News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIraqi lawmakers wary of US security agreement

Iraqi lawmakers wary of US security agreement

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ImageAP: Iraqi lawmakers told Congress on Wednesday that they have serious misgivings about a long-term security agreement being negotiated this year with President Bush, putting themselves squarely in line with Democrats who say hashing out a deal before Bush leaves office is bad timing.

The Associated Press

By ANNE FLAHERTY

ImageWASHINGTON (AP) — Iraqi lawmakers told Congress on Wednesday that they have serious misgivings about a long-term security agreement being negotiated this year with President Bush, putting themselves squarely in line with Democrats who say hashing out a deal before Bush leaves office is bad timing.

Opposition in the U.S. and Iraqi legislative bodies underscores the political hurdles facing Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as they try to settle the terms under which U.S. troops can continue operating in Iraq after a United Nations authorization expires at the end of the year.

The deal, which both sides hope to finish by midsummer, would establish a security relationship between Iraq and the United States and provide a legal basis for the U.S. troop presence.

"The Iraqi government right now still does not have full rein of its sovereignty because of the thousands of foreign troops now on its land," Nadim al-Jaberi, an Iraqi Shiite lawmaker, told a House panel on Wednesday.

"And perhaps the Iraqi government does not have yet sufficient tools to run its own internal affairs. Therefore I ask the American government not to embarrass the Iraqi government (by) putting it in a difficult situation with this agreement," he said.

Also testifying was Khalaf al-Ilyan, a Sunni Arab minister, who said the countries should wait until the next U.S. administration takes over next year.

Al-Jaberi and al-Ilyan said they thought violence in their country would subside after U.S. troops leave, and they embraced the idea of setting a timetable for the troops' departure.

In a letter to Congress last week, some 31 Iraqi lawmakers — representing parties that constitute a majority in parliament — said they will insist on ratifying the agreement as is required by their country's constitution. They also pledged to reject any agreement that "is not linked to clear mechanisms" obligating U.S. troops to leave "with a declared timetable and without leaving behind any military bases, soldiers or hired fighters."

Their comments came as one of Iran's most powerful politicians vowed to block the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told a gathering of Muslim figures in the holy city of Mecca that the United States is trying to enslave Iraqis through the deal.

Since initiated earlier this year, talks have hit several snags, including Iraqi opposition to U.S. demands that its troops be immune from prosecution in Iraqi courts and U.S. reluctance to give the Iraqis final say on military operations.

Meanwhile, skepticism among the countries' politicians is growing. Both Iraqi parliament members and Democratic lawmakers in the Congress say they fear such an agreement will commit U.S. troops to staying or pave the way for long-term military bases. Even some Republicans question the pursuit of such a deal during an election year and with an Iraqi government that is fractured by sectarianism.

Democrats also have balked at the administration's insistence that the agreement does not require congressional approval. Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs international organizations, human rights and oversight subcommittee, said he convened Wednesday's hearing with the hope that the Iraqis could update Congress because he and other lawmakers were in the dark.

"Congress has received, to be polite, minimal information from the Bush administration on the agreement," he said.

The administration contends that the agreement is not a treaty and therefore does not require the Senate's blessing. Officials also say the deal will not commit U.S. troops to staying in Iraq, nor will it pledge to protect Iraq if invaded or establish permanent bases.

Al-Ilyan is one of three leaders of the Iraq Accordance Front, parliament's largest Sunni Arab bloc with 44 of the house's 275 seats. Last year, he played a prominent role in the Sunni decision to walk out of the Cabinet in protest of al-Maliki's policies.

Al-Jaberi is a senior member and former secretary general of Fadhila, a Shiite party that controls the Basra provincial government. The group, which holds 15 seats in parliament, withdrew last year from talks to join al-Maliki's cabinet after complaining of U.S. interference. Party leaders said their decision was in part caused by al-Maliki's failure to give them the country's top oil post, which they held under the previous administration.

On the Net:
House Foreign Affairs international organizations, human rights and oversight subcommittee: http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/sub_oversight.asp?subnavsubcommittees

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