By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 22, 2008 - There is "not a lot of give" in putting in place the draft status of forces agreement between Iraq and the United States, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today. During an interview with reporters traveling with him, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen reiterated his belief that Iraqi forces are not ready to assume sole responsibility for security in the nation.
Though Iraqi officials are discussing the agreement and the politics involved will play out, time is running out, Mullen said.
The United Nations mandate allowing foreign troops to operate in Iraq runs out Dec. 31. With no agreement to take the U.N. mandate's place, U.S. troops would have no legal authority to remain.
"We would have to stop operations and leave," Mullen said. "It's a big force and we couldn't leave overnight, but we would have no mandate to operate."
The chairman and other defense leaders repeatedly have expressed the concern that much of the progress made to date in Iraq would be lost if failure to reach an agreement in time results in a break in operations.
Iran has been active in trying to derail an agreement, Mullen said. "They are operating in multiple dimensions to undermine this agreement," he said. "I won't go into specifics, but it is very comprehensive, very specific, very well-thought-out campaign to make sure Iraq does not sign the agreement."
It is hard to know what Iranians are thinking, the chairman said.
"I still think that, strategically, their goal is to have influence over as much of Iraq as possible," Mullen said. "This agreement threatens that, and so it makes it much more difficult for the United States. Opposing the agreement has been consistent with where they've been, and would be a very bad outcome for Iraq."