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Gates steered US toward exit in Iraq

Top Iraqi cleric fears 'instability' from US pact: aide
Iraq's supreme Shiite religious authority Ali Husseini al-Sistani on Saturday expressed concern about a military pact approved by lawmakers that would allow US troops to remain another three years. An aide to the reclusive cleric -- who rarely appears in public, preferring to communicate through close associates -- said Sistani feared the controversial agreement would sow "instability" in the war-torn country. "The guide expressed his concern about the agreement for several reasons. First, there was no national consensus on it, and that it will cause instability in the country," the aide told AFP on condition of anonymity. The wide-ranging agreement contains a roadmap for US combat forces to withdraw from all Iraqi cities and towns by the end of June 2009 and to pull out of the country completely by the end of 2011. Iraq's parliament approved the deal Thursday with the backing of the main political blocs representing Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, but it was condemned by followers of the hardline Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. And the bill was passed only after the Shiite-led government agreed to Sunni and Kurdish demands for a popular referendum to be held on the agreement no later than July 30. Sistani's aide said the cleric -- who ahead of the vote had said it was up to Iraq's elected leaders to decide on the pact -- supported the referendum. "The guide will leave the accepting or rejecting of the agreement to the Iraqi people through the referendum that will be held within seven months." Either country can unilaterally terminate the agreement with one year's notice, so if the referendum leads to the cancelling of the agreement US troops could be forced to withdraw as early as the summer of 2010. Sistani -- a spiritual authority who rarely intervenes in politics -- has steered away from commenting on the contents of the deal, insisting only that it must preserve Iraq's "sovereignty." But on Saturday, his aide warned that the pact contained "no guarantee that Iraq will have its sovereignty recognised by other countries," without providing further details. The agreement was to be sent on Sunday to Iraq's presidential council, which would then have 10 days to reject it. If the three-man body representing Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds takes no action the bill would become law.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Nov 30, 2008
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has steered US forces toward the exit in Iraq in a deft two-year performance that helped pull the United States back from the brink of failure in the Middle East.

With candor and a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor, the former spymaster, who seems set to be nominated Monday to stay on his post by president-elect Barack Obama, disarmed critics in Congress even while undertaking an unpopular but ultimately successful 30,000 troop surge in Iraq.

Two years after Gates succeeded Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary, the US military is pivoting toward Afghanistan, the "forgotten war" that Obama has said should be the top US priority.

Gates, 65, now seems set to have a new president to advise, his seventh in a 40-year career steeped in the Cold War struggles with the Soviet Union, with the last two almost totally focused on Iraq.

Richard Danzig, the first Obama adviser to suggest that Gates had a place in the Democratic administration, said the defense chief was "in tune" with Obama on Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

"Secretary Gates has been a good secretary of defense. I think he'd be an even better one in the Obama administration," Danzig, a former navy secretary who was also seen as a pick for defense secretary, told reporters October 2.

But Gates is not totally in synch with Obama on Iraq, having argued for a slower drawdown of US forces than the 16-month timetable Obama called for in his campaign.

"As we proceed deeper into the end game, I would urge our leaders to implement strategies that while steadily reducing our presence in Iraq also take into account the advice of our commanders," he told lawmakers recently.

Some observers believe Gates is staying to assure a smooth wartime transition, and will then bow out.

He has said he is eager to retire to his lakeside home in Washington state, and often reminded reporters that he carried a timepiece that counted down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to the end of his term.

Hallmarks of Gates's tenure at the Pentagon have been pragmatism and a modest, low-key demeanor, which served to set him apart from his combative predecessor.

Gates, who came to the job from the presidency of Texas A and M University, quickly set about easing strained relations with the military brass, the Congress and allies in wake of the turbulent Rumsfeld era.

Internationally, he used wit and wry understatement to try to defuse tension.

When Russia's Vladimir Putin attacked the United States in an inflamatory speech in Munich in February, 2007, Gates returned to the same podium the following day.

"One Cold War was quite enough," he said.

On other flashpoint problems, like Iran, Gates has warned against military action except as a last resort, and pushed "soft power," arguing for more money and a greater role for diplomacy and other non-military instruments of power.

