Top Iraqi Leaders to Discuss US-Iraq Security Pact

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Agence France Presse

Top Iraqi Leaders to Discuss US-Iraq Security Pact

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The Iraqi flag flutters as US soldiers secure a street in the former restive district of Dora in southeastern Baghdad last month. Iraq's top leaders were to meet late on Sunday to review a controversial security pact with the US that will determine American troop deployments beyond this year, a parliamentary official told AFP.

BAGHDAD - Iraq's top leaders were to meet late
on Sunday to review a controversial security pact with the US that will
determine American troop deployments beyond this year, a parliamentary
official told AFP.

The
official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the latest draft
would be put to the vote at the meeting of the Political Council for
National Security, which comprises senior leaders including Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani.

If approved, the pact would go before the cabinet and then to parliament for a vote.

It
is fiercely opposed by many key Iraqi role players, including Shiite
radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who brought thousands of his supporters
onto the streets of Baghdad on Saturday to demand the immediate
withdrawal of US troops.

Sadr on Saturday urged parliament not to
vet the accord while on Sunday senior leaders of Maliki's own ruling
alliance too came came out against it, saying further changes are
necessary.

"There are positive points and others need more time
to be discussed, and others need modification," the United Iraqi
Alliance (UIA) said in a statement.

The agreement was due to be
concluded by the end of July but became embroiled in squabbles over
whether US soldiers in Iraq who commit crimes would continue to enjoy
the immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts they were granted at the
time of the US-led invasion in 2003.

The latest draft stipulates
that Iraq has the right to prosecute US soldiers and civilians for
crimes committed outside their bases and when off duty, according to a
copy obtained by AFP.

It further says that the US will have the
primary right to exercise jurisdiction over its soldiers and civilians
if they commit a crime inside their facilities or when on missions.

But
the arrangement gives Iraqi courts the right to prosecute US soldiers
and civilians if they commit "grave and premeditated felonies outside
their facilities and when not on missions."

The decision is seen
as a hard-won concession for Maliki who has taken a tough stand on
protecting his country's sovereignty in the pact.

The so-called
Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) will provide the legal basis for a US
troop presence in Iraq after the present UN mandate expires on December
31.

A failure to agree on the terms would force Baghdad and Washington to find another legal framework.

If
the agreement is signed by the two sides and approved by the Iraqi
parliament, it will become effective from January 1 and last for three
years, during which a phased withdrawal of US forces is outlined.

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

The two sides have also agreed that all military operations
in Iraq will be carried out with the approval of Baghdad under the
supervision of a Joint Military Operation Coordination Committee
(JMOCC) to be formed under the pact.

The agreement also restricts US military powers by permitting troops to detain Iraqis only through an Iraqi order.

"In case they detain, the detainee must be handed over to Iraqi authorities within 24 hours," the document says.

It also stipulates that any US personnel detained by Iraqis must be handed over immediately to American authorities.

Iraq will also have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over US private security contractors.

Maliki
said on Sunday that Iraq was keen to negotiate a similar security pact
with Britain to provide for a British military presence beyond this
year.

"If the SOFA with the US is approved by parliament, it will
help signing an agreement with British for their military presence in
Iraq," he said in a statement after talks with visiting British Defence
Secretary John Hutton.

Hutton, 53, who took over the defence
portfolio from Des Browne just over two weeks ago, said that he had
brought his team to discuss the Status of Forces Agreement between
Baghdad and London.

 

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