Stalemate in Iraq over Extending U.S. Military Presence

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An agreement that would allow U.S. forces to remain in Iraq past the Dec. 31, 2008 date established by a U.N. mandate is causing rifts between the United States, Iraq and Iran. Iraqi Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman talks with NPR's Scott Simon about the negotiations under way to allow a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, photos capture new hope for AIDS patients, but first an agreement that would allow U.S. forces to remain in Iraq past the December 31 date. A U.N. mandate established last year is causing rifts between the U.S., Iraq and Iran. The U.S. says that the long-term presence of U.S. forces would help stabilize Iraq and would not be a threat to the region, but Iran is concerned that a major presence of U.S. forces could be used as a staging ground for attacks on Iraq.

Mahmoud Othman is a Kurdish member of Iraq's parliament and he joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Othman.

Mr. MAHMOUD OTHMAN (Kurdish Member, Iraq Parliament): Thank you.

SIMON: And is it possible that U.S. forces won't be able to stay past December 31?

Mr. OTHMAN: Yeah. Well, they could stay two ways. Either there will be a treaty signed between the U.S. and the Iraqi government, one which they are negotiating now, or if that's not done, then the mandate would be extended for six months or a year or something.

SIMON: What are some of the concerns that Iraqis have about a long-term U.S. presence?

Mr. OTHMAN: The Iraqis in general in the last five years, they don't have a positive experience with the U.S. presence. The Iraqis also, they want them to stay but they want them not to have immunity as they had before and at the same time they deploy their forces from one area to another.

The Iraqi government should have a say also when they capture Iraqis. They should hand them back to the Iraqi justice system to be trial. Another point, which is important, the residency of American force in Iraq wouldn't be used in any way against other countries.

SIMON: Other countries - you probably mean Iran.

Mr. OTHMAN: Iran and Syria, but it maybe Iran then.

SIMON: Mr. Othman, do Iraq and Iran have some common interests on this question?

Mr. OTHMAN: No, they don't. The Iranians think this endangers their national security and when Maliki was in Tehran - his last visit - they encouraged him not to sign. But of course the Iraqis side is different. They need such an argument because American forces won't stay anyway for some time and there should be something that regulates their stay in Iraq.

SIMON: One of your fellow lawmakers, Sami Oscari(ph), said something that we noted. He said, "If the Americans insist that they have their own mission in Iraq then an agreement will be difficult to reach." Do you sense the U.S. has its own mission in Iraq above and beyond what they say is guaranteeing the security and even the sovereignty of Iraq?

Mr. OTHMAN: Yeah. Well, that is the point of your many Iraqis really. They think that these forces, while they are staying in Iraq should do everything in cooperation with the Iraqi government.

SIMON: Let me also kind of reverse the direction of the question. There are Americans who say, look, U.S. forces have been long enough. Let's observe that December 31 deadline and get U.S. forces home. How would you react to that if the U.S. decided to withdraw?

Mr. OTHMAN: I don't agree on deadlines. It depends on what goes on on the ground. But at the same time, I have been always for a timetable. The more Americans are here, the less Iraqis will depend on themselves. So, I think the more you have forces here and in control of Iraqi situation, the more U.S. could go out and that fits Iraqi people, I think, and it fits American taxpayers also.

SIMON: Mahmoud Othman, an Iraqi member of parliament. Thanks so much.

Mr. OTHMAN: Thank you.

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