By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 29, 2008 - Top leaders on both sides in Iraq are working to reach an agreement that would shape the future of U.S. operations there and ensure that hard-fought security, economic and political gains are not lost, a senior military official there said today. "Nobody wants to turn the clock back," said Army Brig. Gen. David G. Perkins, director for strategic effects for Multinational Force Iraq. "Nobody wants to lose the security that has been hard-fought and gained. Nobody wants to lose economic progress. Nobody wants to lose the political progress."
Speaking to reporters in Baghdad today, Perkins said senior military officials are engaged on both sides working to map out an agreement that takes into account the interests of both countries while strengthening Iraqi sovereignty.
Officials are laying down the legal groundwork that will allow U.S. forces to continue to partner with the country in security and reconstruction efforts after the United Nations mandate that covers U.S. forces in Iraq expires at the end of the year, he said.
"Our discussions between the two governments ... are laying out specifically what are those legal instruments. What are they required to be, [and] how can we work this together so that we both end up with the result in the end that we want and have a win-win situation?" Perkins said.
The commander cited "remarkable" partnerships with the Iraqi government, its security forces and the Iraqi people over the past few years that have led to significant security gains. Boosting border security, rebuilding critical infrastructure and rebuilding communities have encouraged foreign investments, he said.
"Those are the kind of things we want to continue to partner with the Iraqi government and Iraqi people," he said. "We think this is exactly the kind of model that we want to move forward [with] into the future, because it affects security, it affects political progress, economics and governance, and those are the things that all Iraqi people can agree upon that they want progress in."
Perkins did not give a status on the agreement, but said both sides are continuing to work "in the spirit of cooperation" in hopes of preventing a gap in the partnership.
The general said the U.S.-Iraq agreement is critical because efforts there are interrelated with U.N. forces, Iraqi security forces and other international organizations.
"They're all intertwined. So if you pull one pillar of that out, you now seriously degrade ... the ability for the others to progress forward," Perkins said. "We want all those pillars to stand, and we want this entire team that has been so successful in the past to continue to move forward."
Perkins said regional support for Iraq has increased, citing recently appointed ambassadors from Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Jordan. But, he said, Iranian political and military influence is muddling affairs in Iraq. Perkins said activity has increased by Iranian-backed extremist groups using funding, training and sophisticated weaponry from both the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
"It is no secret that Iran has tried to interfere into the bilateral discussions between the United States and Iraq," Perkins said. "As the United States and Iraq continue a bilateral negotiation, based on their own sovereignty, external influence and statements from other countries are not welcome and not helpful, and, quite honestly, are not respectful of the sovereignty of the countries involved in the negotiations."
Perkins said that when it's reached, both sides would benefit from the agreement.
"Upon the positive conclusion of these negotiations, our partnership will be even stronger, and both sides will have the protections they need to ensure their sovereignty is intact and the partnership can move forward," he said.