Iraq says will not be bullied into signing US pact
by Jay Deshmukh Jay Deshmukh - Iraq Seeks Change to U.S. Exit Plan
BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraq warned on Wednesday it would not be bullied into signing a security pact with the United States despite US leaders warning of potentially dire consequences if it failed to approve the deal.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyer Zebari said Washington had now agreed to listen to requested changes to the controversial deal, which aims to govern the long-term presence of US troops in Iraq beyond 2008.
But the White House said the agreement, which has been the subject of months of tough negotiations, was more or less done, and any amendments would be merely fine-tuning.
To the apparent frustration of the Americans, the Iraqi cabinet decided on Tuesday to seek certain revisions, triggering warnings from top US military and political figures about the risks of not having a deal.
But Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh lashed out at the remarks in a statement directed at US military chief Michael Mullen who had said Baghdad risked significant security losses if an agreement is not concluded.
"It is not correct to force Iraqis into making a choice and it is not appropriate to talk with the Iraqis in this way," Dabbagh said.
The draft deal calls for a withdrawal of US combat forces by the end of 2011 and includes US concessions on jurisdiction over its troops accused of "serious crimes" while off duty or off base.
But the draft has ignited fierce debate in Iraq, with radical anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr leading a wave of protests and calling for the immediate withdrawal of the troops who first invaded in 2003.
"Yes, they are going to listen to the changes," Zebari told AFP. "We will give the amendments in writing. They will study it and get back to us. That is the usual pattern."
But he added: "I don't think they are in mood for renegotiating the deal altogether. We will see in the next few days."
And he warned it would be "difficult" to sign before the US presidential vote on November 4, given that the pact still has to go before parliament which can ratify or reject it.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said "the door wasn't slammed shut but it's pretty much closed in our opinion."
Admiral Mullen had said that if Baghdad delayed signing the deal beyond the December 31 expiry of the current UN mandate governing foreign troops, its forces "will not be ready to provide for their security."
"And in that regard there is great potential for losses of significant consequence."
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates echoed Mullen, saying the consequences of not having a Status of Forces Agreement or a renewed UN mandate were "pretty dramatic."
Dabbagh said the government was "deeply concerned" by Mullen's remarks.
"Such a statement is not welcomed by Iraq. All Iraqis and their political entities are aware of their responsibilities and are assessing whether to sign the deal or not in a way that it is suitable to them."
Iraqi military spokesman Brigadier General Qassim Atta also insisted that domestic forces were ready to handle security nationwide, saying their numbers have increased and their ability has improved.
"They are already controlling 11 provinces and soon we will take over the rest of the provinces."
Senior Shiite lawmaker Abbas al-Bayati said the US comments were provocative.
"Mullen's remark is an attempt to pressure the Iraqi side, but we will not be subjected to such tactics because our reservations are linked to the sovereignty and national interest of Iraq," he told AFP.
"The American side should be more flexible because if they really want to pass this agreement, they should first stop launching such warnings which provoke Iraqis."
Some cabinet ministers oppose a clause that allows Iraq to ask US forces to stay beyond 2011 if required for training local troops.
"What has been agreed in the pact has made some people feel this could lead to a long-term presence of American troops," Science and Technology Minister Raed Jahed Fahmi told AFP.
Fahmi said there were also concerns over the definition of what would constitute "serious crimes" committed by American personnel for which they can be prosecuted under Iraqi law.
According to the draft, crimes committed by American personnel inside their bases and while on duty will be under US jurisdiction.
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