Iraqi Cabinet decides to seek changes to security pact with US

af756bf8-900f-4c47-bed9-21f9864897fc-big2.jpgBy QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA
Associated Press Write
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s Cabinet has decided to ask the United States for unspecified changes in the draft security pact that would allow U.S. troops to remain another three years.

The decision Tuesday comes despite warnings that it would be hard to reopen negotiations.

Parliament must approve the draft before the current U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year. Otherwise, there would be no legal basis for the U.S.-led military mission.

During Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his ministers reviewed details of the draft agreement, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

He said the Cabinet decided that changes were needed to win “national acceptance.”

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

BAGHDAD (AP) – Iraq’s Cabinet on Tuesday reviewed a proposed security pact with the United States as key officials expressed doubt that parliament would ratify the agreement before next month’s U.S. presidential election.

Opposition is growing to the deal, which would keep American troops in the country for at least three more years, after texts of the draft agreement were circulated last week.

Parliament must approve the agreement before the U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year, after which there would be no legal basis for the U.S.-led military mission.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wants his coalition Cabinet to sign off before sending it to parliament. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said no decision was expected Tuesday.

On Sunday, al-Maliki’s own Shiite coalition expressed reservations about the agreement and called for unspecified changes to the draft agreement, hammered out after months of intensive negotiations.

The agreement would call for U.S. troops to leave the cities by the end of June and withdraw from the country by Dec. 31, 2011, unless the government asked them to stay. The agreement would also provide limited Iraqi jurisdiction over soldiers and contractors accused of major, premeditated crimes committed off post and off duty.

Al-Maliki aide Sami al-Askari said several members of the Shiite coalition wanted to remove language allowing the government to ask U.S. forces to stay beyond the end of 2011 and wanted clarification of some parts of the jurisdiction clause.

On Tuesday, the chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Shiite cleric Humam Hmoudi, told reporters that there was broad agreement that parts of the draft needed changing.

“What they (the Americans) gave by their right hand, they took it away by the left,” Hmoudi said. “They brought new conditions and limits such as in the article about leaving the cities. They are still agreed to leave by next June but added that this will be connected to the security situation on the ground.”

He ruled out any chance that parliament would sign off on the deal before the Nov. 4 U.S. election.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari agreed, telling Al-Arabiya television that “I don’t think it would be possible” to win ratification by the time of the American election.

U.S. and Iraqi officials believe Iraq’s security forces still need American support to guarantee the security gains of the past year. Sunni and Shiite extremists have been battered but not defeated.

In a sign of the continuing threat, a bomb targeting a police patrol exploded Tuesday in eastern Baghdad, wounding two civilians, Iraqi police said.

The injured pair were taken to the capital city’s Kindi hospital, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information.