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Gates consulting Congress on Iraq agreement: Pentagon

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Oct 16, 2008
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is satisfied with a draft agreement with Baghdad on the legal status of US forces in Iraq and has begun consultations with Congress, his spokesman said Thursday.

Gates believes the draft agreement "adequately" protects US troops in all facets of their operations from combat to legal protections, said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary.

"We would never advocate for a document for a ... status of forces agreement that did not adequately protect our forces," Morrell said.

The status of forces agreement would replace a UN mandate as the legal basis for the US military presence in Iraq, and also set in motion a timeline for the withdrawal of US combat forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Morrell said the agreement reached by US and Iraqi negotiators would not be final until it had been approved by leaders in both countries, but it was close enough that Gates had decided to consult key members of Congress.

On Thursday, the secretary began making calls to the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to discuss key points of agreement contained in the draft, the spokesman said.

Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, raised a warning flag on Wednesday on the question of whether Iraq would be given jurisdiction over US military personnel.

"I am skeptical of any agreement that would subject US servicemen and women to the jurisdiction of Iraqi courts in the middle of a chaotic war and in the absence of a judicial system that has been proven to be fair and protective of the rights of individuals," he said in a statement.

Morrell would not go into specifics but indicated that Gates believed an acceptable compromise had been reached on the issue, which has been a major stumbling block in the months long negotiations.

The United States has previously ceded jurisdiction over US military personnel accused of committing crimes while off duty or off base to host countries, notably Japan and South Korea.

Negotiators had earlier resolved differences over Iraqi demands for a timeline for a US withdrawal.

Iraqi and US officials have said agreement was reached to pull back American troops from major Iraqi cities by the middle of next year and withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2011, if conditions permit.

"Any withdrawal dates that are in this -- and there are dates in this document, and I won't get into what those dates are -- are entirely conditions-based," Morrell said.

He said timelines were "something the Iraqis strongly want. They are a sovereign nation. And we are fully supportive of those desires."

The United States is under pressure to reach an agreement before the end of the year when a UN mandate for its forces in Iraq runs out.

Any agreement must be ratified by the Iraqi parliament, but the US administration insists that a status of forces agreement would not require Senate ratification.

Democrats have expressed concern that the agreement could tie the hands of the next president. Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, for instance, has called for a more rapid drawdown of US combat forces.

"This document will provide the legal authority for us to continue operation there, but it will not bind a future commander in chief to do so," Morrell said.

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Rice speaks to Iraqi leaders on troop negotiations
Washington (AFP) Oct 16, 2008
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has spoken to Iraqi leaders to help advance negotiations for a deal on the future presence of US troops in Iraq, her spokesman said Thursday.

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