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Exclusive Interview With Two Iraqi Members of Parliament: Is Bush Trying to Cement Long-Term Presence in Iraq?

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Permanent bases in Iraq, legal impunity for all American soldiers and contractors, control of Iraqi airspace, and, most shockingly, the use of Iraqi territory for attacking other nations in the region. These are a few of the items on the table in negotiations between President Bush and Prime Minister al-Maliki to establish a new security pact that would define the legal parameters for continued US presence in Iraq after the UN authorization expires at the end of this year. The Bush administration denies that these items are on the agenda, but both the Independent and Gulf News have reported receiving a leaked version of the security pact that includes these allowances. The leaked draft of the agreement has not been independently verified.

Mystery surrounding the specifics of the security pact has not prevented widespread outrage in Iraq over reports that it will prolong US military presence indefinitely and impinge on Iraqi sovereignty. On May 30th, tens of thousands of Sadrists took to the streets to protest against the agreement. Because the security pact has not been positioned as a treaty, neither Bush nor Maliki will require authorization from their legislatures. Muqtada al-Sadr has demanded that the agreement be brought to a national referendum.

The parameters of the leaked agreement have created serious difficulties for Maliki, who must reconcile the competing interests of the US, Iran, and the Iraqi people. I spoke with Nadim al-Jaberi and Khalaf al-Illyan, two members of the Iraqi Parliament who are worried of the possible political backlash of the security pact. Neither politician believes that the stated items are palatable to the Iraqi people, or to Maliki, and they fear the negative effect that simply negotiating such parameters would have on the Iraqi public.

Nadim al-Jaberi is a senior member and former secretary-general of Fadhila, a Shiite party that controls the Basra provincial government. The group, which holds 15 seats in parliament, withdrew last year from talks to join al-Maliki's cabinet after complaining of US interference.

Khalaf al-Ilyan is one of the three leaders of the Iraq Accordance Front, parliament's largest Sunni Arab bloc with 44 of the House's 275 seats. Last year, he played a prominent role in the Sunni decision to walk out of the Cabinet in protest of al-Maliki's policies.