Iraq wants to eliminate any chance U.S. forces will stay in the country after 2011 under a proposed security pact and to expand Iraqi legal jurisdiction over U.S. troops until then, a close ally of the prime minister said Thursday.
Those demands, which were presented to U.S. officials this week, could derail the deal – delivering a diplomatic blow to Washington in the final weeks of the Bush administration.
Failure to reach an agreement before year's end could force a suspension of American military operations, and U.S. commanders have been warning Iraqi officials that could endanger security improvements.
The current draft, hammered out in months of tortuous negotiations, would have U.S. soldiers leave Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011, unless the two governments agreed to an extension for training and supporting Iraqi security forces.
But Ali al-Adeeb, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's inner circle, said the government wants that possibility excluded by language adding finality to the end of 2011 date.
“The Iraqi side wants to remove any mention of a possible extension of U.S. troops, fearing that the existing clause might be subject to misinterpretation or could bear different interpretation,” he said.
Otherwise, he said the U.S. might demand an extension “depending on their evaluation” of the security situation and the state of readiness within Iraq's army and police. U.S. officials have privately suggested 2012 is too early for Iraqi forces to be truly ready to maintain order.
The draft also gives Iraqi courts limited jurisdiction over U.S. troops, allowing them to be prosecuted by Iraqis only if they are accused of major crimes committed off post and off duty.
Al-Adeeb said the Iraqis want to add a provision for a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee to decide whether U.S. soldiers accused of such crimes were really on authorized missions.
Planning Minister Ali Baban, a Sunni, added that the Iraqis want jurisdiction over all U.S. soldiers and contractors unless they are carrying out joint military operations approved by Iraqis – a subtle but significant change to the draft that U.S. authorities may find unacceptable.
Iraqi officials have said the changes must be made in the draft agreement before it can be approved by parliament in time for the Dec. 31 expiration of a U.N. Security Council mandate under which coalition troops operate in Iraq.
Without an agreement or a new U.N. mandate, the U.S. military would have to suspend all operations in Iraq after that.
“We are waiting for a response from the U.S. negotiators on how much they can accommodate,” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told CNN. “I think both sides here have reached the moment of truth. The time window is closing, and a decision has to be made as soon as possible.”
But the Bush administration's hope to secure the deal while in office was fading with the new Iraqi demands, despite White House assurances that an agreement was still possible.