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Iraq Lawmakers Want US Forces Out As Part of Deal
WASHINGTON - A majority of the Iraqi parliament has written to Congress rejecting a long-term security deal with Washington if it is not linked to a requirement that U.S. forces leave, a U.S. lawmaker said on Wednesday.
Rep. William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat and Iraq war opponent, released excerpts from a letter he was handed by Iraqi parliamentarians laying down conditions for the security pact that the Bush administration seeks with Iraq.
The proposed pact has become increasingly controversial in Iraq, where there have been protests against it. It has also drawn criticism from Democrats on the presidential election campaign trail in the United States, who say President George W. Bush is trying to dictate war policy after he leaves office.
"The majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms that obligate the occupying American military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq," the letter to the leaders of Congress said.
The signatures represented just over half the membership of Iraq's parliament, said Delahunt, a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee chairman.
Two Iraqi lawmakers whose parties were listed as signatories testified to Delahunt's panel on Wednesday that U.S. troops should leave Iraq, and that talks on the long-term security pact should be postponed until after they are gone.
"What are the threats that require U.S. forces to be there?" asked Nadeem Al-Jaberi, a co-founder of the al-Fadhila Shi'ite political party, speaking through a translator.
"I would like to inform you, there are no threats on Iraq. We are capable of solving our own problems," he declared. He favored a quick pullout of U.S. forces, which invaded the country in 2003 and currently number around 155,000.
A Sunni Iraqi lawmaker, Khalaf Al-Ulayyan, founder of the National Dialogue Council, said bilateral talks on a long-term security deal should be shelved until American troops leave -- and until there is a new government in Washington.
"We prefer to delay until there is a new administration in the United States," he said. The United States elects a new president in November; Democrat Barack Obama, who clinched his party's nomination this week, is among senators sponsoring a bill requiring any long-term pact with Iraq be submitted to Congress for approval.
A senior U.S. official said in Baghdad earlier this week that the United States still hopes to reach a new security agreement with Iraq by July, even though officials in the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki say negotiations are at an early stage.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
© 2008 Reuters