Resistance on Bilateral Agreements

Iraq Wants U.S. to Compromise More on Security Deals

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

KUWAIT CITY, April 21 -- Iraq is resisting U.S. proposals for a pair of new bilateral security agreements, saying it expects Washington to compromise on "sensitive issues," including the right to imprison Iraqi citizens unilaterally, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Monday.

Other problematic areas now being negotiated, Zebari said in an interview, are provisions in U.S. drafts to give American contractors immunity from Iraqi law and allow the United States to conduct military operations without Iraqi government coordination. "These are the main ones, but there could be others," he said, among them "issues of sites, of locations, of access" by U.S. troops.

The Iraqi people "expect to see a change in the relationship on internment, and on some sovereignty issues," Zebari said. About 23,000 Iraqis are currently held in U.S. military prisons there.

Zebari spoke in Bahrain, where he was attending a meeting with Egypt, Jordan and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who also attended the meeting and had pressed the Arabs to invite Zebari, called the session a "good step toward reintegrating" Iraq into the Arab world.

The United States has been trying to persuade the leaders of predominantly Sunni Arab states to increase diplomatic and economic support for the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. One goal is to counter the influence of Iran, whose government is overseen by Shiite clerics.

Many of those who attended the Bahrain gathering -- including Rice and Zebari -- then traveled to Kuwait for a regional meeting Tuesday on Iraq that is also to include representatives of the Group of Eight highly industrialized nations.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met here with Rice on Monday night, one day after she visited him in Baghdad.

The United States and Iraq are negotiating a status of forces agreement and a separate "strategic framework" to replace the existing U.N. mandate governing the U.S. troop presence. The mandate expires at the end of this year. A growing and bipartisan number of U.S. lawmakers have demanded that the Bush administration submit the agreements for congressional approval.

Democrats have charged that the Bush administration is attempting to tie the next administration to its military policy in Iraq. Republicans fear that President Bush's refusal to seek congressional ratification will compound public dissatisfaction with the war and become a negative campaign issue.

The White House has said that Bush can use his executive authority to sign the agreements and that they do not require congressional approval. He has pledged they will not include authorization for specific U.S. troop numbers or "permanent" military bases.

Zebari agreed that the accords would be nonbinding and said Iraq would also retain the ability to review and change them at any time. He said he expected the negotiations to be concluded by a July 31 deadline. "It's not going to be easy," Zebari said. "If you want to reach a final agreement, there has to be compromise."

Maliki's government, which has its own internal discord, has said that both accords will have to be ratified by the Iraqi parliament.

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