By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 12, 2008 - As U.S. forces continue to pursue al Qaeda terrorists across Iraq, American and Iraqi diplomats are preparing to negotiate future relations between the two nations, senior U.S. military and diplomatic officials said today. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, spoke to reporters at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, after meeting there with President Bush to discuss Iraq issues.
Bush was in Kuwait to meet with U.S. and Kuwaiti officials as part of his week-long Mideast trip. He also met with U.S. troops at Camp Arifjan.
During their meeting, the president discussed the way ahead in Iraq, Petraeus said, noting the level of violence in Iraq has dropped about 60 percent as compared to a year ago. Ongoing actions against al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq also were topics of discussion, the general said.
Operation Phantom Phoenix is "an umbrella name for a series of offensive operations being carried out against al Qaeda in several different division areas," Petraeus told reporters. For example, Operation Iron Harvest is now being conducted against al Qaeda operatives in northern Iraq. Petraeus suggested more actions targeting al Qaeda in Iraq networks would follow Phantom Phoenix in the weeks and months ahead.
"We have said that we intend to pursue al Qaeda tenaciously, and that is exactly what we intend to do and what we plan to do," the general said.
On the diplomatic front, Crocker reported that preparations are under way to begin negotiations with the Iraqi government to forge a new U.S.-Iraq relationship pertaining to coalition forces that eventually will replace authorities contained within a U.N. Security Council resolution.
"That resolution was renewed in December for 2008," Crocker explained. "At the time, the Iraqis made clear, and we supported them, that they want this to be the last U.N. Security Council resolution."
This year the U.S. and Iraqi governments intend "to negotiate a long-term strategic partnership that obviously will include the equivalent of a status-of-forces agreement," Crocker said. The United States maintains status-of-forces agreements with many nations. Among other things, such agreements usually outline how a host-nation's laws will apply to U.S. military members.
"We're putting our team together now, making preparations in Washington," Crocker said. "The Iraqis are doing the same. And, in the next few weeks ahead, we would expect to get together to start this negotiation process."
Bush began his Mideast trip on Jan. 9 to discuss the way ahead in the terror war with U.S. diplomatic and military officials posted in the region.
Bush's travel schedule also includes discussions with senior leaders of several Middle East nations to find a way to obtain lasting peace in the region. Bush has visited Israel and Kuwait and he is slated to travel on to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.