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Iraq signs military accords with Britain, Australia

Iraqis accused of killing British troops lose appeal
Two Iraqi men accused of murdering British soldiers lost an appeal Tuesday against being handed over to Iraqi authorities to stand trial. Faisal Al-Saadoon, 56, and Khalaf Mufdhi, 58, are accused of killing Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth and Sapper Luke Allsopp at the beginning of the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Although they are currently being held by British forces in the southern city of Basra, the British government wants to transfer them to the Iraqi authorities so they can face trial. On December 19 the High Court ruled against them, and the Court of Appeal also rejected their case on Tuesday. A spokesman for government lawyers said the Court of Appeal ruling meant the two men could be handed over to the Iraqi Higher Authority immediately. Phil Shiner, a solicitor representing the two Iraqis, said he was investigating whether an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg could stop them being handed over, pending further legal action. Lawyers for the pair had argued that the men risked torture and the death penalty if tried in their home country. That would violate Britain's policy of not allowing any person to face the risk of the death penalty, and would also violate the European Convention on Human Rights and British human rights law. The government's legal team, however, said that ministers had been given high-level assurances that the pair would receive a fair trial and treatment. Cullingworth, 36, and Allsopp, 24, were travelling with a convoy that was ambushed by members of the Fedayeen militia in southern Iraq in March 2003. Though half the convoy escaped, the two soldiers were taken to Baath Party headquarters in the town of Al Zubayr, and then to an Iraqi intelligence base, where they were shot.
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Dec 30, 2008
Baghdad signed on Tuesday military accords with Britain and Australia that give their troops a legal basis to stay in Iraq after the expiry of the UN mandate on December 31, the Iraqi government said.

"With the authority of the government of Iraq given to the defence minister, an agreement was signed with Britain today which will be implemented from the start of the new year until June 30," defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari told AFP.

"A little while ago an agreement was also signed regarding the withdrawal of the Australian forces in Iraq. It was signed between the Iraqi defence minister and the Australian ambassador," Askari said.

The long-awaited agreements come just a day ahead of the expiry of the UN mandate, effectively legalising the presence of non-US foreign troops in the country at the eleventh hour and moving Iraq closer to full sovereignty.

Under the agreement, Britain, which has about 4,100 troops based at Basra airport in southern Iraq, will play only a supportive role in their area.

"British troops will only support, consolidate and develop the Iraqi security forces without having any combat mission. July 31 will be the last day for the withdrawal of the British forces from Iraq," Askari said.

Iraqi defence minister Abdel Qader Mohammed Jassem Obeidi signed the separate accords with British ambassador Christopher Prentice and Australian ambassador Robert Tyson.

After British troops leave next year, relations between London and Baghdad will in theory revert to those between any other country.

British troop numbers in the Iraq campaign peaked at 46,000 in March and April 2003 for the invasion.

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 earlier this week.

However, deals will also need to be signed by Iraq with Estonia, Romania, El Salvador and NATO, each of whom have small numbers of troops stationed in Iraq.

The United States, which has 146,000 soldiers in Iraq, in November signed an agreement with Baghdad which allows its combat forces to remain in the country until the end of 2011.

Under the terms the 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.

Iraq's government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh also said on Tuesday that the Iraqi defence ministry will be put in charge of identifying the exact responsibilities of each foreign military mission.

"Their missions will be restricted to training operations, sea surveillance, treating explosives and bombs, and the Iraqi ministry of defence is going to take care of coordinating joint operations with these troops," Dabbagh said in a statement.

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Feature: Iraq's milestone for new year
Baghdad (UPI) Dec 29, 2008
Iraq reaches a crossroads and a milestone in its post-Saddam history Thursday when it takes full authority and responsibility for the nation's security from American forces.

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