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Iraq: No post-withdrawal guarantees
by Al Ahram Weekly (reposted)
Saturday Nov 22nd, 2008 8:21 AM
Iraq's security pact with Washington hardly signals an end to the country's woes, writes Salah Hemeid
After months of tireless negotiations, tough bargaining and countless drafts, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker signed a security pact on Monday that will allow thousands of US troops to stay in the country until the end of 2011. The signing took place a day after the Iraqi cabinet approved the deal.

The agreement has been hailed by both Baghdad's government and the Bush administration as a "historic" deal, necessary to help sustain stability and security until Iraq is able to build its own army and police force. Officially renamed the Agreement on the Withdrawal of US Troops instead of the original Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), it determines the role of US military forces after their UN mandate expires on 31 December.

Under the plan, which the Iraqi parliament is expected to endorse, US forces in Iraq will be placed under the authority of the Iraqi government and will be banned from searching and raiding homes without Iraqi approval. It also allows the Iraqi government to search shipments of weapons and other packages entering Iraq for US recipients, and contains a vaguely worded passage allowing for the prosecution of American troops for serious crimes.

Announcing the government's approval, spokesman Ali Al-Dabagh described the deal as "the best possible available option". The Bush administration welcomed the Iraqi cabinet's vote, saying it was "an important and positive step" towards stability and security. The new pact provides the cornerstone of US- Iraqi relations for "economy, culture, science, technology, health and trade" said Crocker.