The NY Times reports:
With its international mandate in Iraq set to expire in 11 months, the Bush administration will insist that the government in Baghdad give the United States broad authority to conduct combat operations and guarantee civilian contractors specific legal protections from Iraqi law, according to administration and military officials.
This emerging American negotiating position faces a potential buzz saw of opposition from Iraq, with its fragmented Parliament, weak central government and deep sensitivities about being seen as a dependent state, according to these officials.
At the same time, the administration faces opposition from Democrats at home, who warn that the agreements that the White House seeks would bind the next president by locking in Mr. Bush’s policies and a long-term military presence.
There are a couple different issues here. The first is the issue of immunity over civilian contractors:
However, the American quest for protections for civilian contractors is expected to be particularly vexing, because in no other country are contractors working with the American military granted protection from local laws. Some American officials want contractors to have full immunity from Iraqi law, while others envision less sweeping protections.
This is madness. Our government has already shown that it won’t punish any American private military contractor no matter how heinous the crime they commit. We allowed a Blackwater guard to shoot the bodyguard of the Iraqi vice–president after getting drunk, and not only did we not make sure he was held responsible for his actions, we let Blackwater quickly get him out of the country and then gave him a security clearance to get back in with another PMC.
If our government won’t punish American contractors for their criminal actions and we won’t allow the Iraqi government to do it, then we have, quite literally, a lawless army of gun-wielding mercenaries running around Iraq with complete immunity from punishment. In what bizarro universe would any sane person think that was justifiable?
The second issue is whether the larger negotiations with Iraq constitute a treaty that would require Congressional approval. Naturally, Bush is going to pretend that he has the authority to do it all himself without any approval from anyone else:
These officials said the negotiations with the Iraqis, expected to begin next month, would also determine whether the American authority to conduct combat operations in the future would be unilateral, as it is now, or whether it would require consultation with the Iraqis or even Iraqi approval.
“These are going to be tough negotiations,” said one senior Bush administration official preparing for negotiations with the Iraqis. “They’re not supplicants.”
Democrats in Congress, as well as the party’s two leading presidential contenders, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, have accused the White House of sponsoring negotiations that will set into law a long-term security relationship with Iraq….
Representative Bill Delahunt, Democrat of Massachusetts, said that what the administration was negotiating amounted to a treaty and should be subjected to Congressional oversight and ultimately ratification.
“Where have we ever had an agreement to defend a foreign country from external attack and internal attack that was not a treaty?” he said Wednesday at a hearing of a foreign affairs subcommittee held to review the matter. “This could very well implicate our military forces in a full-blown civil war in Iraq. If a commitment of this magnitude does not rise to the level of a treaty, then it is difficult to imagine what could.”
The Bush administration’s position is that as long as they don’t talk about troop levels or a security agreement for Iraq, it’s not a treaty and they can do it on their own. Honk if you’re surprised.