Iraq revises draft troop deal; U.S. likely to reject changes

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 28, 2008 

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi cabinet agreed Tuesday to amend a draft agreement governing the status of U.S. forces in Iraq, but introduced new provisions that the U.S. military is unlikely to accept.

Among other things, the amendments would give Iraqi authorities the right to determine whether a U.S. service member was on- or off-duty when he or she committed an alleged crime outside American bases, where such an American would be tried. It also would allow authorities to inspect all U.S. cargo entering the nation.

Iraqi politicians see the changes as a way to preserve Iraqi sovereignty.

The amendments were made to "preserve the basic principles and the sovereignty of Iraq and its supreme interests," said government spokesman Ali al Dabbagh in a statement. The government, Dabbagh said in an interview on an Arabic satellite news station, has no "third option."

U.S. officials have described the original draft agreement, which would replace the United Nations mandate for U.S. military operations in Iraq, as "final," and the Iraqi amendments are likely to push negotiations between Iraq and the U.S. to an impasse.

In Washington Tuesday, senior U.S. military officials said that while they were unaware of the proposed changes, the Pentagon very likely would reject them.

"We are very comfortable with the draft sent forward," a senior U.S. military official said Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly. "But the longer we wait, the more in peril this gets."

Iraqi officials admit that the amendments are likely to cause problems.

"I think it will be very difficult, and the Americans wouldn't accept all the suggestions or changes," said Narmin Othman, the Minister of Environment. "There will be a struggle until we reach a compromise."

Nonetheless, the Iraq government considers the changes crucial.

"There is no third option, either the agreement or extending the UN resolution which many here condemn and suffer from," Dabbagh said. "It should be noted that the changes are not that welcomed by the others . . . if Iraq was forced not to sign this agreement . . . I think the only choice available for Iraq is the extension of the status quo."

The Iraqi parliament must approve any agreement, so if the Americans don't accept the proposed Iraqi changes, the cabinet will have to decide whether to submit the agreement to the parliament as it stands, which could doom its chances of passage.

Iraqi officials involved in the process told McClatchy that they don't believe the two nations will reach an agreement before the U.N. mandate for the U.S. presence in Iraq expires at the end of this year.

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is considering renewing the mandate, but he wants changes that would lift the immunity from Iraqi prosecution that private contractors in Iraq now enjoy. The U.S. will veto a new mandate with any changes, officials have said.

While U.S. military officials are skeptical about the agreement, the Bush administration remains hopeful.

"We remain confident that we'll be able to get one," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino referring to the status of forces agreement. "However, if we don't, there will be consequences for that. I don't think there are Iraqis — I don't think there are any Iraqis who think that they are ready to do this all on their own — deep down."

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Iraqi government condemned a CIA-led raid into Syria Sunday that U.S. officials said targeted a top smuggler of foreign fighters into Iraq. The Syrian government claims that the raid killed eight civilians, including children.

The Syrian government demanded that an American school and cultural center be shut down and Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki condemned the raid on Tuesday. Mottaki said that President Bush was ending his time in the White House with more "blood and aggression," the Iranian government's official news agency, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

"Every intellectual now believes that the world has become more insecure after the so-called fight against terrorism," Mottaki said in a joint news conference with former Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, IRNA reported.

The Syrian government sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council and to the U.N. Secretary General condemning the raid as a violation of its sovereignty. It identified the dead, including a man and his four sons and a woman, according to the Syrian Arab News Agency.

A U.S. military official in Washington told McClatchy that it doesn't think that any women or children were killed in raid.

The Iraqi government is investigating the raid by four U.S. helicopters and "calling on the U.S. forces not to repeat such actions," a statement from Dabbagh's office said.

"Iraqi government confirms its concern to have the best relations with the Syrian government and renews its demand to stop the actions of the organizations which use Syrian land as a base or a passage to train and arm the terrorists who target Iraq and its people," Dabbagh said.

(McClatchy special correspondent Laith Hammoudi contributed to this article. McClatchy military reporter Nancy Youssef contributed from Washington.)

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Iraq's prime minister won't sign U.S. troop deal

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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