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US, Iraq Reach Draft Agreement on Status of US Forces


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.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says negotiators have reached a draft accord, which senior officials in both countries are now evaluating.

"This 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.

Morrell 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.

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.

But the 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.

The 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.