Key officials doubt Iraq will ratify an agreement, that will keep US troops in the country for another three years, before the US election.
Iraq-US security pact in doubt
BAGHDAD // Iraq's Cabinet today reviewed the proposed security pact with the United States as key officials expressed doubt that parliament would ratify the agreement before next month's US presidential election. There is growing opposition to the deal, which would keep American troops in the country for at least three more years, after texts of the draft agreement were circulated last week. Parliament must approve the agreement before the UN mandate expires at the end of the year, after which there would be no legal basis for the US-led military mission.
The prime minister Nouri al Maliki wants his coalition Cabinet to sign off before sending it to parliament. The government spokesman Ali al Dabbagh said no decision was expected today. On Sunday, Mr Maliki's own Shiite coalition expressed reservations about the agreement and called for unspecified changes to the draft agreement, hammered out after months of intensive negotiations. The agreement would call for US troops to leave the cities by the end of June and withdraw from the country by Dec 31 2011, unless the government asked them to stay.
The agreement would also provide limited Iraqi jurisdiction over soldiers and contractors accused of major, premeditated crimes committed off post and off duty. Mr Maliki's aide, Sami al Askari, said several members of the Shiite coalition wanted to remove language allowing the government to ask US forces to stay beyond the end of 2011 and wanted clarification of some parts of the jurisdiction clause.
Today, the chairman of parliament's foreign affairs committee, the Shiite cleric Humam Hmoudi, told reporters that there was broad agreement that parts of the draft needed changing. "What they (the Americans) gave by their right hand, they took it away by the left," Mr Hmoudi said. "They brought new conditions and limits such as in the article about leaving the cities. They are still agreed to leave by next June but added that this will be connected to the security situation on the ground."
He ruled out any chance that parliament would sign off on the deal before the Nov 4 US election. The foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari agreed, telling Al-Arabiya television he did not "think it would be possible" to win ratification by the time of the American election. US and Iraqi officials believe Iraq's security forces still need American support to guarantee the security gains of the past year. Sunni and Shiite extremists have been battered but not defeated.
In a sign of the continuing threat, a bomb targeting a police patrol exploded today in eastern Baghdad, wounding two civilians, Iraqi police said. The injured pair were taken to the capital city's Kindi hospital, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to disclose the information. *AP