WORLD> Middle East
Iraq expects answer on security deal after US vote
Updated: 2008-11-03 10:10

BAGHDAD – Iraq expects an American response to requested changes in a draft security pact soon after this week's US presidential election, an aide to the prime minister said Sunday.

Another Iraqi official said the US indicated it would accept all the proposed changes except one -- greater Iraqi legal control over American soldiers and contractors.

An Iraqi soldier aims his rifle inside a house during a search-raid campaign in the Hay Dragh area of the Mansour neighborhood in western Baghdad, Iraq, on Sunday, November 2, 2008. [Agencies] 

Yassin Majeed said the US response would come after Tuesday's vote so the president-elect -- either Barack Obama or John McCain -- could be briefed on the Iraqi proposals, which were submitted by Iraq's Cabinet last week.

Iraqi lawmakers say the changes are essential in order to win parliamentary approval for the deal, which would keep American troops in this country until 2012 and give the Iraqis a greater role in the conduct of US military operations.

Parliament must approve the agreement before the year-end expiration of the UN mandate that allows coalition forces to operate here legally.

Without an agreement or a new UN mandate, the US military would have to suspend its mission, and the US military's future in Iraq would be up to the man who takes office in January.

McCain supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the troop surge which helped turn the tide.

Obama opposed the invasion and said negotiations on a security agreement should be conducted as part of a "broader commitment" to begin withdrawing the troops. Obama's campaign website says the Democratic candidate believes the agreement also should be approved by Congress.

Among other things, the Iraqis are now asking for a ban on using their territory to attack neighboring countries, removal of language that might allow the US to stay here past 2011 and changes in a clause providing limited Iraqi jurisdiction over US troops.

The current draft provides for limited Iraqi jurisdiction for major crimes committed off post and off duty.

The Iraqis want a joint US-Iraqi committee to decide whether accused soldiers were off duty or on authorized missions.

Another aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he met with US officials Saturday and was told that Washington was prepared to accept all those changes except the one involving jurisdiction.

The official said he urged the Americans to compromise on the jurisdiction request.

US Embassy spokeswoman Susan Ziadeh said the US was "still in the process of considering carefully the Cabinet revisions" and would respond soon. US officials in Washington have described the jurisdiction demand as a non-negotiable "red line."

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said there was "no Iraqi consensus" in support of the agreement, but he expected one to emerge in the coming weeks.

"If the American side agrees to our amendments to the pact, it will be a good pact and we can be proud of it," he said in an interview aired Sunday night by government television.

Privately, many Iraqi officials say they need US troops to guarantee the security gains of the past two years until Iraq's army and police are ready to do the job. Publicly, however, many lawmakers have been reluctant to declare a position on the agreement, fearing a backlash from Iraqis who want foreign forces to leave.

Iraqi authorities are feeling more confident since a sharp drop in violence in the country after the Sunni revolt against al-Qaida and the routing of Shiite militias in Baghdad and southern Iraq last spring.

Still, attacks continue, although at a lower level, and US officials warn the gains are reversible.

Lt. Gen. Nasier Abadi, the Iraqi army's deputy chief of staff, said the military had drawn up a report on its capability to defend the country "in case the friendly forces withdraw." He did not elaborate.