December 19, 2003

U.S. Negotiating Over Role of G.I.'s in a Sovereign Iraq


WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 — The Bush administration has begun delicate negotiations with Iraq's transitional leaders on the freedom American-led military forces will have to carry out operations against insurgents after the transfer of sovereignty to a new government in Baghdad on June 30, officials say.

While the Coalition Provisional Authority is scheduled to go out of business by the middle of next year, military officials have said recently that their forces may have to remain in Iraq for at least "a couple more years," in the words of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the American commander in Iraq.

Administration, Pentagon and military officials acknowledge that security operations must be conducted within inevitable new political constraints when Iraqis take charge of their own affairs, whether by next summer's deadline or later.

That concern is a prime motivation for the American push to rebuild Iraq's civil defense corps, army and police force, putting an Iraqi face on the security mission. "Our tactics are going to have to change to some degree," a Bush administration official said. "We are going to have to take the concerns of Iraqis into account."

As discussions with Iraq's transitional authorities are being pushed ahead on security affairs, the American authorities are proceeding on a separate, more political track, to insure that the Iraqi constitution, which is to be written by the government that takes power next year, embodies democratic and secular values.

The negotiations on the future military relationship between Washington and Baghdad, and on the principle of its future constitution, are widely seen as tests of whether Iraq can stand on its own next year and eventually serve as a model of democracy in the Middle East.

The Iraqi Governing Council, the group of Iraqi leaders chosen by the Coalition Provisional Authority to oversee Iraq, has set up a subcommittee to write a "transitional administrative law" to take effect next year before the June 30 transfer, according to administration officials.

The transitional law is intended to flesh out the principles that the Iraqi Governing Council agreed to in its discussions with L. Paul Bremer III, the American occupation administrator, on Nov. 15. Translating the principles into a sweeping set of laws is proving difficult, however, some officials said. The sticking point, they said, is how far to incorporate Islamic law into the constitution.

Whatever the council decides would, in turn, be rewritten by the government that is to take office next year. But American officials hope that the "transitional administrative law" is written so strongly that it will be adopted by the sovereign government. How much leverage the United States can bring to bear is a matter of conjecture.

Still, the military negotiations are considered the most urgent priority by many administration officials.

On his visit to Baghdad on Dec. 6, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld took the lead in pushing the process forward at a meeting with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of the Governing Council's rotating presidents.

A senior Pentagon official who attended the session said the two men had discussed creation of a new government-to-government relationship and coordination of economic development, as well as the form of a new security agreement.

"We will work out, over the next six months, arrangements whereby military operations can continue and the continued training of Iraq's own security forces can take place," one official said.

A new mutual security pact — or even a formal invitation from the Iraqi authorities to the American-led military forces to remain — may quiet Washington's critics in the Arab world and around the globe, officials said.

"The transfer of sovereignty clearly will have an impact on security, because you rid yourself of the `occupation' label," an official said. "That is one of the claims that these so-called insurgents make, that they are under American occupation. So you remove that political claim from the ideological battle."

American officials say that even though the new Iraqi government may be pleased to have foreign forces help secure its territory, internal and international political considerations may prompt Iraq to limit the kinds of missions that allied forces carry out.

The precise rules of the security agreement between allied forces and the emerging Iraqi government have not been negotiated, but officials pointed to numerous precedents: the status-of-forces agreements that define rights and responsibilities of large American military forces in Japan or Germany, and the military-technical agreements or access deals that govern the smaller American presence in smaller nations, including many in the Middle East.

"They could be military-technical agreements; they could be status of forces agreements; they could be a whole range of things that could be broad, or that could be detailed," one official said.

In the meantime, the allied military is "marching straight ahead on building up five Iraqi security sectors," a Pentagon official said, referring to the new Iraqi Army, civil defense corps, border patrol, facilities protection service and police.