By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 29, 2008 - The United States is holding out hope that issues delaying a status of forces agreement with Iraq will be resolved before the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing U.S. forces there expires Dec. 31, a senior Pentagon official said today. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said at a news conference that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is translating written issues submitted by the Iraqi government, and expects a "very deliberate" review to follow.
The United States will listen to the Iraqi government's concerns and work to iron them out, but has little interest in "a wholesale rejiggering of this agreement," Morrell said.
"We think it is good as it's currently constructed," he added.
"This is an agreement born of seven months of hard negotiations," Morrell said. "We believe it's a good agreement. We believe it's a fair agreement. We believe it protects ... Iraqi sovereignty while at the same time protecting our forces and [allowing] us to finish the mission in Iraq."
In addition to the SOFA, the discussions also cover a strategic framework agreement that will define the long-term partnership between the United States and Iraq. "We want to have a long-term, good, healthy, open, working relationship," Morrell said.
The Iraqis have made it clear that they want to be treated as a partner, just as the United States treats other countries where its troops are based, Morrell said. That entails giving full consideration to Iraq's concerns and ideas and working to resolve them. "And I think that's where we are at this point," he said.
The focus for now is on reaching an agreement so the Council of Representatives in Iraq can pass it into law, resolving the legal status of U.S. forces in Iraq. Lacking such an arrangement, U.S. forces will have no legal authority to be in Iraq on Jan. 1, and no legal protections to conduct their mission.
"And the risk you run," Morrell said, "is that the gains that have been made ... at great cost ... to the American people and families – taxpayer dollars, blood lost, lives lost -- will start to unravel, potentially, if we have to cease operations because we don't have the legal mandate to operate any more."
The only alternative to a SOFA would be to extend the U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing troops there, but Morrell said neither the United States nor Iraq prefers to go that route.
The Iraqis "don't want to operate any longer under the auspices and the authorities of this U.N. resolution," Morrell said. "They have emerged from the period of darkness in the aftermath of their liberation, and they wish to be treated ... like the independent, sovereign, strong country that they are."
Arriving at a SOFA will fulfill those Iraqi wishes while providing a framework for the U.N. to complete its mission in Iraq, Morrell said. This, he said, will ensure the Iraqis "have the security forces and the government capabilities to run that country without any U.S. force presence there -- hopefully in the not-too-distant future."