Iraq's foreign minister says his country is "very close" to finalizing
a deal with the United States that would allow American troops to
remain in the country beyond 2008.
Hoshyar Zebari discussed
the progress of negotiations between Baghdad and Washington Tuesday
during a joint press conference with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
John Negroponte in Baghdad's protected "Green Zone."
sides have been working on an agreement that would keep U.S. forces in
Iraq after the United Nations' mandate for the multi-national force
expires December 31.
But they have been divided over the issue of granting U.S. servicemen immunity for crimes committed in Iraq.
ambassador to the U.S. Samir Sumaidaie told VOA Kurdish Service Tuesday
the modifications being made to the pact favor Iraq. He added the
negotiations stand as proof of Iraq's sovereignty.
media in neighboring Iran say Iraq's parliamentary speaker, Mahmoud
al-Mashhadani, is in Tehran to discuss the Status of Forces Agreement
and other issues with Iranian leaders.
The Sunni Arab speaker
went to the Iranian capital a day later than he had planned. His plane
was refused permission to land in Tehran Monday for what Iranian
officials called "technical problems."
Meanwhile, the crown
prince of Abu Dhabi made an unannounced trip to Baghdad Tuesday and met
with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The visit by Sheikh
Mohammed Bin Zayed al-Nahayan, who is also deputy commander of the
United Arab Emirates military, comes just two days after a visit by
Egypt's foreign minister.
Baghdad has been eager to improve
its ties with its Arab neighbors. The recent diplomatic activity may
be a sign that the mainly Sunni-led Arab states are beginning to warm
to the Shi'ite and Kurdish-led Iraqi government.
In other news,
a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi policeman were killed during a gun battle
with a suspected member of al-Qaida in the northern city of Mosul
Tuesday. Military officials say the two were killed during a joint
operation at a house occupied by the suspect. The militant also died
in the battle, and the house was destroyed by U.S. airships.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.