October 7, 2008

Iraq, U.S. Inch Closer to Security Pact

Iraq and the United States are close to reaching a security agreement on a continued U.S. military presence in that country, the Iraqi foreign minister said.

Still unresolved, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said, is the issue of granting to U.S. soldiers immunity from prosecution, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Speaking Tuesday at a news conference in Baghdad with Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, Zebari said the sides were nearing a deal but tough decisions must be made by Dec. 31, when the U.N. security resolution mandating the multinational force expires.

A contentious point is a specific withdrawal date for U.S. combat troops, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calling for a withdrawal by the end of 2011, the Times said.

Maliki also is facing pressure from nationalists not to allow U.S. soldiers to escape prosecution for crimes committed in Iraq.

Criminal jurisdiction requires "some bold political decisions. And we are at that stage," Zebari said.

Negroponte said the countries approached the question "from the point-of-view of their own national self-interest," the Times reported.

Meanwhile, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Iraq's two vice presidents approved a provincial elections law. The elections are expected to occur by Jan. 31.