News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIran scuppers US deal for key troops in Iraq

Iran scuppers US deal for key troops in Iraq

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ImageDaily Telegraph: Iran is successfully blocking US efforts to secure a long-term troop presence in Iraq, the American ambassador to Baghdad has conceded.

The Daily Telegraph

Iran is successfully blocking US efforts to secure a long-term troop presence in Iraq, the American ambassador to Baghdad has conceded.

By Damien McElroy, Foreign Affairs Correspondent

ImageIn remarks that acknowledged that Tehran is at least as powerful as Washington in Iraq's corridors of power, Ryan Crocker blamed Iran for delays in finalising an agreement that would underpin the US operation in Iraq beyond the end of this year.

Iraqi and American negotiators missed a July deadline to seal a legal framework for US bases and troop operations in the country. Until Mr Crocker's remarks that Iran was "pushing very hard" against the deal, Iranian interference was a factor that went officially unacknowledged.

Mr Crocker also told the Los Angeles Times that Iran was exerting increasing control over extremist Shia muslim activists that were previous linked to the upstart cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr. He said:

"I think what we may be seeing is a situation in which these groups or their successors are far more tightly linked to Tehran and perhaps less linked to Sadr."

America maintains more than 140,000 troops in Iraq as part of an active combat operation to defeat both Sunni terrorists linked to al Qaeda and Shia militias implicated in the deadly violence of Iraq's civil war. But the UN mandate that legitimised and granted legal protection to the US-led coalition that overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003 is due to expire at the end of the year.

Iran has condemned leaked drafts of the bilateral agreement to replace the mandate. Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, replaced professional diplomats on the negotiating team with members of his private office in August, a development that has pro-Iranian politicians at the heart of the negotiations.

Baghdad maintains that US efforts to secure immunity from prosecution in Iraq for troops and contractors is an unacceptible demand. David Satterfield, the top US negotiator, travelled to Baghdad with a counter proposal but Mr Crocker admitted Mr Maliki was unwilling to concede the principle when popular opinion in Iraq was overwhelmingly opposed.

"The Iraqi people disagree with anything that breaks their independence and sovereignty and judicial sovereignty," he said. "On this basis, the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government look at the agreement as being imposed on them."

Mr Maliki has also insisted that the US pull out all its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 but the US is only prepared to concede a transition to fully Iraq control of security by that date would be a shared goal.

Securing the approval of the Iraqi parliament for any deal looms as a further impediment to a quick resolution of the impasse. Iraqi MPs have warned that there is deep suspicion of US intentions across the political spectrum. Dhafer al-Ani, a Sunni politician, warned that parliament would conduct a protracted debate on the document: "Due to the sensitivity of the issue, the arguments in parliament will be acute."

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