Iraq's premier confirms differences on US security deal

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki Thursday confirmed there were "differences" between Baghdad and Washington over the long-term security agreement for stationing of US troops in Iraq.

"We have not yet reached an agreement on a security pact," al- Maliki said during a visit to Jordan. "It is merely blueprints still under negotiation, and we have differences over those drafts."

He was speaking to reporters at a joint press conference with his Jordanian counterpart, Nader Dahabi.

With its UN mandate in Iraq set to expire in December, the US government has been involved since March in lengthy negotiations with Iraq over a strategic framework agreement, would lay out the basis for long-term bilateral relations, and a status of forces agreement, which would set the legal basis for the presence of US troops in Iraq and spell out the legal rights and obligations of the troops.

The major sticking points in the negotiations include the US demand for absolute powers in the anti-terror fight, which would undermine Iraq's sovereignty, Iraqi legislator MP Hasan al-Sanid, who is close to al-Maliki, said last week.

Iraq also rejects Washington's demand for absolute immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law for its troops and independent security contractors, he said.

Both parties hope to seal the deal by July and have tried to allay objections within Iraq and the US with reassurances that the US presence would not be permanent and would not be used to launch attacks on neighbouring countries.

On Wednesday, US Major General Kevin Bergner, a military spokesman, told reporters in Baghdad that the US has "no intent" and "no desire" for permanent bases for US forces in Iraq or to use Iraq as a base for "offensive purpose."

US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and David Satterfield, the US State Department's senior advisor for Iraq, are handling the negotiations.

Crocker last week denied reports that the US was looking to maintain control of Iraq's airspace.

The agreement will be made transparent to the public when agreement is reached, and "will reinforce the sovereignty of Iraq," Bergner said. Iraq's council of Representatives would have the final say on whether the agreement "is acceptable to the Iraqi people," he said.

In Washington, the talks have drawn fire from the Democratic- controlled Congress. Democrats insists any agreement must be approved by the US legislature and could bind the hands of the next president, who will take office in January.

Satterfield said this week that the security agreement would not require the approval of congress.

In Washington, a congressional security committee had asked for and was to receive a closed-door briefing on the negotiations, the US State Department said this week.

The top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, told Congress last month that more pullouts of the roughly 140,000 US troops could begin this fall, but the majority are expected to remain in the country at least until a new US president takes office next year, dpa reported.

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