Sadrists fight U.S. security pact

Shiite clerics warned the government Friday not to sign a security pact that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq until 2012, as the prime minister studied what U.S. officials described as the final draft of the agreement.

Parliament must approve the agreement by year's end when the U.N. mandate expires. Failure to approve the agreement or get the U.N. Security Council to issue a new mandate would force the U.S. to suspend operations in the country.

Last month, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Cabinet proposed amendments to the pact, including a demand for expanded Iraqi legal authority over U.S. soldiers and the removal of language that could allow U.S. troops to stay past 2012.

Iraq also asked for an explicit ban on the use of Iraqi soil for attacks against the country's neighbors and authority to search all U.S. military shipments into and out of Iraq.

Washington sent its response to the proposals Thursday and said the next move belongs to Baghdad.

Details of the U.S. response have not been released, but Iraqi officials said the U.S. accepted some proposals and rejected others. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

Nevertheless, several influential Shiite clerics criticized the agreement during sermons Friday, the main Muslim day of worship, arguing that the deal serves U.S. interests more than those of Iraq.