The Bush administration on Wednesday warned of “real consequences” for Iraq if it rejects a newly negotiated security pact.
Without a deal, the U.S. could be forced to end its military operations.
The White House said Iraqi security forces are incapable of keeping the peace without U.S. troops, raising the specter of reversals in recent security and political gains if the proposed security deal is not approved by the time the current legal basis for U.S. military operations expires Dec. 31.
“There will be no legal basis for us to continue operating there without that,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said. “And the Iraqis know that. And so, we're confident that they'll be able to recognize this. And if they don't, there will be real consequences, if Americans aren't able to operate there.”
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At the Pentagon, press secretary Geoff Morrell said the U.S. fallback position is to extend the U.N. Security Council mandate authorizing U.S.-led coalition operations in Iraq, but he emphasized that the Bush administration's preference is to complete a bilateral U.S.-Iraqi agreement.
“Our focus is entirely on trying to get this deal done,” Morrell said.
Morrell said Defense Secretary Robert Gates has not had direct contacts with Iraqi officials since Baghdad announced earlier this week that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki determined that unspecified changes to the draft accord are required. The spokesman said it was not clear what changes the Iraqis are demanding.
At the State Department, spokesman Robert Wood said time is running short.
“As others have said, the door is closing,” Wood told reporters. “It's time for the Iraqis to step up to the plate and take a decision.” Wood insisted that the administration had yet to hear anything official from the Iraqi government on its position or its suggestions for possible amendments.
The U.S. has 155,000 troops in Iraq. In addition to conducting combat operations against a weakened insurgency and hunting down al-Qaida fighters, the U.S. military is training Iraqi security forces, assisting in the resettlement of displaced persons, coordinating efforts to restore and improve basic services like water and sewage, and providing personal security for senior Iraqi government officials.
The Iraqi government on Wednesday decried what it called the “not welcomed” statements from Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who cautioned the Iraqis of unwelcome consequences in the event that the security pact is not signed by the end of the year.
Mullen, who was traveling in Europe, told reporters on Tuesday that time was running out for the Iraqis to sign the deal and that he was concerned the Iraqis may not fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation.