BAGHDAD — Fearing political division in the parliament and the country at large, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki won't sign the just-completed agreement on the status of U.S. troops in Iraq, a leading lawmaker said on Friday.
Shelving the new accord would constitute a major setback both for the Bush administration, which has been seeking to establish a legal basis for the extended presence of the 151,000 U.S. troops in this country, and for Iraq, which gained notable concessions in the draft accord reached one week ago.
"No, he will not" submit the agreement to the parliament, said Sheikh Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer, the deputy head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. "For this matter, we need national consensus."
Instead, Sagheer said, Iraq's political leaders are thinking about seeking an extension of the United Nations mandate for the presence of U.S. troops that expires on Dec. 31. Russia, a member of the U.N. Security Council, had given Iraq a direct assurance that it wouldn't veto an extension, he said, adding that it was likely to last between six months and a year.
Ali al-Adeeb, the chief of staff of al-Maliki's Dawa party, said Wednesday that the Iraqi parliament "cannot approve this pact in its current form."
Top U.S. military officials have warned of serious consequences should the agreement not be signed. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week that Iraq's forces "will not be ready to provide for their security" after the current U.N. mandate runs out.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told USA Today that without a security agreement, "We would potentially have to cease all operations."
Iraqis, however, are adamant that the accord must be open to further amendments if they are to approve it.
"The problem is that when we were given the latest draft, we were told the American negotiators will accept no amendments to it, and the Iraqi government has more requirements," said Sagheer, an Islamic cleric who later led the Friday prayers broadcast on national television.
He said Maliki had come to the Political Council for National Security, a top decisionmaking body, and said the new accord was the best he could obtain, but it did not include everything Iraq wanted.
The accord contains a number of American concessions, calling for a U.S. troop withdrawal onto their bases by June 2009 and a complete withdrawal by the end of 2011.
The accord also would allow Iraq to prosecute U.S. troops except when they're on bases or on military operations, strips private military contractors of U.S. legal protection and reclaims control over Baghdad's "Green" zone, the location of U.S. missions and many of the government headquarters.
Sagheer said the setting of a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal was a "historic" accomplishment.
He also acknowledged that an extension of the current U.N. mandate might not reflect the gains made in the status of forces draft.
"For everything there is a price," he said. "And although (the accord) has many advantages, it also has many disadvantages, as it does for the coalition forces."