Iraq: U.S. flexible on security pact

Iraq's foreign minister said Wednesday that the wide gap between Iraq and the United States over the future of U.S. forces in Iraq had narrowed after the American side had shown “excellent flexibility” on issues that had threatened to derail the accord.

Hoshyar Zebari said that the two sides had reached “an acceptable result” on one of those divisive issues: the immunity of private security companies from Iraqi law. He said it now was agreed that the Iraqi judiciary “should have the final decision” on the issue of arresting U.S. citizens.

“The Americans accepted after very deep study and because of the sensitivity of the issue that the private security companies, which our people have suffered from in more than one incident, are not included in the legal immunity,” he said.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad wouldn't comment on the negotiations.

The status of forces agreement would set out the rules governing how American troops could operate in Iraq. Iraqi negotiators also have insisted that it place the tens of thousands of private security contractors in the country under the rule of Iraqi law.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had declared the talks at an impasse after a U.S. draft of the agreement said that the U.S. would have access to 58 military bases, control of Iraqi airspace and immunity from prosecution for American soldiers and private contractors.

Several issues remain to be resolved, including who will control Iraq's airspace and how many military bases the U.S. can utilize. President Bush has expressed a desire to conclude the agreement by July 31. Zebari indicated that there was still a lot of work to be done on the pact when he characterized the U.S. position as “we can keep our military presence in any country, without a legal framework.”

Separately, the U.S. military acknowledged that two Iraqi civilians were killed and nine wounded in Baghdad Wednesday when a 4th Infantry Division 1st Brigade Combat Unit returned fire after insurgents launched rockets from the West Rashid district.