News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIraqis insist on changes to long-delayed security pact with...

Iraqis insist on changes to long-delayed security pact with U.S.

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ImageNew York Times: The Iraqi government demanded changes on Wednesday to the long-delayed security pact with the United States.

The New York Times

By SAM DAGHER
Published: October 30, 2008

ImageBAGHDAD — The Iraqi government demanded changes on Wednesday to the long-delayed security pact with the United States. The amendments would ban American troops from using Iraqi territory to carry out attacks on other countries, further limit when the troops would have immunity from Iraqi laws and allow inspections of American arms shipments.

The amendments come just days after the United States sent American commandos over the border into Syria in what was by far the boldest attack there by Special Operations forces in the five years since the United States invaded Iraq. There have been increasing signs of discontent among powerful Iraqi political parties with the agreement, including by some that had negotiated the draft pact.

The Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the government had decided that the wording of the current draft agreement was too vague on the immunity issue. Under the current draft, American military personnel would be guaranteed immunity from Iraqi law, except in cases of serious or premeditated felonies committed outside their official duties.

Mr. Dabbagh said Wednesday that the Iraqis would like that immunity to be granted only when the soldiers were on duty with their Iraqi counterparts on joint missions. It was unclear if soldiers on American missions approved by the Iraqis would also be exempted.

The United States had pressed for full immunity, while the Iraqis had demanded more sweeping legal jurisdiction.

Mr. Dabbagh said the arms inspections amendment would give Iraqis the right to search shipments of arms and equipment into their country.

President Bush said Wednesday that the United States had received the proposed amendments. “We obviously want to be helpful and constructive without undermining basic principles,” he said after meeting with the leader of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, at the White House. He added that he remained “very hopeful and confident” that the agreement would be passed.

The status of forces agreement has been the subject of intense, complicated negotiations for months. The United Nations Security Council resolution that authorizes the American-led mission in Iraq expires Dec. 31. Without a deal by the end of the year or an extension of the authorization by the Security Council, the American military will have to halt all operations, according to American government officials.

Also on Wednesday, the United States military transferred security responsibilities in Wasit Province to the Iraqis. Wasit is the 13th province where the United States has handed over such responsibilities, putting the Iraqis in the lead on security decisions. Five provinces, including Baghdad, are still under American control.

Wasit is a largely Shiite province of about one million people southeast of Baghdad.

Like the rest of the predominantly Shiite central and southern Iraq, Wasit was one of the battlegrounds in the clashes in March and April between American and Iraqi forces, and the Mahdi Army militia of Moktada al-Sadr, an anti-American cleric.

The real power in the province is now in the hands of the Badr Organization, which has deep ties to Iran and which had been locked in a vicious power struggle here and elsewhere with Mr. Sadr’s followers.

The head of Wasit’s provincial council, Mohammed Hassan Jaber, fears that simmering tensions between Shiite political parties here and across southern Iraq could quickly erode recent gains. The latest struggle has pitted Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s Dawa Party against the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which encompasses the Badr organization.

Mr. Jaber also said that despite Wednesday’s transfer of security responsibilities, local authorities were still seeking binding assurances from American troops who will remain stationed at an airbase in Kut and near the Iranian border that no military operations would be carried out without the prior consent of the provincial government.

“The problem between Americans and Iraqis all over Iraq is a problem of trust,” Mr. Jaber said. “Agreements need to be precise so that people feel that the transfer of authority is real and meaningful.”

In Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded Wednesday night near an ice cream shop on Palestine Street, killing five people and wounding 17, according to a source at the Interior Ministry who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Alissa J. Rubin and Tariq Maher contributed reporting from Baghdad, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Kut, Iraq.

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