COMMENTS: No Treaty for Permanent Bases

NBC's Richard Engel became the first correspondent on the nightly newscasts to cover the negotiations between the Pentagon and the Baghdad government over the future status of US military forces in Iraq. The negotiators told Engel in Baghdad that they expect an agreement to be drawn up in July. Engel's unidentified source on the Pentagon negotiating team told him that the US does not insist on permanent military bases in Iraq, something opposed by the Shiite politicians of Baghdad's Sadr City. Instead the US is content to have its troops stationed as guests on bases operated by Iraq.

However the Pentagon does insist on being granted three freedoms from Iraqi sovereignty by Baghdad: first, to operate independently against al-Qaeda guerrillas and against militias that are supported by Iran; second, to have the power to make arrests of Iraqis; and third, to have immunity against Iraqi prosecution of its troops or the civilian contractors it hires. Engel did not report on Baghdad's position in response, only that Iraq wants US troops to stay "mostly on their bases" and that their role should be the continued supply and training of domestic forces.

Engel's colleague Andrea Mitchell covered the response to the Pentagon's proposals on Capitol Hill. She found unanimity among Democrats that no such agreement should be drawn up before the General Election in November. There is a debate about whether any agreement should be merely administrative or have the binding status of a Senate-ratified treaty. Republicans "are lined up in support of the White House" in not wanting an easy withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Mitchell implied that Republicans, therefore, support a pre-election agreement that falls short of treaty status. But she did not spell that out. Presumably a treaty would ensure a more permanent US military presence than an agreement so perhaps opposition to an easy withdrawal implies support for a treaty instead. Mitchell reassured us that a debate on Iraq in this fall's election guaranteed.


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