Iraq says US security offer not enough
BAGHDAD - Iraq's government spokesman said yesterday the US offers of changes to a draft security agreement were "not enough" and asked Washington to offer new amendments if it wants the pact to win parliamentary approval.
The comments by spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh were the first by the Iraqis since the United States submitted a response last week to an Iraqi request for changes in the draft agreement, which would keep US troops here until 2012 and give Iraq a greater role in the management of the US mission.
Dabbagh said his remarks constituted the government response, but it had not been officially conveyed to the Americans. There was no immediate comment from US officials, who had described the latest draft submitted to the Iraqis as a "final text."
Privately, however, some US officials have said they expect protracted haggling over the agreement, with the Iraqis pressing for more concessions until the last minute.
"The American answer is not enough for the government to accept it in its current form," Dabbagh told the Associated Press. "There are still some points in which we have not reached a bilateral understanding."
Dabbagh said the government was inviting the United States "to give answers that are suitable to the Iraqis."
The agreement must be approved by parliament before the Dec. 31 expiration of the UN mandate that allows US troops to operate legally. Without an agreement or a new UN mandate, US military operations would have to stop as of Jan. 1.
Dabbagh did not spell out in detail what points the Iraqis still find unacceptable, but they probably include Baghdad's demand for expanded legal jurisdiction over US soldiers.
The current draft allows Iraqi courts to prosecute soldiers accused of major, premeditated crimes allegedly committed off post and off duty. The Iraqis had asked for elaboration on those charges and a greater role in determining whether specific cases met the criteria for trial in their courts. But the agreement faces strong opposition, especially within the majority Shi'ite community, which is the base of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's political support.
Several influential Shi'ite clerics have spoken out against the deal, and radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has vowed to oppose it.
In addition, the Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, has called for a national referendum - a move that would effectively kill the deal because it would be impossible to arrange a vote before the mandate expires.
Iraq's neighbors Syria and Iran have urged the Iraqis to reject the deal.
The latest draft states that US troops must vacate Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and leave the country entirely by Dec. 31, 2011. The previous draft authorized the Iraqi government to ask US troops to stay beyond that for training and other assistance.
But the current draft states simply that "United States forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than Dec. 31, 2011."