Baghdad, May 19 (AKnews) – An Independent Iraqi lawmaker's assumption that the Iraqi government is planning to strike a deal with the US in August to keep some 20,000 US troops in Iraq beyond the 2011 deadline has sparked a row between the political blocs.
The Kurds believe that the presence of American forces in Iraq, particularly in the disputed areas, may help to prevent ethnic tensions from developing into a conflict, while a Shia bloc, following the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, remains vehemently opposed the US military remaining.
Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army waged a deadly war against the US forces and the Iraqi army in 2004 following the closure of Mr. Sadr's newspaper and attempts to arrest him.
The Sunni Arabs have also voiced disapproval of the US forces presence beyond 2011 in Iraq. The Sunnis lost their 30-year grip of power in the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq.
"There is an ongoing behind the curtains agreement between Baghdad and Washington to extend the stay of 20,000 US troops" says maverick parliament member Sabah al-Sa'idi, "this is no media leak, but agreements between the political blocs to hold on to the seats of power".
Al-Sa'idi says the Iraqi forces can maintain security and that security commanders have been pressed upon by the higher authorities.
He accused the "invading forces" of "looting the wealth of the country".
Meanwhile, the U.S. claim to stick to their plans to pull all troops out of Iraq by the end of the year, the woman in charge of leading the reconstruction of Najaf for the U.S. said today.
Karen Malzahn, director of the Provincial Reconstruction Team, told AKnews: "Until now there are no changes or updates to the withdrawal. Things are moving towards the application of Strategic Framework Agreement terms."
The US currently keeps some 47,000 soldiers in Iraq who are expected to leave the country by the end of Dec. 2011 as agreed upon by Iraq and the US in a 2008 accord.
A member of the Kurdish Blocs Coalition (KBC) in Baghdad, Ashwaq Jaf, said Iraq needs a new deal to keep some of the US forces to maintain security in the disputed areas.
"Those areas need neutral forces to prevent the bloodshed of all the present communities," said Jaf, "and until article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is fully implemented, thus resolving many of the issues".
Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution outlines a three-stage process to resolving the disputes over areas contested by the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad.
The process involves a period of normalization – whereby the security environment is stabilized – followed by the restoration of the original demographic balance (which was altered by the former Iraqi regime, often at the expense of indigenous Kurds), and culminating with a referendum, which will enable the local people to decide on the constitutional status of these areas.
The KBC spokesman said earlier today that describing the US forces as "invaders" is "illegal" because they are in Iraq under a US-Iraqi agreement having "freed" Iraq from the former dictator in 2003.
The Sadrists by contrast have expressed strong opposition to the US presence in Iraq.
The Sadr bloc has threatened on several occasions to mobilize the Mahdi Army which was frozen in 2006 by al-Sadr as a precondition to engaging in the political process.
A member of the Ahrar bloc that follows Moqtada al-Sadr, Uday Awwad told AKnews: "Moqtada al-Sadr will take a stance if a new agreement is struck to keep the US forces in Iraq beyond the end of this year".
He did not rule out his bloc withdrawing from the government if the suspected deal is real.
The Sadrist MP said his bloc would organize rallies across many Iraqi provinces to to press on the government and the parties that want to uphold any deal that extends the "invading forces'" stay in Iraq.
The Sunni-backed al-Iraqiya list, however, has voiced concern that Iran might meddle in Iraq if the US forces withdraw. List member, Wahda al-Jumaili, expressed concern that the Iraqi forces might not be ready to take over security responsibilities.
"Iran has aspirations in Iraq and will fill the vacuum that the US forces leave behind," al-Jumaili said.
She also said that there are already parties that "implement its (Iran's) agenda in the (Iraqi) political process".
Iraqi army chief, Babakir Zebari, a Kurd, has several times said that his forces will not be ready to protect Iraq's borders, air space and waters before 2020.
The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, said a few days ago that the issue of the US forces remaining in Iraq will be deiced by the political bloc leaders.
Written by Raber Y. Aziz, reporting by Hadi al-Issami