“What they were provided was [PowerPoint slides] that showed this is the support we give that we might have to pull back,” he said. “We provided that to all the leaders.”
The draft accord calls 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. Sticking points have included provisions for Iraqi legal jurisdiction over U.S. personnel and control over military operations.
Some factions in the coalition government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have asked for an ironclad deadline for U.S. withdrawal. Anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has warned that an “elite” militia is being formed to fight U.S. troops.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country’s most respected Shi’ite leader, insists that any agreement be ratified by the Iraqi parliament.
In addition, Iraq’s powerful neighbor Iran openly opposes an agreement.
“The bottom line is the government of Iran has their own issues here,” Gen. Odierno said. “I think they do not want the government of the United States here in Iraq. They do not want a long-term relationship between Iraq and the United States. And ultimately, I think that’s the issue here.”
Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs at the Congressional Research Service, said he doubts an agreement will be finalized, in part because of Iranian opposition. The Iraqi central government is dominated by Shi’ites who are close to Tehran.
“Iran was ambivalent about the U.S. presence” while U.S. forces were fighting Iraqi Sunni Muslims, Mr. Katzman said, adding that now that U.S. forces are working with the Sunnis, “they want us out.”
Mr. Barzani said Wednesday that he still hoped a deal could be reached but suggested that Kurdistan could be a fallback.
He touted the relative stability of the Kurdish areas compared with the rest of the country.
“No American soldier has shed a drop of blood, not even in a traffic accident, in our region,” he said. “Kurdistan will not be part of the problems of Iraq but part of the solution.”
Whether the Kurds could invite U.S. forces to redeploy into their region without an overall agreement is legally questionable.
The Iraqi Embassy in Washington declined to comment on the issue. But Feisal Istrabadi, a former Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, said the Iraqi Constitution states that foreign and defense policy are under the exclusive control of the central government.
Mr. Barzani “would love to have American troops, but legally he can’t” unless Kurdistan secedes, said Mr. Istrabadi, who helped draft Iraq’s first post-Saddam Hussein constitution.
U.S. officials have long had a close relationship with the Kurds, whose region has enjoyed autonomy since the 1991 Gulf War. Mr. Katzman said Iraqi Kurds have welcomed the idea of U.S. bases, but not previously in the context of a U.S. failure to reach an agreement with the central government in Baghdad.