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Iraq studies US-amended military pact as deadline looms

by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 11, 2008
Iraq decided on Tuesday to await a complete translation of the amended draft of a military pact to govern the presence of US troops in the country after 2008 before making a final decision on it.

"The council of ministers will wait until we have a complete translation in Arabic of the American proposal and have consulted legal advisors before making a final decision," Science and Technology Minister Raid Jahid Fahmi told AFP.

The cabinet meanwhile devoted most of its six-hour meeting Tuesday to approving a 67 billion dollar budget for 2009 that covers expenses and reconstruction projects in the war-torn country.

Baghdad and Washington have been racing to agree on a pact ahead of the December 31 expiry of the UN mandate governing the troops' presence, but the head of Iraq's parliamentary affairs committee said more talks were needed.

"The deliberations are continuing in the cabinet in order to ascertain the scope of the amendments that have been added in order to reach a clear agreement and to see if it is acceptable to parliament," Safaldin al-Safi said. "The American response contained many positive elements, but at the same time it contained clauses that require more discussion," he said in a statement on his party's website.

Should the cabinet vote to accept the agreement it would then go to parliament for final approval.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh was meanwhile quoted in the Al-Zaman newspaper as saying that more talks would be held with Washington to discuss the latest US amendments.

The most recent draft stipulates that American forces will withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 2009 and from the country by the end of 2011.

The signing of the so-called Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) has been repeatedly delayed despite several months of negotiations and last month Baghdad proposed more changes.

National security advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubaie said last week Iraq had proposed "110 changes" to American negotiators and received "responses," including an agreement to remove a clause which could have allowed US troops to remain in the country after the end of 2011.

The United States has insisted that the current draft is the final text and on Tuesday the embassy declined to say whether more talks were in the offing.

"We understand the Iraqi government is continuing to study the agreement text and we believe that an agreement can be reached that meets the needs of both parties," a US embassy spokesman said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki assured Arab countries in a letter on Monday that the agreement had met Iraq's demand that "there will be no transgressions against neighbouring, Arab or friendly states."

The Baghdad edition of the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported that the Americans have agreed to three of the five changes proposed by Iraq, including allowing Iraqis to inspect incoming and outgoing US parcels.

US negotiators were however not keen to further ease the immunity offered to soldiers, after already agreeing to allow Iraq to prosecute American troops and civilians if they commit serious crimes outside their bases when off-duty.

Iraq wants to be able to prosecute them for crimes conducted on their bases as well.

A failure to agree on the current draft would raise a new set of thorny problems for both Washington and Baghdad, starting with the need to request a new mandate from the UN Security Council.

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Iraq's cabinet expected to meet on US pact as deadline looms
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 10, 2008
Iraq's cabinet is expected to meet in Baghdad on Tuesday to discuss a military accord that will govern the presence of American troops in Iraq beyond 2008, a minister said on Monday.

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