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This week the United States suffered its 4,000th military death in Iraq. That number will surely increase, as violence is now exploding across the country. Iraqi forces are clashing with the powerful Shiite militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. As if to offer denial in the face of disaster -- and commit the U.S. to losing many more soldiers and Marines -- the Bush administration has begun negotiations with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to keep U.S. troops in Iraq for years, even decades, after President George W. Bush leaves office.
The negotiation, set to conclude this summer, will establish the basis for a long-term U.S. occupation of Iraq. According to the Bush administration, the Iraqi government requested a bilateral agreement to replace the expiring U.N. mandate for the occupation, which offended Iraqi sovereignty. Asked if there was any irony in preparing a plan to keep thousands of foreign soldiers in Iraq in the name of Iraqi sovereignty, a National Security Council official, who requested anonymity, replied, "Sure, but we plan to negotiate that aspect" of the agreement.
Critics in the U.S. and in the Middle East are talking about the impending accords as the fulfillment of a hidden agenda. On Al Jazeera's "Inside Iraq" program, a recent report on the negotiations began: "This firm handshake between President Bush and Prime Minister al-Maliki may seal what had been predicted all along: that the U.S. has no intention of withdrawing from Iraq." Indeed, for years, the U.S. military in Iraq has quietly constructed massive bases that can garrison tens of thousands of troops indefinitely.