Baghdad has signed new military accords with Britain and Australia that will give their troops a legal basis to stay in Iraq after the expiry of a current UN mandate on Wednesday, Iraqi government sources said.
AFP - Baghdad signed on Tuesday military accords with Britain and Australia that give their troops a legal basis to stay in Iraq after the expiry of the UN mandate on December 31, the Iraqi government said.
"With the authority of the government of Iraq given to the defence minister, an agreement was signed with Britain today which will be implemented from the start of the new year until June 30," defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari told AFP.
"A little while ago an agreement was also signed regarding the withdrawal of the Australian forces in Iraq. It was signed between the Iraqi defence minister and the Australian ambassador," Askari said.
The long-awaited agreements come just a day ahead of the expiry of the UN mandate, effectively legalising the presence of non-US foreign troops in the country at the eleventh hour and moving Iraq closer to full sovereignty.
Under the agreement, Britain, which has about 4,100 troops based at Basra airport in southern Iraq, will play only a supportive role in their area.
"British troops will only support, consolidate and develop the Iraqi security forces without having any combat mission. July 31 will be the last day for the withdrawal of the British forces from Iraq," Askari said.
Iraqi defence minister Abdel Qader Mohammed Jassem Obeidi signed the separate accords with British ambassador Christopher Prentice and Australian ambassador Robert Tyson.
After British troops leave next year, relations between London and Baghdad will in theory revert to those between any other country.
British troop numbers in the Iraq campaign peaked at 46,000 in March and April 2003 for the invasion.
The end of the UN mandate put in place soon after the March 2003 US-led invasion means Iraq will take greater control of its own security although foreign forces will remain in the country under separate bilateral agreements.
"The main difference is that UNAMI will increasingly and gradually expect Iraqi security forces to provide security, as in any other sovereign country," Staffan de Mistura, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) envoy, told AFP earlier this week.
However, deals will also need to be signed by Iraq with Estonia, Romania, El Salvador and NATO, each of whom have small numbers of troops stationed in Iraq.
The United States, which has 146,000 soldiers in Iraq, in November signed an agreement with Baghdad which allows its combat forces to remain in the country until the end of 2011.
Under the terms the agreement signed with Washington, the United States will hand over on January 1 Saddam Hussein's former official residence to the Iraqi government after occupying the majestic sandstone palace since 2003.
The vast palace, at the very heart of the heavily fortified Green Zone where the Iraqi government and some major western countries' embassies are located, is seen by Iraqis as a symbol of the US occupation.
Iraq's government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh also said on Tuesday that the Iraqi defence ministry will be put in charge of identifying the exact responsibilities of each foreign military mission.
"Their missions will be restricted to training operations, sea surveillance, treating explosives and bombs, and the Iraqi ministry of defence is going to take care of coordinating joint operations with these troops," Dabbagh said in a statement.
Date created : 2008-12-30