BAGHDAD – American soldiers might stop patrolling the streets and head back to their barracks. Help to the Iraqi army – not to mention raids on al-Qaida fighters and Shiite extremists – could suddenly cease.
U.S. and Iraqi officials would scramble for options to salvage their mission here if Iraq’s parliament rejects a new security agreement with the U.S. before year’s end. That date – Dec. 31 – is when a U.N. mandate expires – and, with it, the legal basis for U.S. troops to operate inside Iraq.
No one knows for sure what will happen if that D-Day comes and passes with no done deal and U.S. forces find themselves with no legal authority to operate in Iraq.
Would Iraq’s army and police, in the blink of an eye, be left on their own to maintain security in a country still reeling from the savagery of the last five years? Would security gains won by the sacrifice of more than 4,100 Americans be at risk?
Without American support, “security may deteriorate . . . al-Qaida and the armed groups might resume their activities, and the militias might return to the streets,” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Thursday.
Iraq may decide to approve the deal, especially if the U.S. agrees to changes. The pact would remove American forces from Iraqi cities by June 2009, with all U.S. troops out of the country by the end of 2011, unless both sides agreed to an extension.
Iraqi leaders are torn between a desire for continued U.S. help and the yearning of many Iraqis for an end to what they consider foreign military occupation.
America’s top commander, Adm. Michael Mullen, warned this week that time is running out and that Iraqi officials may not fully appreciate the situation’s seriousness.
If the agreement appears doomed, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, the U.S. plans to ask the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate authorizing military operations in Iraq.
Without a legal framework, U.S. commanders in Iraq would probably keep soldiers on bases while diplomats and legal experts figured out what to do.
• Iraq’s labor minister escaped assassination when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden SUV into his convoy, killing at least nine people in Baghdad.
• Suspected U.S. missiles struck a school linked to the Taliban, killing nine people.
• A roadside bomb killed three U.S. coalition members in Afghanistan, while 18 Taliban fighters died in clashes elsewhere in the country, officials said.
The Associated Press