BAGHDAD — Influential religious leaders across Iraq are voicing reservations about a U.S.-Iraq security agreement that allows Americans to remain in the country for another three years.
Some are cautious in their criticisms. Others — ones who generally are tied to political parties that fought the pact — forcefully condemn the treaty.
Their comments filtered in Saturday as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of multinational forces in Iraq, to plan for the treaty's implementation.
The security pact, which sets a Dec. 31, 2011, deadline for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, passed Parliament on Thursday and entails some major changes in authority between U.S. and Iraqi officials.
One clause would require the United States to consult with Iraqis before conducting military operations. Another paves the way for the release of some 16,000 detainees in U.S. custody. Another would have the United States turn over its control of the International Zone in central Baghdad to Iraqi leaders.
Religious leaders, however, appear generally skeptical that the pact will return sovereignty, while hard-line clerics oppose the whole idea of Iraq's negotiating with the United States over its independence.
A representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the nation's leading Shiite cleric, suggested the 149-35 vote of approval in Iraq's Parliament wasn't broad enough to demonstrate national consensus.
Ahmad al-Safi al-Najafi, speaking on behalf of Sistani, said the agreement, which takes effect Jan. 1, wouldn't ensure Iraqi sovereignty.
He said Iraqis would have a chance to make their opinions known when the pact goes before voters as a national referendum in July.
That was one of the compromises the ruling Shiite government made to build a broader majority for the agreement. Sunni parties insisted that all Iraqis should vote on the pact.
"The majority of Parliament voted for the (agreement), but more than a few people in Parliament rejected it," Najafi was quoted in a Baghdad newspaper as saying at Friday prayers.
Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr harshly condemned the pact as an infringement on Iraqi sovereignty. Thirty members of Parliament in the Sadr party voted unanimously against the deal. Sadr's representatives now say they'll shut their offices across the country for three days of "mourning."
"We pay our condolences to the Iraqi people for the vote for the pact of humiliation and disgrace in the catastrophe of black Thursday," said Sheik Muhanad al-Gharawi, a Sadr delegate.
Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yacoubi on Saturday joined Sadr in rejecting the pact. Yacoubi is close to the Fadilah party, which refused to vote on the security agreement in Parliament.