Bush Commits Troops to Iraq For The long Term

· Deal to provide mandate for military beyond 2008· US oil companies likely to benefit from proposals

The Bush administration formally committed America yesterday to a long-term military presence in Iraq, pledging to protect the government in Baghdad from internal coup plots and foreign enemies.

The cooperation pact, endorsed by George Bush and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, during a video conference yesterday morning, will set the agenda for a future American relationship with Iraq, the administration's adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan, General Douglas Lute, told reporters at the White House.

"The two negotiating teams, Iraq and the United States, now have a common sheet of music with which to begin the negotiations," Lute said.

The military, economic and diplomatic agreement would commit US forces to defending the government of Iraq from internal and external threats as well as fighting al-Qaida and "all other outlaw groups regardless of affiliation", according to the declaration of principles released by the White House yesterday.

In return, Iraq pledged itself to "encouraging the flow of foreign investments to Iraq, especially American investments, to contribute to the reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq". The promise was immediately seen as a potential bonanza for American oil companies.

Lute offered few details on the scale of future US troop levels in Iraq or permanent US bases. He noted that the agreement, because it was not a treaty, would not be subject to oversight by Congress. "What US troops are doing, how many troops are required to do that, are bases required, which partners will join them - all these things are on the table," he said.

Yesterday's agreement was announced as Maliki indicated he intended to seek the renewal of the UN security council mandate for Iraq for one more year when it expires in December. The agreement has been in the works since last August, when the Maliki government officially requested the long-term strategic relationship with Washington.

The public unveiling of the proposed arrangement yesterday arrived at a time when the administration has been trying to showcase recent improvements in security in Iraq following the deployment of an additional 30,000 US troops at the beginning of the year.

Some of those forces are scheduled to begin leaving Iraq by the end of this year following the drop in violence. The rest are due to be withdrawn by the summer of 2008, although there has been little sign of the political reconciliation which was the main objective of the surge strategy.

Instead, the administration yesterday appeared to be urging Americans to look to American and Iraqi negotiators' hopes of producing a broader agreement on their partnership next summer.

The timetable for negotiations indicated by Lute would see the state department open negotiations early next year. That all but ensures that Iraq will dominate next year's US presidential elections.

(c) 2007 The Guardian

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