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Iraqi Parliament Members Discuss US-Iraq Agreements


Two members of Iraq's parliament have testified before a congressional committee about future U.S. - Iraq relations. As VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, in their testimony, the two members of Iraq's Council of Representatives urged a delay in agreements being negotiated with the United States.

U.S. and Iraqi officials hope to conclude negotiations by the end of July on a framework accord defining a long-term bilateral security relationship, and a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) formalizing the basis for a U.S. troop presence after a United Nations mandate expires at the end of this year.

But this week, an Iraqi government spokesman pointed to differences with the United States, saying the two sides were still far apart, and Iraq is concerned about preserving its sovereignty and protecting its interests.

The Bush administration asserts that neither prospective agreement would commit U.S. troops to defend Iraq against internal or external threats, or authorize U.S. bases in Iraq, although a non-binding statement of principles signed last year included language about defending Iraq against threats.

Democrats and some Republicans believe Congress must approve any accord. Here is Massachusetts Congressman William Delahunt.

"We continue to demand of President Bush and Secretary Rice that any agreement that is beyond the typical status of forces agreement, and I underscored the word typical, is brought before the U.S Congress, whether it be an international agreement or a treaty for the approval of this House and the U.S. Senate," said Congressman Delahunt.

Iraqi parliament member and professor Nadeem al-Jaberi asserts that negotiations are being hurried, and says Iraq's government isn't ready to undertake such a commitment.

"We believe that for any bilateral agreement to be signed it would be better it would be done after the withdrawal of American troops, when Iraq is fully qualified and when the Iraqi government is in a position to defend the interests of the Iraqi people," said Nadeem al-Jaberi.

Representative Delahunt pointed to a letter to the U.S. Congress signed by 34 members of Iraq's parliament. It states that any U.S.-Iraq agreement must be ratified by Iraq's Council of Representatives, and rejects any accord not requiring a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.

Iraqi parliament member Sheikh Khalaf al-Ulayyan, from Sunni al-Anbar province, says any U.S. withdrawal that is not carefully-planned would be dangerous and leave Iraq open to a takeover by Iran.

But he agrees that a U.S.-Iraq agreement should be delayed until a new U.S. president takes office.

"This agreement if it is to go through right now will make things more difficult and we prefer to delay this agreement until there is a new administration in the U.S. Hopefully the new administration will take decisions that will serve the interests of the American people and Iraq," said Sheikh Khalaf al-Ulayyan.

Ulayyan says Iraq will need ongoing help in all aspects, including the training and equipping of its military, but he says any future U.S. presence should be strictly civilian rather than military.

He faced this question from Republican Dana Rohrabacher:

ROHRABACHER: "Would you have preferred that the U.S. would not have conducted the military operations it did in order to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein?"

ULAYYAN: "We prefer [that] it [wouldn't have] happened, because this led to the destruction of the country."

ROHRABACHER: "OK, so you would have preferred the U.S. not to have gone in and got rid of Saddam Hussein?"

ULAYYAN: "The United States got rid of one person but they brought hundreds of persons who are worse than Saddam."

Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service believes chances are unlikely of securing Iraqi parliament approval of any draft agreement by July.

"Maliki is going to have to water down the agreement so much, and try to limit what the U.S. military can do in Iraq so much, that it would then become unacceptable to the U.S. military in terms of what legal status the U.S. military would be under, and mainly the freedom of action enjoyed by U.S. forces after such agreements," said Katzman.

A senior Iranian official, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, issued a sharp public criticism Wednesday of U.S.-Iraqi security negotiations.

The remarks, in Saudi Arabia, came in advance of the second visit in a year to Iran by Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki.

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