Iraqi official hopeful on U.S. security pact

Both sides make concessions that might lead to agreement, foreign minister says

July 03, 2008|By Doug Smith and Raheem Salman | Doug Smith and Raheem Salman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD - Iraq's foreign minister said yesterday that concessions by both sides had advanced the prospects for a new security agreement needed for U.S. forces to remain in the country beyond the end of the year.

Seeking to dispel criticism that the agreement would infringe on Iraqi sovereignty, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the opposition was based on "misrepresentations, confusion and politicking."

The agreement being negotiated would be in effect one or two years and would not sanction any permanent U.S. bases, Zebari said at a news conference.

"That's why this is not, as it has been misrepresented, another colonization of Iraq binding Iraq to a colonial agreement like the British Anglo-Iraqi agreement of the 1930s," he said.

Zebari indicated, without being specific, that progress had been made on several issues that have kept the two sides apart, including the existing immunity from prosecution for the U.S. military and private contractors and the internment of Iraqi citizens by U.S. forces.

He said the U.S. had dropped its demand for continued immunity for contractors. U.S. officials have said they are not willing to allow trials of U.S. service members in Iraqi courts. Iraqis are demanding control of all Iraqi detainees.

Zebari described those as examples of issues on which progress was being made, but he said they were still being negotiated.

Acknowledging that differences on some points could delay the negotiations, he said the government had short-term strategies such as a memorandum of understanding to keep U.S. troops in the country under existing rules.

U.S. officials have made it clear that American forces would not remain in Iraq without some legal foundation, Zebari said. The U.N. mandate for their presence expires at the end of this year.

Another option would be seeking an extension of the mandate, he said. "The United States delegation showed a great deal of flexibility," Zebari said. "That's why we have not given up hope that there will be some agreement."

He had briefed members of Parliament on the negotiations in a closed meeting Tuesday. At a news conference yesterday, he said he thought he had been able to dispel some misunderstanding.

But some ministers weren't satisfied. "He was like an American negotiator and not an Iraqi one," said Rasheed Azzawi of the Iraqi Islamic Party, part of the main Sunni bloc. "He didn't specify many details ... and he kept dodging the embarrassing questions."

Doug Smith and Raheem Salman write for the Los Angeles Times.

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