BAGHDAD, Iraq - In an attempt to lay the legal groundwork for asking
the United States to withdraw its troops, an Iraqi National Assembly committee
released a report Tuesday that said the presence of the American military prevents
Iraq from becoming fully sovereign.
The 18-member National Sovereignty Committee, made up of legislators
chosen in national elections in January, said the only way Iraq could achieve
sovereignty was for multinational forces to leave. The report called for setting
a timetable for the troops to go home and referred to them as "occupation
forces," a first.
The report is the second time in four months that National Assembly
members have expressed frustration with the continued American military presence.
In June, one-third of the 275 assembly members signed a petition asking the
United States to set a timetable for withdrawal.
It wasn't clear what impact the new report would have. Iraqi government officials
have said they oppose a U.S. withdrawal or setting a timetable, a position that
President Jalal Talabani repeated Tuesday in Washington.
"We will set no timetable for withdrawal. A timetable will help the terrorists,"
said Talabani, who's a Kurd.
Most of the committee members are members of the Shiite Muslim political coalition
that dominated January's parliamentary elections, though it was impossible to
know how widespread their view is among government supporters.
Assembly members were silent after Jawad al-Malikit, the committee's chairman
and a member of the powerful Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, completed reading
the four-page report.
Later, members of the committee said they'd compiled the report to create a
legal channel that would make their country independent. "It's normal to
ask for our full sovereignty. It should have happened right after the elections
because the government is legal," al-Malikit said.
Hassan al-Rubai, another committee member, said he was grateful to the United
States for removing Saddam Hussein from power. But he added: "We want the
United States to make us feel they came here to liberate us, not occupy us."
The report also asks the United Nations to issue a resolution declaring Iraq
a sovereign country and the government to repeal an order enacted by the U.S.
Coalition Provisional Authority that gives foreign nationals here immunity from
prosecution in Iraqi courts.
It also called for the government to have control over its intelligence operations,
palaces and prisons. American forces so far have refused to grant Iraqis access
to many intelligence operations, to allow them to occupy several palaces that
Saddam built and to let them operate several prisons.
The real measure of the report is how leaders of the Iraqi government, other
National Assembly members and the people react to it in the next few days, said
Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq analyst at the Center for Strategic and International
Studies, a national-security research center.
"It's posturing," Cordesman said. "The question is: What kind
of clout does the political posture have?"
Indeed, some wondered whether the committee released its findings as a way to
reach out to Sunni Muslim Arab leaders. The assembly is seeking to win a national
vote next month on a proposed permanent constitution. Many Sunni Arabs, some
of whom have said they'll vote down the proposed constitution, have called for
a timetable for withdrawing foreign troops.
Still, many were surprised that a committee made up of Shiites and Kurds would
call for a timetable.
The United States returned sovereignty to Iraqis in June 2004, when L. Paul
Bremer, then the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, signed a resolution
and dissolved the CPA.
But many National Assembly members and average Iraqis have said it's impossible
to feel sovereign when troops are running through their streets and foreigners
direct the actions of the Defense and Interior ministries.
"This country hasn't had sovereignty since the beginning of the occupation,"
said Saleh Mutlaq, who was one of the four principal Sunni negotiators in the
drafting of Iraq's constitution. "People already know they are not sovereign
because the Americans are everywhere. They are in the streets. They are on top
of our houses. How can we feel sovereign?"
Committee members said they planned to asked officials of the Defense and Interior
ministries when they thought Iraq would be able to defend itself.