US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has approved a pact drafted by Baghdad and Washington, outlining the conditions of a future US military presence in Iraq after the current UN resolution finishes at the end of the year.
U.S. Defense Secretary RobertGates supports a draft deal with Iraq that would provide a newlegal basis to keep American forces there after a U.N. mandateexpires on Dec. 31, the Pentagon said on Thursday.
"He is comfortable with the document," said Pentagon presssecretary Geoff Morrell, noting that Gates began calling membersof the U.S. Congress on Thursday in support of the deal.
After months of talks, U.S. and Iraqi officials said onWednesday they had reached agreement on a pact that would requireU.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq by 2011.
The Bush administration has long opposed a timetable for U.Swithdrawals from Iraq and Morrell insisted that the targets inthe deal would be met only if conditions permitted.
"These are not ad hoc, willy-nilly, arbitrary timelines,"Morrell told reporters. "These are goals that ... will only befollowed if the conditions on the ground provide for it."
One major sticking point in the negotiations was whether U.S.troops could be prosecuted under Iraqi law.
Iraq said on Wednesday it had secured the right to prosecuteU.S. troops in certain circumstances. But the agreement appearsto contain many caveats that mean U.S. forces would be subject toIraqi justice only in very rare cases.
Iraq's government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Baghdad couldprosecute U.S. troops if they committed a crime while off duty and outside U.S. bases -- and if a joint U.S.-Iraqi committeeagreed.
U.S. troops are not allowed to leave bases in Iraq while offduty and doing so would be highly dangerous in a war zone.
"I don't think the secretary would be making phone calls insupport of the document if he didn't believe it adequatelyprotected our forces in Iraq in really all facets of theiroperations there, from combat to legal protections," Morrellsaid.
He declined to discuss the draft agreement in detail andstressed that it was not a final document.
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the senior Republican onthe House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, received atelephone briefing from Gates on Thursday, with additionalinformation to be provided on Friday, according to an aide.
"From the initial details we received, the agreement appearsto provide enough flexibility to allow the U.S. to continueoperations against al Qaeda and stand up the Iraqi SecurityForces," Hunter said.
Date created : 2008-10-17