IRAQ UPDATE….The Washington Post reports that both Iraq and the U.S. have abandoned efforts to negotiate a formal status-of-forces agreement. Instead, they’re working on a “temporary operating protocol” that includes target dates for the withdrawal of U.S. troops:
Although President Bush has repeatedly rejected calls for a troop withdrawal timeline, “we are talking about dates,” acknowledged one U.S. official close to the negotiations. Iraqi political leaders “are all telling us the same thing. They need something like this in there. . . . Iraqis want to know that foreign troops are not going to be here forever.”
….”What we’re doing now is more . . . a bridge to have the authority in place so we don’t turn into a pumpkin on December 31,” the official said. Neither country wants an extension of the U.N. mandate. Iraq has rejected its explicit limits on sovereignty, and the administration believes that a limited extension would only postpone the need for a bilateral accord and potentially leave U.S. troops with “our backs against the wall.”
According to U.S. officials, Maliki also hopes that a temporary protocol would circumvent the full parliamentary review and two-thirds vote he has promised for a status-of-forces agreement. “He is trying to figure out, just as we did, how you can set up an agreement between the two and have it be legally binding,” one official said, “but not go through the legislative body.”
Great. So now public opinion in both countries is so toxic that there’s no chance of gaining approval of a formal treaty. Onward.
By the way, you may have missed this a couple of days ago, but on Friday the surge officially ended. The last of the five surge brigades has left the country and we’re now back down to 15 combat brigades in Iraq.