Shiites protest proposed U.S.-Iraq pact

Thousands of Shiites rallied Friday against a proposed U.S.-Iraqi security pact, while one of Iran's most influential politicians urged Iraq's government and religious leaders to block the deal.

Followers of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have held weekly protests against the deal, which critics fear will extend American military, economic and political domination of the country. They got support Friday from former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

“Americans persistently want to impose the agreement, which surely does not support the interests of Iraq and is harmful to the future of Iraq,” Rafsanjani said during a sermon in Tehran. “God willing, the Iraqi nation – with the awareness and leadership of clerics and the awareness of the Iraqi government – will not allow such a miserable event to happen.”

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari criticized Tehran for trying to interfere in the negotiations over the deal, which have stumbled over issues involving immunity and oversight for U.S. forces.

“The people who objected to the agreement right from the start were Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army and some officials in the Islamic Republic,” he told U.S.-funded Alhurra TV, referring to Iran and two Shiite groups it allegedly supports.

The proposed agreement, which has been under negotiation for most of this year, would replace the U.N. mandate. Any agreement must be ratified by the Iraqi parliament.

The main sticking points include Iraqi objections to blanket immunity for U.S. troops and private contractors and demands for oversight over American forces during raids and detentions.

With time running out, a U.S. negotiating team led by top State Department adviser David Satterfield returned this week to Iraq to continue talks.