London, Oct 25 : Baghdad is unlikely to sign an agreement with Washington on the future of US forces in Iraq by a critical year-end deadline, Prime Minister of country's largely autonomous Kurdish north has said.
The Times quoted Nechirvan Barzani as saying that a conditions-based target contained in a draft version of the status of forces agreement for all US soldiers to exit the country within three years was "unrealistic" given the limited capabilities of the fledgling Iraqi Army.
Instead, the Prime Minister, who is No.2 in the Kurdish region after Masoud Barzani, the President, predicted a US military presence of some form until 2020.
Iraq's Cabinet this week decided to ask the United States for changes to the text to the frustration of the Bush Administration. US officials have warned of dire consequences to security in the country if an accord is not reached in time.
Barzani said he thought that the Iraqi announcement was mere posturing by politicians wanting to demonstrate their independence from US influence.
"These people probably think that with slogans they can run a country and I believe this is wrong," the Prime Minister said. "They want to be given the credit as heroes or considered as heroes."
He also blamed "external interference", without naming specific countries. Neighbouring Iran, which is close to the Shia Arab parties that hold the majority in Iraq's Government, has been a vociferous opponent of the pact.
Asked whether he thought that the accord would be signed by the end of 2008, when a United Nations Security Council mandate authorising the presence of foreign troops in Iraq is due to expire, Barzani said: "I don't think so. Now they try to make it more complicated so it is not signed."
Abandoning the year-end deadline would force Iraq to return to the United Nations to ask for an emergency extension of the UN mandate, something that has been rolled over every year since the 2003 invasion.