US responds to Iraqi proposals on American troops
By QASSIM ABDULZAHRA,Associated Press Writer AP - Friday, November 7
BAGHDAD - The U.S. officially responded Thursday to Iraqi proposals for changes in the draft security pact that would keep American troops here for three more years.
A top Iraqi official said the U.S. accepted some proposals and rejected others, presumably an Iraqi demand for expanded legal control over U.S. soldiers. The official would not elaborate and spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told The Associated Press that the response had been received but gave no further details and declined to characterize the U.S. reply.
"The process has concluded on our side and we look forward to hearing from the Iraqis," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington. "It's now the Iraqis' turn to move the document through their political process."
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the U.S. had responded "very positively" to the Iraqis and considered the negotiations closed "on our side."
U.S. and Iraqi negotiators this year hammered out the agreement, which would remove U.S. soldiers from Iraq's cities by June 30, with the last American troops leaving the country by 2012. The accord still must be approved by parliament by year's end when the U.N. mandate expires.
President-elect Barack Obama said during the campaign that agreement should include a U.S. commitment to begin withdrawing troops and that the draft should be approved by Congress, which the Bush administration does not plan to do.
The draft agreement has drawn strong opposition inside Iraq, but government officials are hopeful that parliament can approve the pact in time for the deadline. Without an agreement or a new mandate, the U.S. would have to suspend all military operations in Iraq.
Iraqi lawmakers have said that the changes they asked for on Oct. 21 are essential if parliament is to approve the agreement by the year-end deadline.
In addition to expanded legal jurisdiction, the changes include a ban on the use of Iraqi territory to launch attacks against neighboring countries, effectively rule out any extension of the U.S. military presence beyond the end of 2011 and allow Iraqis to inspect U.S. military shipments in and out of Iraq.
Iraq officials have said U.S. diplomats appeared willing to make the changes except for expanded legal jurisdiction.
The Iraqis had urged the U.S. to show flexibility on that issue, which would open the door to expanded prosecution by Iraqi courts of major crimes committed by soldiers off post and off duty.
The U.S. has insisted on the exclusive right to prosecute its own soldiers and Pentagon contractors for offenses here, including killing Iraqi civilians.
Public opinion here, however, favors an Iraqi role. Although numerous U.S. soldiers have been prosecuted in military courts for offenses committed in Iraq, many Iraqis see the issue as a fundamental right of national sovereignty.
"If the security agreement doesn't stipulate that U.S. soldiers can be prosecuted under Iraqi law, it will be useless," said Salih Hamid, a Baghdad engineer. "Any U.S. soldier should be punished under Iraqi law if he committed a crime inside Iraqi territories."
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