Deal on American presence in Iraq close to collapse

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London, Oct 26 : Senior Iraqi politicians have warned that a crucial deal between Baghdad and Washington governing the presence of American troops in the country is doomed to failure after eight months of talks.

"The Sofa [Status of Forces Agreement] is dead in the water," said one Iraqi politician close to the talks, The Times reported.

He added that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki believed that signing it would be "political suicide".

The collapse of the deal would severely undermine American policy. An agreement is needed to put America's presence on a legal basis after the United Nations mandate for its 154,000 troops in Iraq expires on December 31.

The draft pact, painstakingly negotiated in Baghdad by Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador, and US generals, calls for a withdrawal of American forces from Iraq's main cities by the end of 2009 and a complete withdrawal by 2011.

The Americans made what they considered to be a significant compromise by agreeing to Iraqi jurisdiction over any troops who committed "serious crimes" while off duty.

They also agreed that American soldiers acting on their own would no longer be able to arrest suspected insurgents. They would need Iraqi permission to make arrests.

Despite the concessions it emerged this weekend that Maliki, who has grown in stature as the Iraqi armed forces have taken control of security in the main cities of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul in the past year, would block the deal.

Two other serving members of Maliki's government confirmed his view. Iraqi politics is focused on the forthcoming provincial elections, due early next year. Maliki also faces a general election in a year's time.

Open support for the American presence is seen as a vote-loser, even though most Iraqis tacitly acknowledge the need for troops to remain in the country until their own army can enforce order.

An unofficial poll of MPs last week revealed that the deal would fall far short of gaining majority support in parliament.

ANI

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