x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Iraq says it shares Afghanistan’s failed experiences in negotiating US security deal

Foreign minister hints that Iraq needs help from the US to overcome its security challenges following a wave of sectarian violence.

KABUL // Iraq’s foreign minister said yesterday he shared his country’s failed experiences in negotiating a US security deal with Afghan officials, who have repeatedly delayed signing a similar agreement with America.

Hoshyar Zebari did not provide details of his talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai after signing an agreement to facilitate pilgrimages to Iraqi religious sites, but hinted that Iraq needed help from the US to overcome its security challenges following a wave of sectarian violence.

In 2011, the US and Iraq could not agree on terms of a similar security arrangement to keep American troops in that country and all US forces pulled out. Sectarian violence has plagued Iraq ever since, and some fear Afghanistan could face similar destabilisation path without a continued US presence if Afghan forces cannot defend the country themselves.

Mr Zebari’s brief visit came amid fresh tension with the United States following yet another flare-up with the Afghan government. Mr Karzai’s office charged late on Sunday that American forces were not delivering fuel to some army and police units as part of an attempt to force the president to sign the security agreement.

The US-led international coalition immediately denied the allegations and said all fuel deliveries to the Afghan National Security Forces were being carried out normally.

Mr Zebari said he shared “our expertise in signing the security agreement with the American forces” and added, “I think it was a very useful exchange of experience”.

He added that Iraq still needs “continued US support for the security challenges that we are going through”.

Mr Zebari did not elaborate and reporters were not allowed to ask questions during a signing ceremony for a deal to facilitate Afghan Shiites wishing to travel on pilgrimages to holy sites in Iraq.

Although Mr Karzai has endorsed a long-delayed Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States that will keep thousands of troops here past a 2014 deadline, and a national assembly of Afghan dignitaries has approved it, he has repeatedly refused to sign it. Mr Karzai has instead deferred its signature to his successor after next April’s presidential elections.

The US says it wants the deal signed by the end of next month and has threatened to make plans for a complete withdrawal after a Nato mandate expires at the end of 2014 if it is not. America’s Nato allies have also said they will not keep troops here to train and mentor Afghan forces if the US leaves.

Although post-2014 numbers have not been announced, it is thought the US will commit about 8,000 forces with Nato supplying an additional 6,000 if the pact is signed.

Violence has continued as Afghan forces have taken the lead for security.

Yesterday a Taliban suicide truck bomb killed four police officers in the eastern province of Wardak.

Associated Press