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Old 08-07-2008   #1
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US, Iraq close to deal on troop withdrawal

By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA and ANNE GEARAN, Associated Press Writers

Iraq and the U.S. are near an agreement on all American combat troops leaving Iraq by October 2010, with the last soldiers out three years after that, two Iraqi officials told The Associated Press on Thursday. U.S. officials, however, insisted no dates had been agreed.

The proposed agreement calls for Americans to hand over parts of Baghdad's Green Zone — where the U.S. Embassy is located — to the Iraqis by the end of 2008. It would also remove U.S. forces from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, according to the two senior officials, both close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and familiar with the negotiations.

The officials, who spoke separately on condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing, said all U.S. combat troops would leave Iraq by October 2010, with the remaining support personnel gone "around 2013." The schedule could be amended if both sides agree — a face-saving escape clause that would extend the presence of U.S. forces if security conditions warrant it.

U.S. acceptance — even tentatively — of a specific timeline would represent a dramatic reversal of American policy in place since the war began in March 2003.

Both Iraqi and American officials agreed that the deal is not final and that a major unresolved issue is the U.S. demand for immunity for U.S. soldiers from prosecution under Iraqi law.

Throughout the conflict, President Bush steadfastly refused to accept any timetable for bringing U.S. troops home. Last month, however, Bush and al-Maliki agreed to set a "general time horizon" for ending the U.S. mission.

Bush's shift to a timeline was seen as a move to speed agreement on a security pact governing the U.S. military presence in Iraq after the U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.

Iraq's Shiite-led government has been holding firm for some sort of withdrawal schedule — a move the Iraqis said was essential to win parliamentary approval.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad declined to comment on details of the talks. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said the negotiations were taking place "in a constructive spirit" based on respect for Iraqi sovereignty.

In Washington, U.S. officials acknowledged that some progress has been made on the timelines for troop withdrawals but that the immunity issue remained a huge problem. One senior U.S. official close to the discussion said no dates have been agreed upon.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations have not been finished.

But the Iraqis insisted the dates had been settled preliminarily between the two sides, although they acknowledged that nothing is final until the entire negotiations have been completed.

One Iraqi official said persuading the Americans to accept a timetable was a "key achievement" of the talks and that the government would seek parliamentary ratification as soon as the deal is signed.

But differences over immunity could scuttle the whole deal, the Iraqis said. One of the officials described immunity as a "minefield" and said each side was sticking by its position.

One official said U.S. negotiator David Satterfield told him that immunity for soldiers was a "red line" for the United States. The official said he replied that issue was "a red line for us too."

The official said the Iraqis were willing to grant immunity for actions committed on American bases and during combat operations — but not a blanket exemption from Iraqi law.

The Iraqis also want American forces hand over any Iraqi they detain. The U.S. insists that detainees must be "ready" for handover, which the Iraqi officials assume means the Americans want to interrogate them first.

As the talks drag on, American officials said the Bush administration is losing patience with the Iraqis over the negotiations, which both sides had hoped to wrap up by the end of July.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and al-Maliki had a long and "very difficult" phone conversation about the situation on Wednesday during which she pressed the Iraqi leader for more flexibility particularly on immunity, one U.S. senior official said.

"The sovereignty issue is very big for the Iraqis and we understand that. But we are losing patience," the official said. "The process needs to get moving and get moving quickly."

The official could not say how long the call lasted but said it was "not brief" and "tense at times."

In London, Britain's defense ministry said it is also in talks with Iraq's government over the role of British troops after the U.N. mandate runs out. Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently said that early next year Britain will reduce its troops in Iraq, now at about 4,100, and that Britain's role in the country will change fundamentally.

Iraq's position in the U.S. talks hardened after a series of Iraqi military successes against Shiite and Sunni extremists in Basra, Baghdad, Mosul and other major cities and after the rise in world oil prices flooded the country with petrodollars.

As the government's confidence rose, Iraqi officials believed they were in a strong negotiating position — especially with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, pledging to remove all combat forces within his first 16 months in office if security conditions allow.

Standing firm against the Americans also enhances al-Maliki's nationalist credentials, enabling him to appeal for support from Iraqis long opposed to the U.S. presence.

On Thursday, a spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr said the Shiite cleric will call on his fighters to maintain a cease-fire against American troops — but may lift the order if the security agreement fails to contain a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal.

The statement by Sheik Salah al-Obeidi came as al-Sadr planned to spell out details of a formula to reorganize his Mahdi Army militia by separating it into an unarmed cultural organization and elite fighting cells.

The announcement is expected during weekly Islamic prayer services on Friday.

"This move is meant to offer an incentive for the foreign forces to withdraw," al-Obeidi said. "The special cells of fighters will not strike against foreign forces until the situation becomes clear vis-a-vis the Iraq-U.S. agreement on the presence of American forces here."

