq by 2012,
but 14th Ramadan Street is skeptical.

"Americans won't leave," said Mazin Ali, 30, a coach driver. "They are
the decision makers in all Iraq. The decision is theirs."

He
and others on 14th Ramadan Street, a commercial strip in Baghdad's
Mansour district, see too many signs of a long-term American commitment
to believe that the U.S. will withdraw on the timetable in the
so-called status of forces agreement.

"It
is not reasonable, because even if it was true and they would commit to
the dates, there are great big loopholes," said Khalid Muhsin Abid, 57,
pointing to the sprawling new, nearly $600 million U.S. Embassy
compound on the Tigris River as evidence that the U.S. will stay.

Iraqi leaders, however, say that the agreement will end the U.S. occupation of their country that began in March 2003.

"The
agreement states that American forces will withdraw from cities and
villages by June 30th of 2009, which is a date that cannot be extended,
and withdraw from all Iraqi soil, water and space by the 31st of
December 2011, which is a date that cannot be extended," Iraqi Prime
Minister Nouri al Maliki stressed in a televised address Tuesday night.

In
the Mansour district, however, residents were skeptical of the entire
spectrum of politicians working on the deal, from the Americans to
Maliki to the treaty's opponents.

"I have no wish to speak to any
politician because I know they are not worthy of our trust," said one
man who declined to give his name. "From the small things, you can
tell. They say 'We'll give you kerosene in the winter,' and they don't.
They say they will give you electricity, and they don't. How can they
say 'We will give you security?'"

The agreement is now before
Iraq's 275-member parliament, which cut off debate on the pact
Wednesday during a hectic session at which a treaty opponent allied
with radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr scuffled with Foreign
Minister Hoshiyar Zebari's bodyguards.

"It was an attack against
a parliament member inside the parliament member hall by guards who
were not allowed to be inside with guns," said the lawmaker, Ahmed al
Massoudi, who approached Zebari and was pushed away by the foreign
minister's guards.

The Sadrists, who reportedly shouted down a
reading of the treaty Wednesday, want an immediate withdrawal of
American forces or an agreement to put the withdrawal negotiations
before the United Nations, Massoudi said.

Other parties want to
amend the pact, although Iraqi law prohibits that. The Iraqi Cabinet
approved the agreement on Sunday, and that made the agreement a final
treaty between two states. Parliament can approve or reject it, but
lawmakers can't modify it.

Nonetheless, several parties are pushing to get their views heard.

The
Shiite Fadhila party announced that it wouldn't support the agreement
unless its suggestions are considered. A Sunni bloc of parties also
wants to amend some provisions in the treaty.

"We still have many
notes, such as vague wording," said Noor al Deen al Hiyali from the
Tawafuq alliance of Sunni parties. "I think the U.S. will not withdraw
in 2011. I think the agreement will not be approved this week."

The
treaty would replace the United Nations mandate that allows U.S. forces
to operate in Iraq. That mandate is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31,
ending the legal justification for the American presence in Iraq.

Many Iraqis consider the pact a done deal despite the parliament vote. They expect the treaty to pass.

"All
of them, inside their hearts, they will accept it," said Haji Hattam,
50, referring to the lawmakers who want to scuttle the agreement. "They
just show that they don't accept it."

Hattam fled to Mansour
three years ago when sectarian violence forced him out of his Saidiyah
neighborhood. He's most concerned about sectarian militias returning to
power, and he fears that an abrupt exit of American forces would allow
violence to spike.

"If they leave at an untimely point, the
militias will become worse," said Hattam, who works with Ali the coach
driver on 14th Ramadan Street.

Ali, however, would prefer a quicker American exit.

"The security situation will not be stable as long as the Americans are present," he said.

Ashton
reports for The Modesto (Calif.) Bee. McClatchy special correspondents
Laith Hammoudi and Hussein Khadim contributed to this report.

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