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Iraq's Prime Minister Defends U.S. Security Pact in Public Address

Supporters of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demonstrate against the U.S. status-of-forces pact in Baghdad's Shiite stronghold, Sadr City, on Friday. The deal has been approved by the Iraqi cabinet and will now be put to a vote in parliament. If it passes, U.S. forces would be allowed to stay in Iraq after the expiration of a U.N. mandate Dec. 31.
Supporters of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demonstrate against the U.S. status-of-forces pact in Baghdad's Shiite stronghold, Sadr City, on Friday. The deal has been approved by the Iraqi cabinet and will now be put to a vote in parliament. If it passes, U.S. forces would be allowed to stay in Iraq after the expiration of a U.N. mandate Dec. 31. (By Khalid Mohammed -- Associated Press)

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By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 19, 2008

BAGHDAD, Nov. 18 -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki addressed the nation Tuesday to defend a security pact that would let U.S. troops stay in Iraq three more years and expressed concern that some lawmakers were trying to block it for political reasons.

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The agreement was approved over the weekend by the cabinet and submitted to the parliament, where the government is seeking as strong a vote as possible to shield itself from political fallout.

In his televised speech, Maliki lashed out at politicians who were taking "double positions" on the accord -- speaking one way in public and another in private meetings.

"The deliberations on the conclusion of the security agreement should not be seen as a chance for advancing narrow interests at the expense of the higher national interest or for distorting what the government is trying to achieve," he said.

Maliki said the agreement was "a first step to regain Iraq's sovereignty completely within three years." The document sets a withdrawal deadline of Dec. 31, 2011, for American forces. It also says U.S. troops must leave cities and villages by July 2009 for more distant bases.

It is not clear that all 150,000 American troops will be gone in three years. "There is a provision for an extension by agreement of both sides," a senior U.S. official said this week, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The Iraqis could decide they see a continuing role for U.S. troops, he said. "They have every right to ask us for such a presence."

The role of U.S. troops in Iraqi cities after July may also be greater than the agreement implies. The details of the troops' activities would be worked out in negotiations between the Iraqi and American military, the senior official said.

U.S. commanders have said they think their troops would still be able to work in Iraqi cities as long as they were involved in joint operations with Iraqi security forces.

Although the agreement would allow U.S. forces to remain after the U.N. mandate expires Dec. 31, it reduces their power. American soldiers would have to get Iraqi warrants to make arrests and would have to hand over detainees to Iraqi authorities. The accord strips U.S. contractors of immunity from Iraqi law.

The security agreement was the subject of intense debate in parliament Tuesday. The leaders of the main parties in Maliki's coalition were expected to press their lawmakers to support it. But approval was not guaranteed.

"Maybe the leaders are seeing the big picture and knowing their responsibility, but what I'm seeing in each political group and alliance are those accepting and those against," said Safia al-Souhail, an independent lawmaker.

A vote on the accord is expected before parliament adjourns Tuesday. U.S. officials say they would have to shut down operations if they have no new legal authority for their presence after the U.N. mandate expires.


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