BAGHDAD — Iraq’s government, seeking protection against foreign threats and internal coups, will offer the U.S. a long-term troop presence in Iraq in return for U.S. security guarantees as part of a strategic partnership, two Iraqi officials said Monday.
The proposal is one of the first indications that the United States and Iraq are beginning to explore what their relationship might look like once the U.S. significantly draws down its troop presence.
As part of the package, the Iraqis want an end to the current U.N.-mandated multinational forces mission, and also an end to all U.N.-ordered restrictions on Iraq’s sovereignty.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said his government will ask the U.N. to renew the mandate for the multinational force one final time, with its authorization to end in 2008.
U.S. troops and other foreign forces operate in Iraq under a U.N. Security Council mandate, which has been renewed annually since 2003. Iraqi officials have said they want that next renewal — which must be approved by the U.N. Security Council by the end of this year — to be the last.
At the White House, President Bush’s adviser on the Iraqi war, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, said the new agreement was not binding.
“It’s not a treaty, but it’s rather a set of principles from which to begin formal negotiations,” Lute said. Those negotiations will take place in 2008, with the goal of completion by July, he said.
The new agreement on principles spells out what the formal, final document will contain regarding political, economic and security matters. The deal is said to include preferential treatment for American investments.
“We believe, and Iraqis’ national leaders believe, that a long-term relationship with the United States is in our mutual interest,” Lute said.
The Iraqi officials said that under the proposed formula, Iraq would get full responsibility for internal security and U.S. troops would relocate to bases outside the cities. Iraqi officials foresee a long-term presence of about 50,000 U.S. troops, down from the current figure of more than 160,000.
Meanwhile, a top U.S. commander said there’s been no letup in attacks and weapons-smuggling by Iranian-backed Shiite militants in parts of Iraq’s capital.
The comment Monday by Army Col. Don Farris contrasts with suggestions in recent weeks that Iran was slowing the flow of bombs, money and other support to Shiite extremists in Iraq.
Farris is commander for coalition forces in northern Baghdad, an area including the huge Shiite slum of Sadr City, which he called “really a hub for these activities coming from Iran.” It also includes the Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah.
He said overall attacks are down because this year’s troop buildup has helped coalition forces drive al-Qaida militants and Shiite death squads out of Baghdad. Not so with the Shiite groups the U.S. says are getting weapons, training and funding from neighboring Iran, he said.
“I have not seen those attacks abate, and I have not seen any indication that they intend to stop,” Farris said.