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US bows to Iraqi demands over troop withdraw

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October 15, 2008

US bows to Iraqi demands over troop withdrawal

Richard Beeston and Deborah Haynes

America today appeared to bow to Baghdad’s demands about the future status of their troops in Iraq, apparently agreeing that they must leave the country in three years time and could face prosecution in an Iraqi court if they break the law.

According to US and Iraqi officials, negotiators from the two sides have agreed the wording of a draft document that will radically redefine the relationship between the 150,000 US forces and their Iraqi hosts. The deal, yet to be approved by Iraqi leaders, the cabinet and parliament, must be in place by December 31 when the existing UN Security Council mandate expires.

An agreement between the two sides would open the way for a separate arrangement to allow 4,000 British forces and other smaller coalition members to remain in Iraq as well.

The US State Department confirmed that a “text” was being considered but that it was not finalised. “Nothing is done until everything is done. Everything isn’t done,” a spokesman said. “The Iraqis are still talking among themselves. We are still talking to the Iraqis. The process is not complete.”

The document stipulates that US forces must be out of Iraqi cities by mid-2009 and leave the country altogether by the end of 2011, unless the Iraqis ask them to stay.

“The withdrawal will be achieved in three years,” said Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi Government spokesman. “In 2011 the government at that time will determine whether it needs a new pact or not, and what type of pact will depend on the challenges it faces.”

By far the most contentious issue is the question of immunity, which American forces and Pentagon civilian contractors currently enjoy. Mr al-Dabbagh said that from January 1, Iraq would be able to prosecute US troops if they commit crimes outside their bases while off duty or on unauthorised missions. They could be held under US custody but would have to appear for questioning by Iraqi investigators and for trial in an Iraqi court.

Very few US soldiers ever leave their bases off duty. But Iraqis have been enraged by a series of atrocities committed by US forces, who in Iraqi eyes appeared to get away with murder.

In the most notorious case a 14-year-old girl was raped and killed by US paratroopers and three members of her family murdered in Mahmoudiya south of Baghdad. Four soldiers have pleaded guilty in a US court and a fifth, Steven Dale Green, is due to stand trial next year.

At the weekend Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, told The Times that the immunity question was still a sticking point. Now the Bush Administration appears to have backed down. If a deal is not in place by the end of the year, US forces would have no legal status and would be confined to barracks until they could be withdrawn.

The other alternative is simply to roll over the UN Security Council resolution, though Washington is concerned that a more assertive Russia could wield its veto to block the move.

Full story, source: The Times

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