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US confident of Iraq troops accord

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Nov 19, 2008
The Bush administration turned to Congress Wednesday to mount a defense of a landmark agreement with Iraq that calls for the withdrawal of all US forces by the end of 2011.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Cartwright, were to brief lawmakers from both houses of Congress on the accord behind closed doors, officials said.

"I don't believe we have any concerns" about the accord, said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary.

"If we had concerns, trust me, Secretary Gates and General Cartwright would not be up explaining this and supporting this to members of Congress," he told reporters.

The administration has yet to make public the text of the so-called status of forces agreement, which has been approved by the Iraqi government but has not yet been ratified by the parliament.

But top officials have confirmed it calls for a withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 without pre-conditions.

Among potentially controversial provisions are that it gives Iraq legal jurisdiction over US troops accused of major crimes off base and off duty, as well as over US contractors in all cases.

Those were major concessions that the United States made to clinch a deal before a UN mandate on the US military presence in Iraq runs out December 31.

The administration argues that the agreement does not rise to a level that would require ratification by the US Senate, but has pledged to keep members of Congress informed.

"We think we're on a good trajectory right now," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, who dismissed talk that Washington is working on a contingency plan if the Iraqi parliament rejects the agreement.

"Our focus is on Plan A and trying to get Plan A to work, which is to get this agreement done," she told reporters.

"All we need to do is to have them have the reading, let the parliament debate, as you would in a democratic society, and then have a vote. We think they'll be able to do it later this week, or early next week, or next week."

Morrell said the top US commanders in the Middle East and in Iraq had signed off the agreement.

"Both seem to be very confident that it provides the framework for them to continue to do all that still needs to be done," he said.

He said the security situation and Iraqi security forces had improved so dramatically "that we are confident that, if things continue to trend as they have been, our services will not be needed in Iraq, come 2012."

The US military relies heavily on foreign contractors to support its operations in Iraq, but Morrell indicated that the absence of US legal protections for American contractors was not seen as a problem.

"Increasingly, Iraqis are doing security contracting work in Iraq. And, obviously, Iraqis would be subject to Iraqi law," he said.

"Furthermore, listen, this is clearly a very profitable business for contractors. That's why we see so many of them doing what has been, to this point, very risky jobs," he said.

"I would imagine that no matter what the legal protections are for contractors operating in Iraq, it will remain a profitable enough businesses that you will still see a number of companies willing to do this," he said.

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US-Iraq Pact Highlights Year Of Ongoing Gains
Washington (AFP) Nov 17, 2008
Washington and Baghdad are moving closer to clinching a security pact that highlights Iraq's growing stability but also the blood and treasure that all sides have spent to achieve modest gains.

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