By Fu Mengzi
The White House insisted on Monday that talks with Iraq on a deal governing a long-term US military presence there are "on track" but declined to restate a July 31 deadline for sealing the accord.
In fact, there are three overriding reasons for the Bush administration to reach a long-term security pact with Iraq.
First, time is running out for Washington. The Iraq War, a preemptive war that was not authorized by the United Nations in the first place, has dragged on for five years. As Bush's days in the White House are counting down, it is an imperative that his administration work out a solution to get out of the Iraq War as soon as possible.
Adding urgency to the issue is the fact that the UN mandate for the foreign military presence would expire in December. The Bush administration wants to clinch a security pact with Iraq, which, on the one hand, would urge the Iraqi government to take the security matters into its own hands, and on the other hand, maps out a framework for future cooperation between the US and Iraq.
Second, the US wants to ensure control over Iraq and Iraq's Maliki government while exerting influence on the entire Middle East as a whole.
Initially, Washington pinned its hope on the new Iraqi government formed after the fall of Saddam. The Maliki government, plagued by the incessant religious sectarian clashes and poor security situation in the country, however, has failed to live up to Washington's expectations. Instead, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's always resents America's policies in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Iraq and Iran, two former foes, are repairing their ties, worrying Washington. Under such circumstances, signing an agreement with the Iraqi government to lay foundation for future relations framework becomes even more of an imperative for the outgoing Bush administration.
If Washington can keep the Maliki government on its side and control him, it will be of great strategic significance for the US to consolidate its geographical advantage in the Middle East, conducive to its anti-terror initiative in the region, deal with Iran and mediate the Israel-Arab conflicts.