The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, believes there is a 20 percent to 30 percent chance that the U.S. and Iraq will not be able to reach a troop-operating deal by the Dec. 31 deadline, according to an interview published Friday.
The interview, in the Washington Times, quoted Odierno as saying that on a scale of one to 10, "I’m probably a seven or eight that something is going to be worked out. I think it’s important for the government of Iraq. I think it’s important for security and stability here."
Officials from both countries have been negotiating a pact that would allow U.S. troops to operate in Iraq after a U.N. mandate ends later this year. Negotiations have stalled over issues including immunity from Iraqi law in most cases for U.S. troops.
U.S. officials have said they are done negotiating, but Iraqi government officials insist that domestic politics will force them to make more changes to the agreement.
A draft accord has reportedly been reached, but the Iraqi cabinet and parliament have balked at making it final. The agreement reportedly calls for American combat troops to leave Iraqi cities by summer and for combat troops to leave Iraqi by 2011.
U.S. officials have said a failure to pass the status of forces agreement would force an immediate halt to all U.S. operations in Iraq. Other possibilities include asking the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate.
"We have to have a legal framework to stay here," Odierno was quoted as saying.
Odierno took over in September for Gen. David Petraeus as the U.S. commander in Iraq. Earlier in October, Odierno alleged that Iranian agents were attempting to bribe Iraqi officials into defeating the SOFA agreement.
"The bottom line is the government of Iran has their own issues here," Odierno was quoted as saying. "I think they do not want the government of the United States here in Iraq. They do not want a long-term relationship between Iraq and the United States. And ultimately, I think that’s the issue here."