General in Iraq: Deal letting U.S. troops stay may break down

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SAMARRA, Iraq | In a blunt assessment, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, said Thursday that there is a 20 percent to 30 percent chance that the United States and Iraq won’t reach a deal to allow U.S. troops to operate in Iraq past Dec. 31.

On a scale of one to 10, “I’m probably a seven or eight that something is going to be worked out,” Gen. Odierno told The Washington Times during a visit to the 101st Airborne Division in Samarra, about 120 miles north of Baghdad. “I think it’s important for the government of Iraq. I think it’s important for security and stability here.”

Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish Regional Government, told The Times on Wednesday evening that he would be happy to host U.S. troops if the central government in Baghdad refuses to do so.

“The people of Kurdistan highly appreciate the sacrifices American forces have made for our freedom,” Mr. Barzani said at a reception in Washington after meetings with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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A draft U.S.-Iraq accord was reached earlier this month, but Iraqi officials faced domestic opposition after the details were leaked and asked Washington for amendments.

Several Iraqi officials and analysts have said that they doubt that the Iraqi parliament will approve a deal before the end of the year, when a U.N. mandate governing U.S. forces in Iraq expires.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Thursday: “I do think it will be hard for Iraq to pass it.”

Without a new mandate, all U.S. military activity in Iraq will have to cease or be in violation of international law. Troops could be confined to bases, and vital support operations for Iraqi forces — training, transportation, communication, air control — would end.

“We have to have a legal framework to stay here,” said Gen. Odierno, who recently replaced Gen. David H. Petraeus as commander of the 152,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Gen. Odierno said he sent Iraqi government ministers last week a detailed outline of the operational consequences of failure to obtain a bilateral agreement or an extension of the U.N. mandate: U.S. military projects that employ thousands of Iraqis would shut down; training of Iraqi forces would stop as would joint operations; air traffic control over Iraq would cease; border security would be Iraq’s sole concern; and communications and logistics support for Iraqi security forces would end.

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