Iraqi officials expect answer on security deal after U.S. vote

Monday, November 3, 2008
Yahya Ahmed ~ Associated Press
A man selects a newspaper Sunday in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad. Iraqis are following this week's U.S. election, but the big news is the effort to forge a security agreement that would keep U.S. troops here for most of the new president's first term.

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi leaders expect an American response to requested changes in a draft security pact soon after this week's U.S. presidential election, an aide to the prime minister said Sunday.

Another Iraqi official said the U.S. indicated it would accept all the proposed changes except one -- greater Iraqi legal control over American soldiers and contractors.

Yassin Majeed said the U.S. response would come after Tuesday's vote so the president-elect -- either Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. John McCain -- could be briefed on the Iraqi proposals, which were submitted by Iraq's Cabinet last week.

Iraqi lawmakers say the changes are essential to win parliamentary approval for the deal, which would keep American troops in this country until 2012 and give the Iraqis a greater role in the conduct of U.S. military operations.

Parliament must approve the agreement before the year-end expiration of the U.N. mandate that allows coalition forces to operate here legally.

Without an agreement or a new U.N. mandate, the U.S. military would have to suspend its mission, and the U.S. military's future in Iraq would be up to the man who takes office in January.

McCain supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the troop surge which helped turn the tide.

Obama opposed the invasion and said negotiations on a security agreement should be conducted as part of a "broader commitment" to begin withdrawing the troops. Obama's campaign website says the Democratic candidate believes the agreement also should be approved by Congress.

Among other things, the Iraqis are now asking for a ban on using their territory to attack neighboring countries, removal of language that might allow the U.S. to stay here past 2011 and changes in a clause providing limited Iraqi jurisdiction over U.S. troops.

The current draft provides for limited Iraqi jurisdiction for major crimes committed off post and off duty.

The Iraqis want a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee to decide whether accused soldiers were off duty or on authorized missions.

Another aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he met with U.S. officials Saturday and was told that Washington was prepared to accept all those changes except the one involving jurisdiction.

The official said he urged the Americans to compromise on the jurisdiction request.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Susan Ziadeh said the U.S. was "still in the process of considering carefully the Cabinet revisions" and would respond soon. U.S. officials in Washington have described the jurisdiction demand as a non-negotiable "red line."

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said there was "no Iraqi consensus" in support of the agreement, but he expected one to emerge in the coming weeks.

"If the American side agrees to our amendments to the pact, it will be a good pact and we can be proud of it," he said in an interview aired Sunday night by government television.

Privately, many Iraqi officials say they need U.S. troops to guarantee the security gains of the past two years until Iraq's army and police are ready to do the job. Publicly, however, many lawmakers have been reluctant to declare a position on the agreement, fearing a backlash from Iraqis who want foreign forces to leave.

Iraqi authorities are feeling more confident since a sharp drop in violence in the country after the Sunni revolt against al-Qaida and the routing of Shiite militias in Baghdad and southern Iraq last spring.

Still, attacks continue, although at a lower level, and U.S. officials warn the gains are reversible.

Lt. Gen. Nasier Abadi, the Iraqi army's deputy chief of staff, said the military had drawn up a report on its capability to defend the country "in case the friendly forces withdraw." He did not elaborate.

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