Iraq says U.S. deal would ban strikes on neighbours
Iraq wants to amend a draft security pact with the United States to ban U.S. forces from striking neighbouring countries from Iraqi territory, a government spokesman said on Wednesday, acording to Reuters.
Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Iraq also wanted to change the wording covering the possible prosecution of U.S. soldiers in Iraqi courts, a sensitive issue for Washington.
U.S. negotiators began on Wednesday to scrutinize the changes demanded by Iraq to the security pact, which sets the conditions for U.S. troops to operate in the country after their United Nations mandate expires in December.
U.S. President George W. Bush said he was still "hopeful and confident" a security deal could be agreed.
"We're analyzing those amendments, we obviously want to be helpful and constructive without undermining basic principles," Bush said after meeting the leader of Iraq's Kurdistan region, Masoud Barzani, at the White House.
The issue of cross-border attacks flared after Syrian officials said U.S. troops landed by helicopter on Sunday and killed eight civilians in a village. Washington says it targeted a smuggler of foreign fighters into Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government, after saying the raid was on an area used by militants to launch attacks, on Tuesday denounced the U.S. operation and said Iraq must not be used to stage attacks on other nations.
State Department and Pentagon officials repeated the stated U.S. view that the current draft agreement respects Iraqi sovereignty while protecting U.S. troops.
A senior State Department official suggested the negotiations could drag on for some time.
"Everybody knows what (the) endgames of negotiations look like. I couldn't even tell you if this is the endgame yet," said the official, who asked not to be named.
Both sides are working hard to reach an agreement before the existing U.N. mandate for the roughly 150,000 U.S. troops expires at the end of the year, said Brig.-Gen. David Perkins, a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.
"Nobody wants to turn the clock back. Nobody wants to lose the security that has been hard fought and gained," he said.
Iraq irked Washington by announcing last week it wanted changes to the pact, which was worked out by U.S. diplomats and Iraqi negotiators hand-picked by Maliki.