Obama tried to sway Iraqis on Bush deal

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Mr. Obama has called for a phased U.S. withdrawal of all but a residual force from Iraq over 16 months, a position the Iraqi government appears to have embraced.

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U.S. and Iraqi officials have been struggling for months to finalize a deal that will allow U.S. troops to remain after Dec. 31, when a U.N. mandate sanctioning the military presence expires. Iraqi officials have said that the main impediment is agreement over a timeline for U.S. redeployment and immunity from Iraqi prosecution for U.S. troops and civilians.

Obama campaign spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said Mr. Obama does not object to a short-term status of forces agreement, or SOFA.

Mr. Obama told Mr. Zebari in June that a SOFA “should be completed before January and it must include immunity for U.S. troops,” Miss Morigi wrote in an e-mail.

However, the Democratic nominee said a broader strategic framework agreement governing a longer-term U.S. presence in Iraq “should be vetted by Congress,” she wrote.

She said Mr. Obama said the same thing when he met in July with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Mr. Zebari in Baghdad.

A recent article in the New York Post quoted Mr. Zebari as saying that Mr. Obama asked Iraqi leaders in July to delay any agreement on a reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq until the next U.S. president takes office.

Miss Morigi denied this. She said the request for Senate vetting was bipartisan and noted that the first Obama-Zebari conversation took place 12 days after four other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - including Republican Sens. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska - wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urging consultation over any agreements committing U.S. troops and civilian contractors to Iraq “for an extended period of time.”

When Mr. Obama spoke to Mr. Zebari, he was speaking in his capacity as a senator and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Miss Morigi said. “It’s obvious that others are trying to mischaracterize Obama’s position, [but] on numerous occasions he has made it perfectly clear that the United States only has one president at a time and that the administration speaks with one voice.”

Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who accompanied Mr. Obama in Iraq along with Mr. Hagel, said they made “no suggestion of any type of delay” in any agreements.

A congressional aide who was also present and spoke on the condition of anonymity said the senators asked for a congressional role similar to that required by the Iraqi Constitution for Iraq’s parliament.

Still, the fact that the Illinois Democrat on June 3 clinched enough delegates to be assured the Democratic presidential nomination gives his comments special force - something that also applies to the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a key proponent of the surge of extra U.S. forces to Iraq last year.

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About the Author
Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is assistant managing editor for World and National Security at The Washington Times and the author of a 2007 book on Iran, titled “Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation.” Before joining The Times in July 2008, she was senior diplomatic reporter for USA Today. She has accompanied three secretaries of state ...

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