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US 'not at stage' of considering alternative to Iraq security pact

Under the latest draft, US combat forces will withdraw from Iraqi towns and villages by June 2009 and to pull out completely from Iraq by December 2011.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Oct 20, 2008
The United States is focused on winning Baghdad's support for a US-Iraqi security pact before a December 31 deadline, and is "not at a stage" of mulling other options, a US official said Monday.

"You're right, but I don't think we have a deadline at this point," a State Department official told reporters when asked if Washington might soon have to weigh alternatives if the proposed pact is blocked in Baghdad.

"Obviously it would be prudent for people to think about other options," he said on condition of anonymity.

"But we're not at a stage where we're seriously thinking about other options beyond the SOFA," the status of forces agreement outlining future US military responsibilities in Iraq, the official added.

"And we've got this text that has been carefully negotiated over months and we hope to see it get through Iraq's political system, and we're briefing congress on the details," the official said.

"I don't want to jump ahead because it's at a very sensitive stage at this moment," he said.

However, he added, "It's hard for me stand up here and say that the text will not change. You can never say never on things like that."

The draft lays the legal basis for a US troop presence beyond the end of this year when the current UN mandate expires.

The SOFA was due to be concluded by the end of July but negotiations between Baghdad and Washington have become bogged down amid Iraqi determination to defend the country's sovereignty.

Under the latest draft, US combat forces will withdraw from Iraqi towns and villages by June 2009 and to pull out completely from Iraq by December 2011.

Washington has made concessions on the question of US nationals' immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law, allowing that, from next year, soldiers and civilians alike should face trial before the Iraqi courts for serious offenses committed outside their bases and when off-duty.

The two sides have also agreed that all military operations be carried out with Baghdad's approval under the supervision of a Joint Military Operation Coordination Committee, and that Iraqi authorization be required for the detention of any Iraqis.

For the second day Monday the Iraqi cabinet and the high-level Political Council for National Security discussed the draft, which then must be ratified by the Iraqi parliament.

US concessions have so far failed to win over the main Shiite bloc that leads the government, and on Sunday it issued a statement criticising the draft.

Meanwhile the Pentagon Monday called the draft "a good document" that would satisfy US and Iraqi needs.

"We have what we believe is a good document that satisfies our ability to conduct military operations, help the Iraqi security forces past the UN mandate, and has the necessary protections for our forces that are stationed there," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

"We share a common goal with the Iraqis and that is to turn over security operations to them," he said.

"That is something that is predicated on a number of factors, and that's why we've always said we believe that the best way to hand over responsibility is to do it when Iraqi forces are ready to do it (...) and should be based on how conditions on the ground develop," Whitman said.

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US insists Iraq pact guarantees sovereignty
Baghdad (AFP) Oct 20, 2008
The United States insisted on Monday that a planned security pact with Baghdad would ensure full Iraqi sovereignty as local leaders pored over the deal amid fierce opposition by some key players.

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