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IRAQ: Crunch time for Iraqi-U.S. security agreement

October 13, 2008 |  1:26 pm

Iraqsecurity

The coming few weeks could prove crucial to the fate of a long term Iraq-U.S. security agreement. The deal has stalled for months amid differences between the sides, including real reluctance and outright opposition by some Iraqi officials to the continued presence of American forces in Iraq.

Since missing a July deadline to complete the deal, the Iraqis and Americans have been deadlocked over Iraq’s insistence that U.S. soldiers should not be exempt from Iraqi law. Western officials and Iraqis have also faulted the American side for a poor start to the negotiation process last spring, when its negotiators made demands now deemed way too high, including insisting on the right to conduct operations without Iraqi approval.

The return of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to the capital late last month could break the stalemate. Talabani, who left in August for the United States, where he had heart surgery, has met for the last two days with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. Today, the presidency council announced in a statement that Talabani, Maliki, Kurdistan regional President Massoud Barzani and vice presidents Tariq Hashimi and Adel Abdel Mahdi planned to hold talks on the agreement.

The failure to make headway has convinced some Iraqi officials familiar with the negotiations that Maliki and some other Shiite lawmakers are reluctant to sign an agreement in part because they fear it would damage their political prospects. U.S. officials have blamed Iran for meddling in the process.

Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr has also been a fierce opponent of a deal and has planned a demonstration for central Baghdad this Saturday to protest the five-year anniversary of the American presence in Iraq -- after postponing demonstrations last April. One senior Iraqi official said the planned talks by the presidency council and Barzani could provide Maliki the political cover to put the agreement before parliament. The U.N. Security Council resolution that sanctions U.S. troops in Iraq expires on Dec. 31.

In other developments, Maliki told Iraq’s electoral commission today that he wanted provincial elections to be held by the end of the year, and vowed to provide the security to make it happen. An election law passed last month calls for the elections to be held by the end of January.

The vote will determine who controls power in provinces and could bring new voices into government, after most Sunnis skipped the last local elections in January 2005. The government had originally planned to hold the vote by October, but then the parliament could not agree on an election law before it adjourned for its summer break in August.

— Ned Parker in Baghdad

Photo: An Iraqi security guard keeps watch as Iraqi pupils are on their way to attend the first day of their 2008/2009 school year in Baghdad on Oct. 13. ALI ABBAS / European Pressphoto Agency

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