The Bush administration is looking to the U.N. Security Council to extend a mandate for U.S. troops to remain in Iraq beyond Dec. 31 - a move that would require Iraqi government cooperation but not Iraqi acceptance of a bilateral accord with Washington.
The shift in strategy follows the Iraqi government’s submission last week of several proposed changes a draft status of forces agreement (SOFA) being negotiated with the U.S.
Several of the proposed amendments, U.S. officials said, “crossed red lines.”
“A Security Council extension is our fallback option,” one official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution. “Our preference is to have a status of forces agreement, and there were clear compromises in the draft on both sides, but the Iraqis are asking for things that no U.S. president can agree to.”
U.S. officials declined to detail the disagreements, but State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called them “numerous.”
“We are working through all of those, trying to put a lot of thought into how to respond to them,” Mr. McCormack told reporters Friday.
Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi exile who works as a consultant for the American Friends Service Committee in Washington and closely monitors Arabic transcripts from the Iraqi parliament, said the Iraqi demands include:
- Naming the final document, “Agreement on Complete U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq.”
- Allowing Iraqi officials to open and monitor U.S. military mail.
- Giving Iraqi courts the authority to decide whether they or U.S. authorities will try American soldiers accused or committing crimes while off duty.
- An outright ban on raids outside Iraq by U.S. forces based there - a demand apparently prompted by the recent U.S. raid on a suspected al Qaeda site inside Syria.
In addition, at least three Iraqi politicians, including former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, have called for the Arabic version of the document to be revised so it matches the English version, Mr. Jarrar said.
U.S. and Iraqi negotiators reached the draft security accord last month, calling for U.S. forces to leave Iraqi cities by June 30 and combat troops to exit by the end of 2011, unless requested to stay.
Iraqi officials, however, faced domestic opposition and submitted a list of proposed changes to the draft. The Bush administration is not expected to respond until after Tuesday’s presidential election.
A 2003 a U.N. resolution provides the legal basis for the U.S. military presence, and the resolution expires Dec. 31. If nothing is done, U.S. troops would be forced to suspend most military and reconstruction operations in Iraq, and remain on their bases.