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Iraq cabinet unanimous for changes in security pact

Latest update : 2008-10-22

Iraq's cabinet on Tuesday unanimously decided to modify a security pact with the US, despite warnings from the US that Iraq risked serious security losses unless it approved the deal.

Iraq's cabinet on Tuesday called for changes to a planned security pact with Washington despite a warning from the US military chief that time is running out for Baghdad to approve the deal.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met to discuss the deal that will provide the basis for a US military presence in Iraq beyond this year but ministers unanimously have decided to seek modifications.

"The cabinet unanimously sought amendments to the text of the pact so it can be acceptable nationally," Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement after the meeting, which was also attended by US representatives.

"The cabinet called on the ministers to submit their suggestions to be included in the negotiations with the US," he added.

The demand for changes, which were not specified, is expected to delay significantly the signing of the deal, which still has to be approved by parliament after it has been endorsed by the cabinet.

The cabinet decision came just hours after the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, bluntly warned that Iraq risked security losses of "significant consequence" unless it approved the deal.

Mullen also charged that US archfoe Iran was working hard to scuttle Iraq's adoption of the so-called Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, which has been the subject of months of fraught negotiations.

"We are clearly running out of time," said Mullen, warning that when the current UN mandate governing the presence of foreign forces expires on December 31, the Iraqi military "will not be ready to provide for their security".

"And in that regard there is great potential for losses of significant consequence."

But despite a series of US concessions, the pact remains hugely controversial in Iraq, with fierce opposition in some quarters, particularly the Shiite radical movement of anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Even before the cabinet decision, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari sought to dampen expectations of a swift approval of the deal.

"It is unlikely that the Iraqi parliament will approve the SOFA before the American presidential election on November 4," the website of Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiya quoted Zebari as saying.

He said there were differences between Iraq's political parties on the deal, which was originally due to have been sealed by the end of July but has been held up by differences on a number of key issues.

"Because of the differences among the political groups, we don't believe the deal will be approved now. Iraq still hopes to sign this deal before the end of this year," he said.

Iraq's Political Council for National Security examined the agreement on Sunday and Monday and then forwarded it to the cabinet.

If and when the government backs the deal, it will then be forwarded to the 275-member parliament.

Washington has made concessions to Baghdad to assuage its concerns about its sovereignty.

Under the latest draft, Iraqi courts would have the authority to try US soldiers and civilians for crimes committed outside their bases and when off duty.

Washington has agreed to withdraw its combat forces from Iraqi towns by June 2009 with a complete pullout in 2011 -- eight years after the invasion that toppled now executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

But the US concessions still fall far short of the demands by Sadr and his followers for an immediate and full withdrawal of US troops.

Sunni political groups, a minority in mainly Shiite Iraq, are concerned about an early US departure but have expressed their reservations about the pact by stressing the importance of respecting the nation's sovereignty.

The minority Kurds, who hold 53 of the 275 seats in parliament but enjoy autonomy in the mainly Kurdish north, have already indicated they will back the latest draft of the deal.



Date created : 2008-10-21