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Expiry of UN mandate major step to Iraqi sovereignty

Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Dec 29, 2008
A newly assertive and somewhat safer Iraq takes a major step towards securing full sovereignty on January 1, when a UN mandate that made legal the presence of foreign troops expires.

The end of the UN mandate put in place soon after the March 2003 US-led invasion means Iraq will take greater control of its own security although foreign forces will remain in the country under separate bilateral agreements.

"The main difference is that UNAMI will increasingly and gradually expect Iraqi security forces to provide security, as in any other sovereign country," Staffan de Mistura, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) envoy, told AFP.

The United States, which supplies 95 percent of foreign troops in Iraq, recently signed an accord with the Iraqi government which allows its combat forces to remain in the country until the end of 2011.

The Iraqi parliament voted last week also to allow the presence of non-US foreign troops after the UN mandate expiry until no later than July 31, 2009, although it will have to sign each agreement individually.

Iraq's presidency endorsed the proposal on Sunday, clearing the way for Baghdad to sign accords with Britain, Australia, Romania, Estonia and NATO before midnight on December 31, when the UN mandate expires.

El Salvador announced earlier this month that it would withdraw its 200 soldiers at the end of 2008, although the El Salvadoran minister of defence visited Iraq on Sunday to discuss an extension at the request of the Iraqis.

Britain, the next largest member of the US-led coalition, has about 4,100 troops based mainly in Basra in the south, while the other members have only a few soldiers each stationed in Iraq.

"We will first exchange letters then sign agreements," National Security advisor to Iraq's Prime Minister Mowaffak al-Rubaie told AFP, without providing further details.

Under the terms of forces agreement signed with Washington, the United States will hand over on January 1, Saddam Hussein's former official residence to the Iraqi government after occupying the majestic sandstone palace since 2003.

The vast palace, at the very heart of the heavily fortified Green Zone where the Iraqi government and some major western countries' embassies are located, is seen by Iraqis as a symbol of the US occupation.

"Starting January 1, the control and the responsibility for security of the International Zone now resides with the government of Iraq," said US military spokesman Major General David Perkins.

"So they will be the ultimate decision-maker when it comes to things such as checkpoints and the T-walls and all that. Of course it will be done in very close coordination with the coalition forces," Perkins added.

Meanwhile, commanders at American bases across the country are also preparing for major changes under the terms of the military accord that comes into effect on January 1.

Iraq won a number of concessions in the agreement, including a hard timeline for withdrawal, the right to search US military cargo and the right to try US soldiers for crimes committed while they are off their bases and off-duty.

The agreement also requires that US troops obtain Iraqi permission for all military operations, and that they hand over the files of all detainees in US custody to the Iraqi justice system, which will decide their fate.

"Iraq now takes its place in the international community," said General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, adding that the mission in "supporting Iraq" would not change.

"In the three years of the agreement, we'll help the Iraqi security forces to assume an ever increasing role in providing the defence to its nation against both internal and external threats," Odierno told a news conference this week.

"Our coordination with Iraqi security forces is something that is already well under way. It's worth noting that in much of Iraq we are already operating in the way generally envisioned in the agreement."

American soldiers will also have to retreat to their bases at the end of June 2009, an issue that has sparked some controversy amid concerns that the US might retain certain combat units in the field at the request of Iraqis.

"We could have some people in joint security sections beyond 2009. We have not yet agreed it, we have to work on it," Odierno said.

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Iraqi presidency approves non-US foreign troops resolution
Baghdad (AFP) Dec 28, 2008
Iraq's presidency council on Sunday approved a parliamentary resolution allowing the presence of non-US foreign troops in the country after the expiry of a UN mandate at the end of the month.

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