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McClatchy Newspapers

US Staying Silent on Its View of Iraq Pact Until After Vote

Adam Ashton, Jonathan S. Landay and Nancy A. Youssef

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has adopted a much looser
interpretation than the Iraqi government of several key provisions of
the pending U.S.-Iraq security agreement, U.S. officials said Tuesday -
just hours before the Iraqi parliament was to hold its historic vote.

These include a provision that bans the launch of attacks on other
countries from Iraq, a requirement to notify the Iraqis in advance of
U.S. military operations and the question of Iraqi legal jurisdiction
over American troops and military contractors.

Officials in Washington said the administration has withheld the
official English translation of the agreement in an effort to suppress
a public dispute with the Iraqis until after the Iraqi parliament

are a number of areas in here where they have agreement on the same
wording but different understandings about what the words mean," said a
U.S. official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to
speak to the media.

The Iraqi government Tuesday achieved a
breakthrough on the pact, which calls for American troops to leave Iraq
by 2012, by gaining conditional support from Tawafuq, a bloc of Sunni
Muslim parties. Tawafuq's condition was that the government holds a
nationwide referendum on it next year.

The Sunnis also want the
U.S. to refrain from implementing wording that they consider vague,
though lawmakers declined to say which passages concerned them.

some areas, three officials told McClatchy, the U.S. and Iraq have
agreed on the words but have different interpretations of what they
mean. All three declined to speak on the record because the
administration, which had planned to release the official English
language text last week, has instead designated it "sensitive but

The White House National Security Council said it
had held up the translation's release until the Iraqi parliament votes.
"We plan to release it soon," said spokesman Gordon Johndroe. "We are
waiting for the Iraqi political process to move further down the road."

U.S. official, however, said the aim was also to head off any debate in
the U.S. media. The administration fears that any discussion "may
inadvertently throw this thing of the rails," said the official, who
couldn't be named because he wasn't authorized to speak to reporters.

Iraqi parliament began distributing an Arabic version of the document
nearly two weeks ago, and Iraqi television has been broadcasting
excerpts this week. On Tuesday, a pickup truck loaded with boxes of
blue books containing the Arabic version parked outside the parliament
in Baghdad, where officials handed out copies to journalists.

McClatchy's Baghdad bureau last week produced an unofficial English translation of the agreement based on the Arabic text. McClatchy on Tuesday also obtained an official English version.

officials have told McClatchy that the Bush administration was eager to
complete the deal before it leaves office in January and acquiesced to
many Iraqi demands.

Two U.S. officials, however, said that if it
becomes clear that the Bush administration has different
interpretations of some key provisions than Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri
al Maliki's government does, Iraqi lawmakers might balk at approving
the pact or delay a vote while seeking clarification. The current
United Nations mandate governing the U.S. troop presence in Iraq
expires on Dec. 31.

Specialists who follow the Iraq war said they
were aware of the differing interpretations. Michael O'Hanlon, of the
Brookings Institution, a center-left research group in Washington, said
there are "these areas that are not as clear cut as the Iraqis would
like to think." He said the two governments "have agreed to punt
together on a number of important issues."

Among the areas of dispute are:

  • Iraqi
    legal jurisdiction over U.S. troops or military contractors who kill
    Iraqis on operations. The agreement calls for Iraq to prosecute U.S.
    troops according to court procedures that have yet to be worked out.
    Those negotiations, administration officials have argued, could take
    three years, by which time the U.S. will have withdrawn from Iraq under
    the terms of the agreement. In the interim, U.S. troops will remain
    under the jurisdiction of America's Uniform Code of Military Justice.
  • A
    provision that bars the U.S. from launching military operations into
    neighboring countries from Iraqi territory. Administration officials
    argue they could circumvent that in some cases, such as pursuing groups
    that launch strikes on U.S. targets from Syria or Iran, by citing
    another provision that allows each party to retain the right of
    self-defense. One official expressed concern that "if Iran gets wind
    that we think there's a loophole there," Tehran might renew its
    opposition to the agreement.
  • A provision that appears to
    require the U.S. to notify Iraqi officials in advance of any planned
    military operations and to seek Iraqi approval for them, which some
    U.S. military officials find especially troubling, although Robert
    Gates, the secretary of defense, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the head of
    the U.S. Central Command, and Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S.
    commander in Iraq, all have endorsed it.

the Iraqis in advance would be an invitation to an ambush," said one
U.S. official, who said the Iraqi government and security forces are
"thoroughly penetrated by the insurgents, the Iranians, the Sadrists
(followers of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr) and ordinary
folks who just sell scraps of intelligence."

The administration
has sought to assuage such concerns by arguing that the pact doesn't
require the U.S. to give the Iraqis detailed information about planned
operations, two officials said. For example, they said, the
administration interprets the agreement to mean that U.S. commanders
would merely need to inform their Iraqi counterparts that they plan to
launch counterterrorism operations somewhere in an Iraqi city or
province sometime during the month of January.

Such differing
interpretations could present problems. Sunni lawmaker Omar Abdul
Sattar said Tuesday that Tawafuq, the Sunni alliance, wants a pledge
that the Americans will not implement articles in the security
agreement that Tawafuq considers vague.

The Sunnis also are
insisting that the agreement be submitted to a national referendum next
year. Without that assurance, the Sunni lawmakers said they'd reject
the deal, denying it the appearance of national unity that's considered
essential for it to succeed.

"The government should be committed
to the results of the referendum, whether people will accept the
(security agreement), or reject it," Sattar said.

Supporters of
the pact likely have enough votes to guarantee its passage without the
Tawafuq alliance, but Sunni support was considered essential to
demonstrate a national accordance favoring the treaty.

The Sunnis
said they plan to submit their proposal Wednesday as a resolution that
would be separate from the vote on the security agreement, which also
is due for a vote Wednesday.

The Sunnis' proposal emerged on a
day that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and two deputy prime ministers
made last-minute efforts to cajole lawmakers into supporting the deal.

described the agreement as the best option for Iraq to end the American
occupation while upholding the improvements in security over the past

"This agreement is meant to support the nascent democratic
process in Iraq," said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a Kurdish
politician who advises Maliki. "This is for Iraq, not any party or

Ashton, who reports for the Modesto (Calif.) Bee,
reported from Baghdad. Landay and Youssef reported from Washington.
Warren P. Strobel contributed to this article.


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