"Not every outrage, every act of aggression, every crisis can or should elicit an American military response, and we should acknowledge such," he told an audience of military officers at the National Defense University earlier this year.

"Be modest about what military force can accomplish, and what technology can accomplish," he said.

Gates has been quick to fire top generals, however.

He sacked the air force secretary and chief of staff on the same day -- a bureaucratic decapitation without precedent at the Pentagon -- because they had not been sufficiently responsive to a series of nuclear blunders.

When the Washington Post revealed that wounded soldiers were being treated shabily at Walter Reed Hospital, the army's premier medical center, the generals in charge were soon shown the door.

Marine General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Rumsfeld, was denied a second term after Gates concluded that his nomination would come under fire in the Senate.

Gates is unusual in that he rose through the analytic ranks of the CIA to the top of the spy agency in 1991, but along the way he also crossed over into the realm of policy with postings at the National Security Council.

He had powerful mentors as well, including former CIA director William Casey, a central figure in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostage scandal that blew up at the end of the Reagan administrtion.

Gates withdrew his nomination to become CIA director in 1987 rather than face hostile confirmation hearings, only to come back four years later after a stint at President George H.W. Bush's deputy national security adviser.

earlier related report
Iraq, US push for quick implemenation of forces deal
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met with US officials on Saturday to push for rapid implementation of an accord to end the US military presence in Iraq, as the country's top Shiite cleric said he feared the deal would sow instability.

Maliki, US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General Ray Odierno, the commander of US forces in Iraq, discussed "immediate measures to activate the agreement," the prime minister's office said.

"They also discussed technical means of disengaging Iraq from Chapter Seven, the issue of detainees, positions held by American troops, the Green Zone and airspace," a statement said.

The US-led force is deployed in Iraq under the terms of Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which allows it to use "coercive measures" if peace is threatened.

According to US estimates 15,800 people are detained in jails run by US-led forces. The Iraq-US security pact stipulates that they will be turned over to Iraqi jurisdiction.

And the central Baghdad Green Zone, also known as the International Zone, houses parliament and a number of government buildings and embassies.

On Thursday, Iraq's parliament approved the pact after months of wrangling. The bill is to be sent to the presidential council on Sunday for ratification.

The pact, which was approved despite strong criticism from some hardline Shiite groups, will see all US troops withdraw by the end of 2011, eight years after the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

It will govern the presence of 150,000 US troops stationed in over 400 bases when their UN mandate expires at the end of the year, giving the Iraqi government veto power over virtually all of their operations.

Even so, Iraq's supreme Shiite religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani, expressed concern about the pact, with an aide to the reclusive cleric saying he feared the deal would sow "instability."

"The guide expressed his concern about the agreement for several reasons. First, there was no national consensus on it, and that it will cause instability in the country," the aide told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Parliament approved the deal with the backing of the main political blocs representing Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, but followers of hardline Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr condemned the accord.

And the deal was passed only after the Shiite-led government agreed to Sunni and Kurdish demands for a popular referendum to be held on the agreement no later than July 30.

Sistani's aide said the cleric supported the referendum.

"The guide will leave the accepting or rejecting of the agreement to the Iraqi people through the referendum that will be held within seven months."

Either country can unilaterally terminate the agreement with one year's notice, so the referendum could force the withdrawal of US troops as early as summer 2010.

Sistani, who rarely intervenes in politics, has steered away from commenting on the contents of the deal, insisting only that it must preserve Iraq's "sovereignty."

But his aide warned without elaborating that the pact contained "no guarantee that Iraq will have its sovereignty recognised by other countries."

In Damascus, meanwhile, Syrian government newspaper Tishrin denounced the accord, saying it was a "catastrophic" move that would legitimise the American occupation of its eastern neighbour.

It described the pact as a "catastrophic (move) aimed at blocking all popular opposition" to the US military presence in Iraq and a "poisoned chalice" for the new administration of US president-elect Barack Obama.

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Iraq Status Of Forces Agreement Ratified With A Wrinkle
Baghdad (UPI) Nov 28, 2008
Iraq's Parliament Thursday ratified the bilateral agreement between Baghdad and Washington that allows U.S. troops to remain in the country for another three years, but not without last-minute bickering and deal-making among lawmakers.







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