A deal that would formalise the occupation of Iraq by the US and Britain has run aground – again.
The Status of Forces agreement, and a British equivalent, would set in stone a continuing right of foreign forces to remain in Iraq.
But as news of the new terms were made public, tens of thousands took to the streets in protest, all the major Iraqi political parties demanded immediate changes.
The central block to the agreement remains the status of foreign troops after an agreed date for withdrawal.
The Iraqis rightly fear that future governments would be pressurised by the US to keep extending this deadline – currently set for the end of 2011.
A proviso in the agreement is that the US and Britain can alter the timetable for withdrawal if they feel there are reasonable grounds to stay.
In effect this would guarantee an open-ended occupation. At any point occupation forces could cite dangers posed by Iran, Syria, Al Qaida, tensions along the border with Turkey, or a resurgent Iraqi resistance, as a reason to remain.
Many Iraqis are also angry that the government has backed down over the right to prosecute any foreigner linked to the occupation who commits murder or other serious crimes.
The Iraqi government is proposing that it will only prosecute those foreign soldiers or contractors who commit a crime while off-base and not engaged in a mission.
As no foreign soldiers leave their base except when on a mission, this right could never be exercised.
The proposed amended deal quickly ran into trouble when key parties, including supporters of the prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, demanded more changes.
Over 50,000 supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr marched through Baghdad last Friday to protest against the draft.
Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most senior Shia cleric, is calling for the agreement to be dumped. Sistani is closely allied to Iran which fears any long-term occupation of Iraq would be a threat to its security.
George Bush desperately hopes that the Status of Forces agreement will allow him to claim victory in Iraq and secure a future for the occupation.
The danger for the US and Britain is that if an agreement is not signed by the end of the year, they may need to seek a new occupation mandate from the United Nations Security Council – making them hostage to a Russia emboldened by its recent victory in Georgia.