The Pentagon says U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have reached a draft
agreement establishing the legal framework for U.S. troops to stay in
Iraq after the United Nations authorization expires at the end of the
year. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
Secretary Geoff Morrell says negotiators have reached a draft accord,
which senior officials in both countries are now evaluating.
is, as I mentioned, not yet a final document," he said. "There is a
draft that includes language that has been agreed upon by Iraqi and
U.S. negotiators, but is of course still subject to the normal
political process in both of our nations."
One of the main
issues in dispute has been whether U.S. troops accused of crimes in
Iraq would be tried by Iraqi courts, or by the U.S. military. Iraq has
insisted on Iraqi jurisdiction, and the United States has been
reluctant to agree. There are reports the negotiators agreed to allow
Iraqi prosecution only for major crimes allegedly committed off duty.
would not confirm that, but said Defense Secretary Robert Gates is
calling key members of Congress to tell them what is in the draft and
ask for their support.
"I don't think the secretary would be
making phone calls in support of the document if he didn't believe it
adequately protected our forces in Iraq, in really all facets of their
operations there, from combat to legal protections," said Morrell.
points out that some of the dozens of similar agreements the United
States has with countries around the world do allow for local
prosecution of U.S. troops in some circumstances.
Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin,
said Wednesday he is "skeptical" of an agreement that would potentially
subject U.S. service members to prosecution in Iraqi courts in the
middle of a war in a country where, he says, the judicial system has
not been "proven to be fair" and to protect defendants' rights.
Congress does not need to vote on this agreement, but Secretary Gates
promised members he would consult with them before finalizing any
agreement. In Iraq, the agreement must go through four levels of
approval, ending with the parliament.
Geoff Morrell says the
draft includes target dates for the withdrawal of at least some of the
154,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq. He said Iraqi officials were
firm in arguing to include such dates.
"Any withdrawal dates
that are in this, and there are dates in this document, and I won't get
into what those dates are, are entirely conditions based," he said.
"These are not ad hoc, willy nilly, arbitrary timelines. These are
goals that we have agreed to that will only be followed if the
conditions on the ground provide for it."
Morrell says nothing in the draft would commit the next U.S. president to any troop level or any security commitment for Iraq.