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Iraqi ministers warn against rejecting US military pact

by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 23, 2008
Iraq's Finance Minister Baqer Jabr Solagh on Sunday warned that parliament's rejection of a divisive US security pact could endanger the country's finances and hamper reconstruction efforts.

The wide-ranging military pact has sparked a heated debate in parliament, which is expected to vote on it this week. The pact would allow US troops to remain another three years after their UN mandate expires on December 31.

The accord was approved by the cabinet a week ago but has drawn fire from hardline nationalists who would prefer to see American troops out sooner.

But Solagh said that the agreement was necessary to preserve Iraq's development and reconstruction funds, which enjoy special UN and US financial protection.

"Iraq's finances will be in danger if the agreement with Washington is not adopted," he said at a joint Baghdad news conference with Planning Minister Ali Baban.

"There have been some dubious cases brought against Iraq by certain people that would force it to pay an estimated one trillion dollars."

The Development Fund of Iraq (DFI) is a special account created following the 2003 US-led invasion that is protected by the UN Security Council and a US presidential executive order.

This protection prevents anyone from being awarded the funds in lawsuits against Iraq, providing a safe haven for the war-torn country's petroleum revenues. The fund currently holds some 20 billion dollars (16 billion euros).

But Solagh said the UN protection will expire when the mandate ends and the presidential order would lapse next year unless the new accord is signed.

Solagh added that losing the protection might force Iraq to resort to selling oil for cash at a lower price, as Saddam Hussein used to do in the 1990s when Iraq was under tight international sanctions.

Baban, the planning minister, meanwhile pointed out the benefits of the agreement, which he said would help solidify the dramatic security gains Iraq has made over the past year.

"There can be no growth in an unstable security situation," he said, adding that a close relationship with the United States would help Iraq resurrect its economy, which has been battered by decades of war and sanctions.

"The agreement spells out the basic characteristics of the economic partnership between Iraq and the United States and this agreement requires economic and scientific cooperation from Washington," he said.

"We are in need of this kind of cooperation because we are developing and building our economy. The United States is an advanced country that can do a lot for us."

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Vote on US-Iraq pact set for Wednesday after stormy debate
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 22, 2008
Iraq's parliament is to vote on Wednesday after many hours of often stormy debate on a pact with Washington that would see US forces leave the war-torn country by the end of 2011, its speaker said.

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