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DEBORAH AMOS, Host:
But American officials concede the long term agreement called SOFA, or Status of Forces Agreement, is now off the table. What they hope for is an interim agreement to bridge the gap when the United Nations mandate expires at the end of this year. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Baghdad. Welcome to the program.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Good morning.
AMOS: So what is the status of the interim negotiations?
SARHADDI NELSON: And so they remain optimistic that perhaps they can meet the deadline of July 31st, which they had set for themselves. This is actually an informal deadline. The real deadline, as you mentioned, is December 31st, when the U.N. mandate expires.
AMOS: Are we going to see a timetable by the time these negotiations are over for withdrawal of the U.S. troops?
SARHADDI NELSON: However, there are three things that U.S. officials say must be addressed in this agreement when it is finally hammered out. That is, making sure that there is some sort of provision dealing with combat authority, the holding of detainees - because apparently at this point Iraqis are not in a position to take over completely - and also perhaps the most controversial point, which is immunity and whether that immunity will be extended to contractors and to U.S. troops. U.S. troops seem more important, I think, from the U.S. position.
AMOS: Now, these negotiations have been going on for quite some time. It seems clear they're not going to get the formal comprehensive agreement that the Americans wanted. So what's been the problem?
SARHADDI NELSON: And so the U.S. officials that we spoke with stress that that is why this interim deal - or protocol, as they're calling it - it's not a formal agreement, because, again, this is a changing environment. And it's not something that can be negotiated quickly enough for the December 31st deadline.
AMOS: Now, will this agreement be binding considering that on the American side it's an executive agreement, and on the Iraqi side I understand it is not going to go through the parliament?
SARHADDI NELSON: The idea is for there to be some sort of framework put down that could carry forward. But yes, technically the next administration, since it is an executive agreement, could change it or make some amendment to it at some point.
AMOS: How much is politics getting in the way of having a more comprehensive agreement - our presidential elections and the fact that the Iraqis are getting ready for their own elections and this has become an issue for them?
SARHADDI NELSON: But there's also another issue going on here. And that's Iraqi sovereignty. I mean, the country is for the first time really flexing their muscles in a way they've never done in since the war. And so I think part of that is also that evolution and that struggle.
AMOS: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Baghdad.
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