Iraq's government spokesman said Monday the U.S. offers of changes to a draft security agreement were “not enough” and asked Washington to offer new amendments if it wants the pact to win parliamentary approval.
The U.S. submitted a response last week to an Iraqi request for changes in the draft agreement, which would keep U.S. troops in Iraq until 2012 and give Iraq a greater role in the management of the U.S. mission. The comments by spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh were the first response by the Iraqis.
There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials, who had described the latest draft submitted to the Iraqis as a “final text.”
Privately, however, some U.S. officials have said they expect protracted haggling over the agreement, with the Iraqis pressing for more concessions until the last minute.
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“The American answer is not enough for the government to accept it in its current form,” al-Dabbagh told the Associated Press. “There are still some points in which we have not reached a bilateral understanding.”
Al-Dabbagh said the government was inviting the U.S. “to give answers that are suitable to the Iraqis.”
The agreement must be approved by parliament before the Dec. 31 expiration of the U.N. mandate that allows U.S. troops to operate legally. Without an agreement or a new U.N. mandate, U.S. military operations would have to stop as of Jan. 1.
Al-Dabbagh did not detail what points the Iraqis still find unacceptable, but they probably include Baghdad's demand for expanded legal jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers.
The current draft allows Iraqi courts to prosecute soldiers accused of major, premeditated crimes allegedly committed off post and off duty. The Iraqis had asked for elaboration on those charges and a greater role in determining whether specific cases met the criteria for trial in their courts.
But the agreement faces strong opposition, especially within the majority Shiite community, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's political support. Several influential Shiite clerics have spoken out against the deal, and radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has vowed to oppose it.