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IRAQ REQUESTS CHANGES IN PACT

The status of U.S. forces hangs on reaching agreement.

BAGHDAD - Iraq wants a security agreement with the United States to include a clear ban on U.S. troops using Iraqi territory to attack Iraq's neighbors, the government spokesman said Wednesday, three days after a dramatic U.S. raid on Syria.

Also Wednesday, the country's most influential Shiite cleric expressed concern that Iraqi sovereignty be protected in the pact. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani wields vast influence among the Shiite majority, and his explicit opposition could scuttle the deal.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the ban was among four proposed amendments to the draft agreement approved by the Cabinet this week and forwarded to the United States.

President Bush said Wednesday that the United States had received the draft and negotiators were analyzing the Iraqis' proposed amendments to the so-called Status of Forces Agreement. "We obviously want to be helpful and constructive without undermining basic principles," Bush said in the Oval Office during a meeting with Massoud Barzani, the president of the semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. "I remain very open and confident that the SOFA will get passed."

Dabbagh said the Iraqis want the right to declare the agreement null and void if the United States unilaterally attacks one of Iraq's neighbors.

For nearly two weeks, Iraqi politicians have been considering the draft security agreement, which would keep U.S. troops in Iraq through 2011 unless both sides agree that they could stay longer. The pact would also give the Iraqis a greater role in supervising U.S. military operations and allow Iraqi courts to try U.S. soldiers and contractors accused of major crimes off duty and off base.

The pact must be approved by the end of the year when the current U.N. mandate expires or the U.S. military would have to suspend all operations in Iraq.

Syria hardens stance after raid

Syria threatened Wednesday to stop cooperating with the United States and Baghdad on security along its Iraqi border if there are more American raids on Syrian territory like the weekend attack that killed eight people. It also demanded Washington apologize for Sunday's cross-border helicopter strike by American special operations forces, which U.S. military officials said killed Abu Ghadiyah, a top al-Qaida in Iraq operative who was about to conduct an attack in Iraq. Syria's order for the closure of an American school and cultural center and an embassy warning to be vigilant raised concerns among Americans living in Damascus. A huge protest against the raid was called for today in Damascus. While Americans have generally been welcomed in Syria, protests in the past have turned violent against U.S. and European targets.

Associated Press

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