Several cease-fires by al-Sadr have been key to a sharp decline in violence over the past year. But American officials still consider his militiamen a threat and have backed the Iraqi military in operations to try to oust them from their power bases in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.
Gearan and Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington, Robert H. Reid from Baghdad. (This version CORRECTS Corrects spelling of US Embassy spokeswoman from Nangtongo to Nantongo.)
This is too little too late, in my opinion and here's why I say so. From:
Why I Oppose the US War on Terror:
an ex-Marine Sergeant Speaks Out

The more I juxtapose logical world opinion with the Bush administration's actions in the war on terror, I realize one overwhelming theme: hypocrisy. No one in any of the branches of government runs a physical risk to themselves by entering a war with Iraq, and we can bet that none of their family members are at risk, either. That is, until the next "terrorist" attack. I put "terrorist" in quotes because its definition is subjective, and I myself used to be in the Marine Corps, part of the most powerful "terrorist" organization on the planet: the U.S. government. Of course, we never call our operations "terrorism" because every operation is considered legitimate to us. When found guilty by the World Court for violence in Nicaragua, we ignore the decision. Too bad the nations we hurt can't just ignore what we do to them. When the planet condemns us for killing between 2,500-4,000 people in Panama, we're too busy planning the next invasion of a country that can't fight back.

I oppose this war as a U.S. citizen, a veteran, and a doctoral student in history. While my military experience is what first made me skeptical about our government's motives in the developing world, it wasn't until I went to college and began reading hundreds of books and thousands of articles that I was able to truly grasp the profundity of our leadership's contempt for the freedoms they claim to protect. As a rule, we have worked hard to prevent the rise of democracy in the developing world, all the while claiming legitimacy as "the world's police force" because of our so-called "democratic" values. The hypocrisy is astounding. When one investigates our complicity in death squads, torture, massacres, rape, and mass destruction, one realizes that freedom often threatens the current power structure in this country.

I used to consider those incidents as anomalistic in comparison to the "protection" we offered the planet at seemingly no charge. But then I joined the Marines, and I realized why I had believed in the government: they were experts in manipulation. Barely out of high school, the Corps broke us down and built us up in order to shape us into machines, willing to defend the ideals of the power elites in Washington and corporate America. Just look at the companies, which are funding political campaigns, and benefiting from war: weapons producers, technologies, food, clothing, munitions, oil, pharmaceuticals, etc U.S. interventions since WWII have not been done in the name of the world's people (although that is always the claim), but for the preservation of concentrated power. The fact that they have been carried out against the tenets of international law (i.e. the rights of non-intervention and self-determination), in itself deflates their validity. If the U.S. government were held to the FBI's official definition of terrorism ("the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives"), their list of victims since WWII alone would include:
Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, Chile, Granada, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, Zaire, Namibia, Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Bangladesh, Iran, South Africa, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Iraq, Cambodia, Libya, Israel, Palestine, China, Afghanistan, Sudan, Indonesia, East Timor, Turkey, Angola, and Somalia.
In boot camp, deceit and manipulation accompany the necessity to motivate troops to murder on command. You can't take civilians from the street, give them machine guns, and expect them to kill without question in a democratic society; therefore people must be indoctrinated to do so. This fact alone should sound off alarms in our collective American brain. If the cause of war is justified, then why do we have to be put through boot camp? If you answer that we have to be trained in killing skills, well, then why is most of boot camp not focused on combat training? Why are privates shown videos of U.S. military massacres while playing Metallica in the background, thus causing us to scream with the joy of the killer instinct as brown bodies are obliterated? Why do privates answer every command with an enthusiastic, "kill!!" instead of, "yes, sir!!" like it is in the movies? Why do we sing cadences like these?:

"Throw some candy in the school yard, watch the children gather round. Load a belt in your M-60, mow them little bastards down!!" and "We're gonna rape, kill, pillage and burn, gonna rape, kill, pillage and burn!!"
These chants are meant to motivate the troops; they enjoy it, salivate from it, and get off on it. If one repeats these hundreds of times, one eventually begins to accept them as paradigmatically valid.

The demonization of the enemy is crucial to wartime planners, and the above examples of motivation techniques are relevant to the present. Before carrying out a security exercise in Qatar, my unit went through Muslim "indoctrination" classes. The level of racism was unbelievable. Muslims were referred to as "Ahmed," "towlheads," "ragheads," and "terrorists." We were told that most Muslim males were homosexual, and that their hygiene was so primitive that we shouldn't even shake their hands. The object was demonization through feminization and dehumanization, so as to make it easier for us to pull the trigger when ordered to. But Qatar is our ally, so imagine the language being used today in these indoctrination courses about Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Iraqi population has suffered countless U.S. supported atrocities over the past eleven years. Not only were between 100 and 200 thousand people killed in 1991, but the bombing has continued ever since then, and sanctions have led to the deaths of possibly 1 million people, in a nation of 17 million. Former UNSCOM execs assert that they destroyed 95-98 percent of Saddam's weapons by 1998, and that a nuclear weapons capability is extremely unlikely due to their devastated economy. According to this morning's New York Times, the U.S. reasons that Saddam's gassing of his own people and his hatred of the U.S. are what warrant our harder stance toward Iraq in comparison to North Korea. While we pursue diplomacy with North Korea (which has admitted to having nukes), we prefer to invade Iraq, who we claim is only looking for nukes. Have we forgotten the 1994 Congressional report revealing that we supplied Saddam with biological and chemical weapons during the 1980s? Although U.S. casualties will be lower than that of Iraq, let's not forget the danger we are placing squarely on the shoulders of U.S. troops, who have been indoctrinated as I was. Funny how the people who are least likely to go to war are the ones working the hardest to convince others to fight it for them.

Chris White is an ex-Marine and current doctoral student in history at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.
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"Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food." ~~ Hippocrates

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