WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is not trying to set up permanent military bases in Iraq, even surreptitiously, the diplomat leading tense talks with Iraq said Thursday.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker rejected the notion that the legal and military agreements he wants this year are blueprints for an everlasting American military presence inside Iraq.
"It is not going to be forever," he told reporters at the State Department.
Crocker addressed suspicions, including among many Iraqis, that the Bush administration is trying to wrap up deals for an indefinite military presence in Iraq that the next U.S. president could not undo.
"There isn't going to be an agreement that infringes on Iraqi sovereignty," and the military agreement will have a provision for periodic review and renewal, as do similar agreements with other countries, Crocker said.
The deals would establish a long-term security relationship between Iraq and the United States, and a legal basis to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after the U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.
Negotiations are intense, particularly over the longevity of military bases, control of Iraqi airspace and the legal status of civilian contractors such as the Blackwater security guards involved in a deadly confrontation that killed 17 Iraqi civilians last September.
Public critics in Iraq worry the deal will lock in American military, economic and political domination of the country. Iraqis also widely view the U.S. insistence that American troops continue to enjoy immunity under Iraqi law as an infringement on national sovereignty.
"The Americans have some demands that the Iraqi government regards as infringing on its sovereignty," lawmaker Haidar al-Abadi said this week. "This is the main dispute, and if the dispute is not settled, I frankly tell you there will not be an agreement."
Crocker said the deals will not contain secret provisions, and will be "transparent" for both Iraqis and Americans. He said there is no attempt to use any legal or semantic sleight of hand.
"This will be a serious negotiation and there aren't going to be any efforts to play around with words on this," he said.
Control of Iraq's airspace is gradually being handed to Iraq as its capabilities improve, Crocker said.
He hopes to complete the overarching security deal by the end of July and the military agreement by the end of the year, when a U.N. mandate for a foreign military presence in Iraq expires.