Iraq's Sistani has concerns about U.S. pact: source

Other News Materials 29 November 2008 22:33 (UTC +04:00)

Iraq's influential Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has reservations about a pact allowing U.S. troops to stay for three more years, but politicians must decide its value, a source said on Saturday.

Iraq's parliament passed a law approving the long-awaited security pact on Thursday, paving the way for U.S. forces to withdraw by the end of 2011 and taking the country a step closer to full sovereignty. They agreed it should be put to a national referendum by the end of July next year.

The revered cleric's acceptance of the pact is crucial for it to be accepted by Iraq's mostly Shi'ite population, many of whom are at best ambivalent about the continuing presence of U.S. troops on their soil.

"In this agreement there are unsatisfactory things ... Therefore he declares his reservations. His reservations do not mean rejection, but neither does that mean absolute acceptance," a source close to Sistani's office told Reuters.

Sistani had signaled the week before the vote that he would abstain from judging the pact and leave it to lawmakers to decide its fate, on two conditions: that it does not violate Iraq's sovereignty and that it gets consensus from all of its communities. Shi'ites have eagerly awaited his final verdict.

The source said Sistani would not make public which parts of the pact he had concerns about. But he said Sistani wanted politicians to decide "whether the positive aspects outweigh the negative."

Sistani's earlier condition that it must have broad consensus meant Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite alliance had to go through painstaking negotiations to get Sunni Arab parliamentarians on board before the vote.

Lawmakers in Iraq's 275 seat parliament passed the deal with 149 out of 198 present voting for it.

The pact replaces an expiring U.N. mandate and gives Iraq authority over about 150,000 U.S. troops in the country.