Iraqi leaders express reservations on US-Iraq security pact

Parliamentary faction leaders from the Iraqi political council for security failed to endorse a security pact with the US after a meeting on Sunday, saying that "some points need more discussion and amendments".


A pact that would allow U.S. troops to stay in Iraq for three years failed to secure the support of Iraqi political leaders on Sunday, raising doubts about whether it can survive without new negotiations.


The Iraqi government took pains to say the pact was not yet dead, but the lack of an endorsement from a body known as the political council for security -- which groups parliamentary faction leaders -- makes its future far from certain.


"They just finished the meeting and they did not take a decision on the pact because some groups had reservations," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters.


The leaders were "still hesitant to approve or reject" the deal, he said, adding that only the main Kurdish groups supported the pact without reservations.


Earlier, the Shi'ite alliance that forms the core of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government said it wanted changes in the pact, despite a government position that the draft is final and unlikely to be renegotiated.


Enacting the pact would mean that, for the first time, U.S. troops in Iraq carry a mandate from Iraq's elected government, seen as a major step on the road to full sovereignty.


But Iraqi politicians are keen to win more control over a foreign force that has previously operated outside Iraqi law.


"Beside the positive points that were included in this pact, there are other points that need more time, more discussion, more dialogue and amendments to some articles," the Shi'ite alliance said in a statement.


Dabbagh said that among the issues leading to doubts at Sunday's meeting were details of a mechanism to let Iraq try U.S. troops for crimes.


"They say it needs clarification," he said.


The pact will still go to Iraq's cabinet for approval later this week, Dabbagh said, adding that the cabinet's decision could reflect the reservations of the faction leaders.


Even if the cabinet backs the plan, it still must pass in Iraq's notoriously fractious parliament where the faction leaders hold sway.


The U.N. Security Council resolution authorising the U.S. mission expires at the end of this year, and Iraqi leaders have already discussed seeking an emergency extension as a plan B.


The draft requires U.S. troops to leave Iraq at the end of 2011 unless Baghdad asks them to stay. It also provides certain conditions under which U.S. troops might be tried in Iraqi courts for serious crimes committed while off duty, which Iraqi officials have described as a major concession from Washington.


The Shi'ite parties' call for amendments appears to contradict Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd, who said on Saturday that Washington and Baghdad both consider the draft final and would be unlikely to reopen it.


Iraq's parliament would be sent the draft to approve or reject but would not be permitted to make changes, Zebari said.


U.S. officials still have yet to comment on the contents of the draft in public, but briefed members of Congress -- including the two presidential candidates -- about it on Friday.


"When the agreement is finalised, and both sides agree that that is the final language, it will be an open and transparent document so that the citizens both of Iraq and the United States can understand what is in it," U.S. military spokesman Rear-Admiral Patrick Driscoll said on Sunday.


Followers of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr oppose the pact, and thousands of Sadrists marched against it on Saturday.



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