How are negotiations for America’s contentious Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq proceeding? It depends who you ask. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated on Saturday that “we’re making good progress.” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyan Zebari claimed at the same time that the agreement was “very close,” and “in the final stages.” Yet US Ambassador Ryan Crocker apparently sees deliberate delays, and a culprit.
In comments last week, Ambassador Crocker said that Iran had succcessfully blocked the US deal with Iraq. He also accused Iran of attempting to gain control of Shi’ite militias in Iraq. He reiterated the accusation today in an interview with the Associated Press, claiming that Iran’s goal was to keep Iraq “off-balance.”
Yet Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has proposed a possibility for missing the deadline that doesn’t require the covert machinations of a third party: serious disagreements about the content of the deal. In recent comments Maliki cited “serious and dangerous obstacles” remaining before a deal could be finalized. Chief among those are questions about immunity for US forces and a firm deadline for a troop pullout.
And other US officials have twice earlier this month suggested that Prime Minister Maliki’s increasing independence were at least in part responsible for him making more concrete demands in the final terms of the agreement than the administration had anticipated.