THE BATTLE OF EVERMOREPatrick Cockburn’s story has apparently caught the attention of some senior Bush administration officials:

The United States is not seeking permanent military bases in Iraq as it negotiates legal and military agreements with the Iraqi government, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker said here today.

Speaking at the State Department, Crocker called published reports that the United States is trying to set up permanent bases “flatly untrue.”

“There clearly is going to be a need” for a U.S. and coalition military presence in Iraq beyond the end of the year, Crocker said. But the status of forces agreement, when adopted, “is not going to be forever, particularly as it related to the status and authority of coalition forces in Iraq,” he said.

“So I’m very comfortable saying to you – to the Iraqis, to anyone who asks – that no, indeed, we are not seeking permanent bases, either explicitly or implicitly, by just intending to stay there indefinitely,” he said.

The problem with Crocker’s emphatic assurances is that it remains unclear whether there is a mechanism in the draft agreements that limits the duration of the US presence. For example, according to Al Hayat (via Badger), some Iraqi lawmakers are looking to model the US/Iraq arrangement on the one the US has with Turkey.

The Iraqi side posed a number of demands, including “disussions with the Iraqi government as a sovereign government, and the denial of any privileges to the American side without the agreement of the Iraqi government; the establishment of temporary American bases, whose existence would be reviewed each year, as is the case with the American bases in Turkey; the denial of movement of the Americans outside of their temporary bases without the knowledge and agreement of the Iraqi government; that financing in- and outflows for the American forces be subject to the Iraqi Central Bank; and that the American forces conduct no military operations without the written authorization of the Iraqi government”. [emphasis added]

It’s easy for Crocker and Bush administration officials to claim that we’re not seeking “permanent” bases. The word suggests an infinite timeline that even a staunch imperialist could disavow in good faith. The question is, how contingent a presence? How limited a duration? To what extent will our presence be subject to periodic review by the Iraqi government?

The answers to those questions are far more important than the semantic two step surrounding the word “permanent.”

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