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Al-Maliki critical of U.S. commander

Iraq's prime minister said in remarks aired Friday that the top U.S. commander in Iraq “risked his position” by alleging Iran was trying to bribe lawmakers to vote against the proposed security agreement with the United States.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki briefed top political leaders Friday about the draft agreement, which includes a timeline for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011 and a compromise giving Iraq authority to try U.S. contractors and soldiers for major crimes committed off-duty and off-base.

A government statement said the same group – including President Jalal Talabani, the two vice presidents and leaders of parliament – would meet again in a few days, suggesting some people raised objections.

One lawmaker who attended the meeting said there were discussions for and against the draft and that two Shiite parties boycotted the session. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential.

“There were thorough and important comments,” presidential spokesman Nasser al-Ani said. “To the political and national blocs, the agreement remains in the phase of analysis and study.”

In an interview published Monday in the Washington Post, Gen. Ray Odierno, who took command of the U.S.-led coalition last month, said U.S. intelligence reports indicated Iran has tried to bribe Iraqi lawmakers to derail the agreement, which must be approved by parliament before the U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.

“The American commander has risked his position when he spoke in this tone and has regrettably complicated relations,” al-Maliki told visiting Kuwaiti journalists Thursday. “How can he speak like this about a baseless allegation?”

Odierno and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker met Talabani on Friday and al-Ani, the presidential spokesman, said he understood that Odierno has offered an apology.

The U.S. military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Al-Maliki's aides say the prime minister will hold a series of consultations before submitting the draft to parliament in order to measure public opinion and build political support for the pact. The Shiite leader could be politically isolated if he tries to win parliament's backing in the face of widespread opposition.

Several Sunni and Shiite clerics, who wield considerable influence in shaping public opinion, spoke out Friday against the draft, complaining that the Iraqi public knows little about the terms.

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