Arwa Damon re the upcoming treaty
DON LEMON: All right. Here's a question that no one can seem to answer lately, how long will the U.S. be in Iraq? If anyone can answer that, I'm sure that was -- would be the million dollar question. Assuming it is quite a while longer, what will the mission be? Who will call the shots? Talk about loaded questions there.
Right now, U.S. forces operate under a U.N. mandate, but Washington and Baghdad are about to open talks in a long-term military relationship which may, or may not, amount to a treaty. The details are controversial and complicated and the terminology, of course, certainly matters. CNN's Arwa Damon joins us now from Iraq, from the capital there. She's been covering this story since the very beginning. And she's going to walk us through this.
What do you know, Arwa?
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, let's go back a bit. As you just mentioned there, the U.N. treaty under which U.S. forces operate here that pretty much gives them carte blanche to do whatever they want, does expire in December of 2008. Well before that takes place, by the end of July, both U.S. and Iraqi officials are hoping to have a bilateral agreement in place that will define America's role in Iraq moving forward.
Now, there have been allegations from individuals who oppose President Bush's current plan here in Iraq, that this will only further bog down U.S. troops, that it will lead, perhaps, to some permanent bases. But Iraqi officials here are assuring us that it will, in fact, be quite the opposite.
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ALI AL-DABBAGH, IRAQI GOVT. SPOKESMAN: There will be a major drop in the number of the presence of the Americans troops here. It will reach to the actual number which is need for training and equipping and supporting also -- supporting for Iraqi national security forces.
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DAMON: Quite simply, the Iraqi security forces, at this point in time, are not capable of securing Iraq on their own. They lack the military power, they lack the air power to try to continue to be able to maintain on their own the security gains that the U.S. military has made thus far. Also falling into this bilateral agreement will be some economic efforts. But again, the terminology of it is still just in the beginning stages of being debated -- Don.
LEMON: All right. So Arwa, talk to us about some of the central issues that both sides in this will be focusing on.
DAMON: Well, Don, it is going to be issues such as the authority, the freedom with which the U.S. military has to conduct combat operations. Do they need to consult the Iraqi government every single time they're sending a patrol out? It will be issues such as detainees. Will U.S. forces continue to have the right to detain individuals based on intelligence?
Some of it will just be legal language. It will also deal with hot-button issues like contractor immunity. And, as we were talking about, it will also deal with some economic issues. There will be economic incentives. What we are hearing from both sides is that there really is this push to have this agreement set into place. There are concerns on the U.S. military side that, because of the political campaigning, the political speak we are hearing back in the United States, there might be a push for a premature U.S. withdrawal.
That greatly concerns Iraqi leaders here who are fully aware that should U.S. forces withdraw prematurely, it could lead to al Qaeda being able to regroup, restrike once again. It could re-ignite sectarian violence. And Iraqi security forces, quite frankly, could crumble. So this is a very vital and crucial agreement, one that not only the Iraqi government, but senior U.S. military leadership here is trying to highlight as well.
LEMON: We'll be paying close attention to it. Arwa Damon in Baghdad. Thank you, Arwa.