Iraq plans to propose one final extension to the UN Security Council mandate for the American deployment, the AP reports this morning. After the end of 2008, Iraq wants to directly negotiate a bilateral security arrangement with the US similar to that of Kuwait and Qatar:
Iraq wants the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate of the 160,000-stong U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq only through the end of 2008, then replace it with a long-term bilateral security agreement, Foreign Ministry officials said Saturday.
Aides to Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the mandate extension for the U.S.-led coalition, due to be discussed at the end of this year, would be “the last extension for these forces.”
Iraq would then seek a long-term, bilateral security agreement with the United States like the ones Washington has with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Egypt, he said.
“Iraq needs a new resolution to determine the shape of the relationship between the two countries and how to cooperate with the U.S. forces,” said Labid Abawi, a deputy foreign minister.
The Iraqis want to move beyond what everyone sees as a temporary arrangement to something more permanent with the US. This will effectively take the UN out of the equation, but at the same time, it will give Nouri al-Maliki the initiative to negotiate a draw-down of American forces. That will satisfy demands from the Shi’te coalitions in his government while maintaining enough security to keep Iraq stable.
This could take the pressure off of the Bush administration, too. First, it indicates that the Maliki government has enough confidence in the development of Iraqi security forces that it can rely on them in 2008. It also changes the nature of the debate over the Iraq deployment. Even the Democratic candidates won’t commit to having all of the combat troops out by 2013, but this changes the ground conditions for the debate. If we negotiate a bilateral security agreement on the request of the Iraqis, all of those conditions would get settled in the negotiations, and it will be conditioned on Iraq’s demands.
A bilateral security arrangement will also change the dynamics of the international debate. Our status in Iraq will change from occupation to partner, with Iraqi sovereignty helping to settle the nature of our work. The relationship will resemble that of our other partnerships in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and therefore less open to criticism.
It’s a good development, and it will help reduce the vitriol over our engagement in Iraq. It will also ratify our present security arrangement and help keep the pressure on the terrorists for another year, during which we can hope to break them down completely. This is a positive step forward for both Iraq and the US.