Iraqi Says Pact With U.S. Is Near

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 8, 2008

BAGHDAD, Oct. 7 -- Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Tuesday that "bold political decisions" will be needed to approve a deal to extend the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq past the end of the year.

"We are very close to a satisfactory result," Zebari said at a news conference with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte inside the heavily fortified Green Zone.

For months, U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have struggled to reach an agreement that would replace a United Nations mandate, set to expire Dec. 31, that authorizes the presence of U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq. The Iraqis have said that any deal would set in place a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2011, unless conditions on the ground require U.S. forces to stay longer at the Iraqi government's invitation.

A major sticking point has been whether U.S. troops would remain immune from prosecution for crimes on Iraqi soil that are unrelated to combat. The Iraqi government has argued that as a sovereign authority, it should have jurisdiction over American troops, a demand that U.S. commanders oppose.

Without providing specifics, Zebari said that "new ideas, new formulations and new language" that could be acceptable to Iraqi lawmakers have been hammered out on the issue of legal jurisdiction and immunity. The agreement must be approved by Iraq's parliament.

"I don't want to give you any false hope about where we are, but I think we are very close," Zebari said. "These issues need some bold political decisions. And we are at that stage."

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