Iraqi envoy sees US remaining ally under Obama
By EDITH M. LEDERER,Associated Press Writer AP - Saturday, November 15
UNITED NATIONS - Iraqi leaders are certain their country will retain its alliance with the United States when Barack Obama becomes president, Iraq's U.N. ambassador said Friday.
Ambassador Hamid al-Bayati said Iraqi officials have been meeting with Obama's transition team, "and they assured us they're going to listen to the experts on the ground _ political, military experts _ and even to Iraqi officials and Iraqi experts about the situation in Iraq."
Asked whether Iraq expects an Obama administration to act differently than President George W. Bush's administration on Middle East issues, al-Bayati said, "It's too early to predict."
But, he said, "We're going to be allies regardless of who is the president."
Al-Bayati talked to reporters after speaking at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's latest report on the U.N. civilian mission in Iraq, which is helping the Iraqi government prepare for the first provincial elections since 2005.
Speaking to the council, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad noted the U.S. is negotiating with Iraqi leaders on an agreement that would allow American troops to remain in Iraq through 2011, "with a goal of a strong and strategic relationship."
The proposed pact has drawn opposition in Iraq, especially among Shiite factions that are pillars of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Al-Bayati said his government is optimistic the deal will be done by Dec. 31, the expiration of a Security Council mandate for foreign troops to operate in Iraq. But he noted Iraqi officials have said they will seek a renewal of the U.N. mandate if the pact hasn't been ratified by year's end.
The top U.N. envoy in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, who briefed the council on the secretary-general's report, told reporters the U.N. is waiting for the outcome of the negotiations.
"One thing is clear: We hope that there will be no vacuum," he said.
De Mistura, Khalilzad and al-Bayati all stressed the security improvements in Iraq as well as the country's improved economic and political climate.
Khalilzad, however, also cautioned that "a lot of work remains to be done." Urging continued international support for Iraq, he said that "progress in Iraq is fragile and reversible."
De Mistura warned that Iraqis may be hit with spikes in violence heading into the election, which is to be held by Jan. 31.
"Some spoilers may want to spoil" the ballot, he said.
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