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Can the Iraqis Save Iraq?

Iraqis oppose a long-term security agreement with the United States.

A unified front is forming in Iraq among Sunnis and Shiites, opposed to the terms of the draft of a long-term security agreement to keep US forces in the country. Muqtada al-Sadr tapped into a populist rejection of the US occupation and the Iraqi government, for now, is playing hardball.

Iraq's chief spokesman acknowledged differences with the United States over a proposed long-term security agreement and pledged yesterday that the government will protect Iraqi sovereignty in ongoing talks with the Americans.

Chief government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said that the Iraqi negotiators have a "vision and a draft that is different" from the Americans' but that the talks, which began in March, were still in an early stage.

"There is great emphasis by the Iraqi government on fully preserving the sovereignty of Iraq in its lands, skies, waters and its internal and external relations," Dabbagh said. "The Iraqi government will not accept any article that infringes on sovereignty and does not guarantee Iraqi interests."

If we reach December without an agreement, the US presence in Iraq would actually be illegal. And this is not just a Sadrist movement - Shiite clerics from Maliki's own party are publicly opposing the agreement.

While US negotiators claim that they have no interest in permanent bases in Iraq, they are asking for freedom of movement throughout the whole country, and the right to fly in Iraqi air space up to 29,000 feet. Juan Cole notes that they want to be able to arrest and detain any Iraqi they deem to represent a threat to security, and full immunity protection in Iraqi courts for military personnel and contractors. And the contract proposals that have been signed in recent weeks show the desire for a continuing presence, and it's not too hard for the Iraqis to catch on to this.

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