President Bush is trying to finish the agreement before he leaves office, and senior U.S. officials insist publicly that the negotiations can be completed by a July 31 target date. The U.S. is apparently scaling back some of its demands, including backing off one that particularly incenses Iraqis, blanket immunity for private security contractors.
But meeting the July 31 deadline seems increasing doubtful, and in Baghdad and Washington there is growing speculation that a United Nations mandate for U.S.-led military operations in Iraq may have to be renewed after it expires at the end of 2008.
On Capitol Hill, top Democrats and Republicans complain that Bush is rushing the negotiations to try to tie his successor's hands.
The above is from Leila Fadel and Warren P. Strobel's "U.S. security talks with Iraq in trouble in Baghdad and D.C." (McClatchy Newspapers). Fadel and Stroble will note that among those objecting in the Senate are the chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee. That would be Joe Biden and Carl Levin. Biden's committee (Foreign Relations) holds two hearings this morning -- neither on Iraq, but the one that will be webcast on sovereign wealth funds ("Foreign policy Consequences in an Era of New Money") sounds interesting. More and more committees (in the House and Senate) are beginning to webcast their hearings.
In the Washington Post (noted by Martha), Amit R. Paley and Karen DeYoung offer "Iraqis Condemn American Demands: Sides Negotiating U.S. Military Role" and we'll zoom in on the Iraqi reaction:
Top Iraqi officials are calling for a radical reduction of the U.S. military's role here after the U.N. mandate authorizing its presence expires at the end of this year. Encouraged by recent Iraqi military successes, government officials have said that the United States should agree to confine American troops to military bases unless the Iraqis ask for their assistance, with some saying Iraq might be better off without them.
"The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq," said Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite politician on parliament's foreign relations committee who is close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore.'"
Congress has grown increasingly restive over the negotiations, which would produce a status of forces agreement setting out the legal rights and responsibilities of U.S. troops in Iraq and a broader "security framework" defining the political and military relationship between the two countries. Senior lawmakers of both parties have demanded more information and questioned the Bush administration's insistence that no legislative approval is required.
Ned Parker's "Iraq officials question need for U.S. troop presence" (Los Angeles Times) notes
David Satterfield who says the same nonsense he tried to push past the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 10th. He was less successful before the Senate than he is with the press. Parker reports:
United Iraqi Alliance lawmaker Sami Askari, who is considered a member of Maliki's inner circle, said the changes in opinions in many cases are gradual.
"There is the camp who still believe that we need the Americans to stay and the other camp that says we don't need them anymore," Askari said. "You can't draw a line, even within the Dawa Party, even within" the alliance, he said.
Shiite officials like Askari have warned there is no way any Iraqi politician could back the current U.S. security agreement proposals.
"If I'm from the group that believes in the need for the Americans to stay, and then they face me with such a draft, then I'll say, look, I'd rather go with the others," Askari said.
The New York Times provides NO coverage of this story today (and we noted the Times and other outlets' coverage yesterday morning). Yes, they did yesterday but there are several updates since yesterday (and Fadel continues to be the leader on this story). Levonda Joey Selph is the only Iraq story in the paper today and it's a very small write up buried in the middle of A10. Eric Schmitt is the reporter, "Guilty Plea Given in Iraq Contract Fraud" is the title. Considering how much they have covered this story in the past (including a front page story last year -- links in yesterday's snapshot), it's really surprising that now when there's guilt admitted, the paper only makes room for a small write up, buried inside the paper. From the article we'll note this:
A Justice Department spokeswoman, Megan Gerking, declined to say why the plea agreement, which was sealed last Oct. 30, was unsealed on Tuesday. The unsealing may signal other steps in the investigation.
On Tuesday, the government said in court documents that in 2005, Colonel Selph served in Baghdad as head of a selection board that awarded a $12 million contract to build and operate Pentagon warehouses in Iraq.
The winning contractor was not identified by name in the court documents made public on Tuesday. But in previous court papers, the government said Lee Dynamics International, an American-owned company operating in Kuwait, was awarded $12 million in contracts in 2005 to build, operate and maintain several warehouses in Iraq. Those papers contend that as a result of bribes, the company illegally received advance information about the contracts.
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