October 9, 2008

Legal Immunity Stalls Forces Deal

By The Associated Press

BAGHDAD (AP) - The Iraqi foreign minister said Tuesday it will require "bold political decisions" to resolve the major issue standing in the way of a deal allowing American troops to remain here next year - who would try U.S. troops accused of crimes.Neighboring Iran stepped up pressure against the proposed agreement, with President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad telling a visiting Iraqi official that Iraq had "a duty" to resist the Americans and another Iranian leader warning of unspecified consequences throughout the region.American and Iraqi negotiators have been working for months to hammer out an agreement governing the operations of U.S. forces in this country after the current U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.Iraqi officials say the draft calls for U.S. troops to leave the country by the end of 2011 unless the Baghdad government asks them to stay.But legal immunity for U.S. soldiers under Iraqi law has emerged as the major obstacle, with neither side able to find language to satisfy the other.The U.S. wants the exclusive right to prosecute soldiers accused of crimes. The Iraqis want some form of legal jurisdiction over American soldiers as an affirmation of national sovereignty.Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the Americans had submitted new ideas and language that "could be acceptable or reasonable." He gave no details and cautioned that the government had not accepted them."I don't want to give you any false hope about where we are, but I think we are very close," he told reporters at a press conference with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.Zebari said the immunity issue "needs, I think, some bold political decisions. And we are at that stage.""And that's why I suggested that soon you and your colleagues will see hectic political meetings here in Baghdad on this issue to determine the fate of the agreement."Negroponte refused to discuss details of the talks, saying only that "both countries are pursuing this issue from the point of view of their own national self-interest."The deal must be approved by parliament, and Iraqi officials fear opposition unless the agreement satisfies Iraqi nationalists and Shiite politicians with close links to Shiite- dominated Iran.An official of one of the Sunni parliamentary blocs, Hamid al-Mutlaq, said no meaningful agreement was possible "between an occupied country and the occupier."

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