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Middle East
Iraq and US sign forces agreement
Iraqi parliament begins debate on security pact despite al-Sadr bloc's protest.
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2008 18:18 GMT

Crocker, left, and Zebari signed the Sofa pact on Monday that has been sent to parliament [AFP]

Iraq and the US have signed a security accord requiring Washington to withdraw its forces by the end of 2011.

The Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa) pact was signed on Monday by Hoshiyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador, at a ceremony in Baghdad.

Under the deal, a system will be provided for Iraqi courts to try US soldiers for serious crimes committed while off-duty, but only under very tight conditions.

"Definitely, today is a historic day for Iraqi-American relations," Zebari said.

The two men also signed a long-term strategic framework, which Crocker said would define the countries' ties for years.

'Historic day'

"It reminds us all that, at a time when US forces will continue to withdraw from Iraq in recognition of the superlative security gains over the last few years, our relationship will develop in many other important ways," Crocker said.

Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, said on Tuesday: "The agreement contains no secret clauses.

"There shall be no permanent bases for the United States on Iraqi soil ... Iraq will remain a sovereign, free and independent state and have the absolute liberty to manage its own riches."

"The agreement contains no secret clauses"

Nuri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister

The pact commits Washington to withdraw its force of about 150,000 troops by December 31, 2011.

The pact was expected to pass Iraq's 275-member parliament after receiving approval from the 28 cabinet members on Sunday, with the support of the major political blocs representing Iraq's Shia majority and its Sunni and Kurdish communities.

A senior US official involved in the negotiations said the decision to relent and include a withdrawal date was taken a few months ago to make the accord politically palatable in Iraq.

"Opponents of the agreement, including Iran and others, were framing this as a permanent occupation," he said.

"It was the opposite."

First reading

Iraqi members of parliament held on Monday a first reading of the pact, the start of an approval process that could run into next week.

Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi Shia leader, failed to halt the first reading.

Deputies from al-Sadr's bloc have opposed the agreement.

The US is awaiting approval from Iraq's parliament on the troop pact [AFP]

"We want the law on treaties and conventions to be the only thing discussed today, not the accord with the United States," Aqil Abdel Hussein, head of al-Sadr's group, said.

Al-Sadr and his followers have vowed to hold mass demonstrations to demand the immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces if an agreement is reached with the US "occupier".

"The Sadr movement will use every legal avenue to work to stop this agreement," Mahmud Mashhadani, the Iraqi speaker of parliament, said.

Parliament adjourned after reading both bills on Monday.

The deputy speaker said on Sunday that the military pact would pass through a week-long process of deliberation before a final vote on November 24.

But parliament has no power to make changes to the text of the agreement.

Mixed reactions

In its first reaction, a senior Syrian official dismissed the deal as an "award to the occupiers" of Iraq.

"We shouldn't give occupiers any reward or prize ... On the contrary, they should apologise for the damage they have caused," Mohsen Bilal, the Syrian information minister, said.

He said the pact "gives [the US] rights at the expense of the Iraqi people and their neighbours".

Iran's reaction has been much more positive. Hassan Qashqavi, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, did not explicitly reject the agreement on Monday.

Another senior Iranian official welcomed the deal for the first time, saying the Iraqi government acted "very well" in approving it.

Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi said: "The Iraqi government has done very well regarding this (security pact).

"We hope the outcome ... will be in favour of Islam and Iraqi sovereignty."

Source:
Agencies
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