Qassim Abdul-Zahra / Associated Press – 2008-10-30 09:50:44
BAGHDAD (October 30, 2008) — Iraq wants a security agreement with the United States to include a clear ban on US troops using Iraqi territory to attack Iraq’s neighbors, the government spokesman said Wednesday, three days after a dramatic US raid on Syria.
Also Wednesday, the country’s most influential Shiite cleric expressed concern that Iraqi sovereignty be protected in the pact. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani wields vast influence among the Shiite majority and his explicit opposition could scuttle the deal.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the ban was among four proposed amendments to the draft agreement approved by the Cabinet this week and forwarded to the United States.
President Bush said Wednesday that the United States had received and negotiators were analyzing the Iraqis’ proposed amendments to the so-called Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA.
“We obviously want to be helpful and constructive without undermining basic principles,” Bush said in the Oval Office during a meeting with Massoud Barzani, president of the semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. “I remain very open and confident that the SOFA will get passed.”
Al-Dabbagh said the Iraqis want the right to declare the agreement null and void if the United States unilaterally attacks one of Iraq’s neighbors.
US troops conducted a daring daylight attack Sunday a few miles into Syrian territory against what US officials said was a key figure in al Qaeda in Iraq’s operation that moves foreign fighters and weapons into Iraq.
A senior US official said the al Qaeda in Iraq figure, an Iraqi known as Abu Ghadiyah, was killed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the raid was classified.
Syria says eight civilians died and has demanded an apology.
For nearly two weeks, Iraqi politicians have been considering the draft security agreement, which would keep US troops in Iraq through 2011 unless both sides agree that they could stay longer.
The pact also would give the Iraqis a greater role in supervising US military operations and allow Iraqi courts to try US soldiers and contractors accused of major crimes off duty and off base.
But critics say the current version, reached after months of tough negotiations, does not go far enough in protecting Iraqi sovereignty, and key Shiite politicians argue it stands little chance of approval in Iraq’s fractious parliament in its current form.
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