Reports: U.S. Has Secret Plans for 50 Iraq Bases
MIKE PESCA, host:
From the White House to the Green Zone, it's time to recap the headlines of The Week in Iraq.
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PESCA: The Bush administration exaggerated intelligence used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A Senate Intelligence Committee announced that conclusion yesterday, after a four-year investigation and a series of previous reports on intelligence failures. The report says the White House was fixated on Iraq and used the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein, leading the country into war under false pretenses.
The trial of a U.S. Marine accused of obstructing justice in the investigation of the killing of 24 civilians in Haditha has ended. The verdict is not guilty. Lieutenant Andrew Grayson was the first to actually be tried in the Haditha killings, and this week a military tribunal acquitted him on all charges. Two more Marines are to face manslaughter charges later this year.
According to reports leaked to the U.K. newspaper, the Independent, the Bush administration and Iraqi officials are secretly negotiating a security agreement that would allow U.S. troops to operate in Iraq after the U.N. authorization expires at the end of this year. President Bush allegedly wants to reach the deal by the end of next month, effectively imposing his Iraq agenda on the next administration. But Iraqi lawmakers told a congressional committee Wednesday that they have serious misgivings about securing a long-term agreement with a president on his way out of office.
Yesterday, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker addressed the leaks and the alleged secret plan to keep 50 permanent military bases in Iraq.
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Ambassador RYAN CROCKER (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): We are not seeking permanent military bases in Iraq. That is just flatly untrue.
PESCA: Crocker also said that the legal and military agreements the U.S. hopes to reach with the Iraqis in the next six months do not include any kind of prolonged American military presence.
And hand-in-hand with the goal of sovereignty is stability. A handful of reports in the last week show promising signs towards stability. Sudarsan Raghavan has been covering some of those stories. He's the Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post. Hello, sir.
Mr. SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN (Baghdad Bureau Chief, Washington Post): Hi. Good to be with you.
PESCA: Let us start first with the drop in violence. In May, the number of U.S. troops - the deaths of U.S. troops dropped to their lowest level since the 2003 invasion. Does that show the effectiveness of the surge?
Mr. RAGHAVAN: Yes, partly, but, you know, but there are other factors involved in this decrease in troop deaths. The two key factors are - you have, you know, thousands of Sunni insurgents who've basically given up fighting and are now partnering with American forces, and folks saying their arms against extremists in the elements of the group al-Qaeda in Iraq. And the second element factor here is you have Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's ceasefire, in which he ordered his Mahdi armed militia to stand down, and that has also been playing a role in the decrease in violence, and that in turn, has had an impact on the level of troop deaths.
PESCA: The reference to Muqtada al-Sadr leads me to Basra, where you've been reporting from. Tell me about the quality of life in this area that was once under sway of the Mahdi army.
Mr. RAGHAVAN: Yes, sure. I mean, things are looking a lot better in Basra these days. I was just there last week, and you know, for, like, the past four years the people of Basra have basically been under the thumb of Islamic extremists. They couldn't do fundamental things, like life things, like simply even walking with your girlfriend or playing music openly in the streets.
That has all changed now. You know, you see wedding parties on the streets. You're seeing musicians playing. You're seeing, you know, couples along the, you know, along the Corniche, which is a famous road where - it's filled with restaurants open late at night. But at the same time there is an element of fear of the future because, you know, this is all relatively new.
It's been happening in the past, you know, two months or so, and you know, the - many Basrans feel that, you know, this is temporary and they're trying to make the most out of it. You know, they fear that the extremist militias are still around underground, and once Iraqi army troops leave, they could surge again.
PESCA: Well, is this an Iraqi army success story? Because it was the Iraqi army in early 2008 that swept the extremists out of Basra.
Mr. RAGHAVAN: In some ways it is, but it is a little too early to tell. Certainly, you know, the security that's been brought in Basra today is because there's 30,000 Iraqi army soldiers there. They're on practically every single street with checkpoints and so on. And you know, there's certainly a sense of pride amongst them, because they feel they've done what the British troops could not do there in four years.
But at the same time, it is too early to tell because the - because they're, you know, they're still facing threat levels. You know, Mahdi army militiamen are still threatening not only Iraqi army commanders, but you know, ordinary soldiers as well. And no one, you know, and everyone certainly in Basra feels that once the Iraqi troops leave, you know, if they have to go to another part of Iraq to quell violence, Basra might once again become under the grip of these militias.
PESCA: The United Arab Emirates announced that their country will be reestablishing diplomatic relations with Iraq. What's the significance of this? It's a small country, but an important trade partner.
Mr. RAGHAVAN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you've not had an Arab - an ambassador from an Arab country here, I believe, since the Egyptian ambassador was kidnapped, I want to say, in the early years, about 2004 or five, I believe. But in any case, it's significant because, you know, what we're seeing here is the Arab countries, you know, trying to, at least the UAE, trying to reengage with Iraq, and that's been a key strategy of the Iraqi government, as well as the Bush administration, to try to convince the Arab countries who've long neglected Iraq to reengage, and as you know, I mean, many of the insurgents, many of them have been flowing through these countries that are bordering Iraq...
PESCA: And we have to leave it there.
Mr. RAGHAVAN: And a lot of financing is coming from there, too.
PESCA: We do have to leave it there. Thank you very much, Sudarsan Raghavan, from the Washington Post. This is NPR.
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