By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
June 12, 2008 - Ongoing debate within Iraq's political realm about negotiations over the U.S.-Iraq strategic framework agreement indicates the healthy development of Iraq's young democracy, the U.S. military's top officer said here today. The completion of the agreement would allow for continued U.S. military operations in Iraq after the United Nations security resolution ends Dec. 31.
Political debate in Iraq "historically, has not taken place," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted at a Government Executive Magazine-hosted breakfast at the National Press Club.
Mullen said he is encouraged by what he called the "healthy aspect" of Iraqi officials' statements regarding the agreement. Such debate over policy would be inconceivable under Saddam Hussein's regime, he noted.
U.S. State Department and Iraqi officials are in negotiations over the agreement, which, among other things, specifies how U.S. troops posted in Iraq would be treated under Iraqi law as part of a status-of-forces pact.
The United States does not want a permanent presence in Iraq, Mullen said.
"This is no desire to have permanent bases in Iraq," Mullen emphasized. "The desire, quite frankly, is to return our forces [home] as rapidly as we can.
"But, at the same time," the admiral continued, "we're also committed to providing the security that they need until they can stand up and provide their own security."
If no strategic framework agreement between the United States and Iraq is in place before Dec. 31, Mullen said, the U.N. resolution would have to be extended.