Iraq and the U.S. are “very close” to reaching a security agreement on the future American military presence in the country but have not resolved the question of granting U.S. soldiers immunity from prosecution, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Tuesday.
Speaking at a news conference in Baghdad's Green Zone with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, Zebari said that the two sides were near a deal but that “bold political decisions” would have be made by Dec. 31, when the current U.N. security resolution mandating the multinational force expires.
The negotiations come at critical times for both nations. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, determined to show he is independent of Washington, wants more control over security and is insisting on a U.S. troop withdrawal by the end of 2011. The U.S. is facing a widening financial crisis at home and a public growing wary of the high costs of keeping more than 146,000 soldiers in Iraq.
Iraqi military forces have made strides in taking over many operations in recent months, but Washington is concerned that ceding too much responsibility to the Iraqis too quickly could jeopardize the country's declining violence and improved security. Two bombs exploded outside the Green Zone near the Iraqi Foreign Ministry shortly before Zebari and Negroponte met with reporters.
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Among the contentious points in negotiations are a specific withdrawal date and Washington's demand that U.S. soldiers in Iraq have immunity from local prosecution. Al-Maliki is facing pressure from nationalists not to allow soldiers to escape prosecution. American soldiers have faced U.S. military court martials for alleged crimes.
Questions of criminal jurisdiction intensified among politicians after revelations in 2007 that Blackwater private security guards accused of killing civilians would not be tried in Iraqi courts.