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US insists draft Iraq security pact is 'good text'

File image courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Oct 21, 2008
The US State Department insisted Tuesday that a controversial draft security pact with Iraq is a "good, solid text," but stopped short of saying it might renegotiate it.

"We believe it's a good text. We believe it is a good text," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack repeated to reporters when asked if the United States would consider amendments sought by the Iraqis.

Iraq's cabinet on Tuesday called for changes to the planned pact despite a warning from the US military chief that time is running out for Baghdad to approve the deal.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met to discuss the deal that will provide the basis for a US military presence in Iraq beyond this year, but ministers unanimously decided to seek modifications.

The demand for changes, which were not specified, is expected to delay significantly the signing of the deal, which still has to be approved by the Iraqi parliament after endorsement by the cabinet.

The cabinet decision came just hours after the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, bluntly warned that Iraq risked security losses of "significant consequence" unless it approved the deal.

Mullen also charged that US arch foe Iran was working hard to scuttle Iraq's adoption of the so-called Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, which has already been the subject of months of fraught negotiations.

McCormack said that he had seen press reports about the Iraqi cabinet's seeking changes.

"But we have yet to receive any formal comments back. I think we'll withhold any reaction until we have comments, formal comments back from the Iraqi government," McCormack told the daily press briefing.

"We believe that this is a good text. We wouldn't have had the secretary of state and the secretary of defense making phone calls about this text, if we didn't think it was a good text," he added.

"Let's see what their comments are. But we believe that this is a good, solid text," he said.

earlier related report
Iraq cabinet wants changes in pact despite US warning
Iraq's cabinet on Tuesday called for changes to a planned security pact with Washington despite a warning from the US military chief that time is running out for Baghdad to approve the deal.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met to discuss the deal that will provide the basis for a US military presence in Iraq beyond this year but ministers unanimously decided to seek modifications.

"The cabinet unanimously sought amendments to the text of the pact so it can be acceptable nationally," Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement after the meeting, which was also attended by US representatives.

"The cabinet called on the ministers to submit their suggestions to be included in the negotiations with the US," he added.

The demand for changes, which were not specified, is expected to delay significantly the signing of the deal, which still has to be approved by the Iraqi parliament after endorsement by the cabinet.

Iraqi satellite channel Al-Sharqiya reported that ministers from both the largest Sunni block, the National Concord Front, and the ruling Shiite grouping, United Iraqi Alliance, wanted amendments.

The cabinet decision came just hours after the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, bluntly warned that Iraq risked security losses of "significant consequence" unless it approved the deal.

Mullen also charged that US archfoe Iran was working hard to scuttle Iraq's adoption of the so-called Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, which has already been the subject of months of fraught negotiations.

"We are clearly running out of time," said Mullen, warning that when the current UN mandate governing the presence of foreign forces expires on December 31, the Iraqi military "will not be ready to provide for their security".

"And in that regard there is great potential for losses of significant consequence."

The White House later sought to play down the dispute, saying it was not surprising the pact had encountered difficulties.

"We knew it was going to take a little while to get this done," spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters in Washington.

Despite a series of US concessions, the pact remains hugely controversial in Iraq, with fierce opposition in some quarters, particularly the Shiite radical movement of anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Even before the cabinet decision, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari sought to dampen expectations of a swift approval of the deal.

"It is unlikely that the Iraqi parliament will approve the SOFA before the American presidential election on November 4," the website of Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiya quoted Zebari as saying.

He said there were differences between Iraq's political parties on the deal, which was originally due to have been sealed by the end of July.

"Because of the differences among the political groups, we don't believe the deal will be approved now. Iraq still hopes to sign this deal before the end of this year," he said.

Iraq's Political Council for National Security examined the agreement on Sunday and Monday and then forwarded it to the cabinet.

Washington has made concessions to Baghdad to assuage its concerns about Iraqi sovereignty.

Under the latest draft, Iraqi courts would have the authority to try US soldiers and civilians for crimes committed outside their bases and when off-duty.

Washington has agreed to withdraw its combat forces from Iraqi towns by June 2009 with a complete pullout in 2011 -- eight years after the invasion that toppled now executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

But the US concessions still fall far short of the demands by Sadr and his followers for an immediate and full withdrawal of US troops.

Sunni political groups, a minority in mainly Shiite Iraq, are concerned about an early US departure but have expressed their reservations about the pact by stressing the importance of respecting the nation's sovereignty.

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'Dramatic' consequences without US-Iraq troop accord: Gates
Washington (AFP) Oct 21, 2008
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned Tuesday of "pretty dramatic" consequences of not having an accord governing the presence of US troops in Iraq.







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