ONE of the dividing lines between John McCain and Barack Obama is over the future of Iraq and the duration of the presence of American troops there.
Senator McCain says that there is still much to be done in Iraq and US forces should stay until the job is completed; Senator Obama wants the forces removed at the earliest possible moment. Both presidential candidates may shift their positions during the campaign but there is an air of unreality about the debate because the matter is likely to be determined in a different way.

The American presence in Iraq is covered by a 2004 UN resolution which expires at the end of this year. Reports say the US wants a “status of forces” agreement with the government of Iraq that would enable its military presence to continue in two-year stages without UN approval. This agreement is said to provide for 58 US bases in Iraq and an understanding that the US would have the right to determine whether a hostile act from another country was aggression against Iraq - the “other country”, of course, being Iran.

The Iraqi government is said to be totally opposed to both those provisions, and a number of others.

Since any agreement would require ratification by the Iraqi parliament and the US Congress a deadline for the end of July has been set, but seems unrealistic. If no agreement is reached the only option would be a renewal of the UN mandate.