Iraq, US push for quick implemenation of forces deal
AFP - Sunday, November 30
BAGHDAD (AFP) - - Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met with US officials on Saturday to push for rapid implementation of an accord to end the US military presence in Iraq, as the country's top Shiite cleric said he feared the deal would sow instability.
Maliki, US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General Ray Odierno, the commander of US forces in Iraq, discussed "immediate measures to activate the agreement," the prime minister's office said.
"They also discussed technical means of disengaging Iraq from Chapter Seven, the issue of detainees, positions held by American troops, the Green Zone and airspace," a statement said.
The US-led force is deployed in Iraq under the terms of Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which allows it to use "coercive measures" if peace is threatened.
According to US estimates 15,800 people are detained in jails run by US-led forces. The Iraq-US security pact stipulates that they will be turned over to Iraqi jurisdiction.
And the central Baghdad Green Zone, also known as the International Zone, houses parliament and a number of government buildings and embassies.
On Thursday, Iraq's parliament approved the pact after months of wrangling. The bill is to be sent to the presidential council on Sunday for ratification.
The pact, which was approved despite strong criticism from some hardline Shiite groups, will see all US troops withdraw by the end of 2011, eight years after the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
It will govern the presence of 150,000 US troops stationed in over 400 bases when their UN mandate expires at the end of the year, giving the Iraqi government veto power over virtually all of their operations.
Even so, Iraq's supreme Shiite religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani, expressed concern about the pact, with an aide to the reclusive cleric saying he feared the deal would sow "instability."
"The guide expressed his concern about the agreement for several reasons. First, there was no national consensus on it, and that it will cause instability in the country," the aide told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Parliament approved the deal with the backing of the main political blocs representing Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, but followers of hardline Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr condemned the accord.
And the deal was passed only after the Shiite-led government agreed to Sunni and Kurdish demands for a popular referendum to be held on the agreement no later than July 30.
Sistani's aide said the cleric supported the referendum.
"The guide will leave the accepting or rejecting of the agreement to the Iraqi people through the referendum that will be held within seven months."
Either country can unilaterally terminate the agreement with one year's notice, so the referendum could force the withdrawal of US troops as early as summer 2010.
Sistani, who rarely intervenes in politics, has steered away from commenting on the contents of the deal, insisting only that it must preserve Iraq's "sovereignty."
But his aide warned without elaborating that the pact contained "no guarantee that Iraq will have its sovereignty recognised by other countries."
In Damascus, meanwhile, Syrian government newspaper Tishrin denounced the accord, saying it was a "catastrophic" move that would legitimise the American occupation of its eastern neighbour.
It described the pact as a "catastrophic (move) aimed at blocking all popular opposition" to the US military presence in Iraq and a "poisoned chalice" for the new administration of US president-elect Barack Obama.
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An Iraqi soldier stands guard outside a Shiite Muslim mosque in the town of Musaib. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has met with US officials to push for rapid implementation of an accord to end the US military presence in Iraq. Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani said he fears the deal will sow instability in Iraq.
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