BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq wants to eliminate any chance U.S. forces will stay here after 2011 under a proposed security pact and to expand Iraqi legal jurisdiction over U.S. troops until then, a close ally of the prime minister said Thursday.
Those demands, which were presented to U.S. officials this week, could derail the deal — delivering a diplomatic blow to Washington in the final weeks of the Bush administration.
Failure to reach an agreement before year's end could force a suspension of American military operations, and U.S. commanders have been warning Iraqi officials that could endanger security improvements.
The current draft, hammered out in months of tortuous negotiations, would have U.S. soldiers leave Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011, unless the two governments agreed to an extension for training and supporting Iraqi security forces.
But Ali al-Adeeb, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's inner circle, said the government wants that possibility excluded by language adding finality to the end of 2011 date.
"The Iraqi side wants to remove any mention of a possible extension of U.S. troops, fearing that the existing clause might be subject to misinterpretation or could bear different interpretation," he told The Associated Press.
Otherwise, he said the U.S. might demand an extension "depending on their evaluation" of the security situation and the state of readiness within Iraq's army and police. U.S. officials have privately suggested 2012 is too early for Iraqi forces to be truly ready to maintain order.
The draft also gives Iraqi courts limited jurisdiction over U.S. troops, allowing them to be prosecuted by Iraqis only if they are accused of major crimes committed off post and off duty.
Al-Adeeb said the Iraqis want to add a provision for a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee to decide whether U.S. soldiers accused of such crimes were really on authorized missions.
Planning Minister Ali Baban, a Sunni, added that the Iraqis want jurisdiction over all U.S. soldiers and contractors unless they are carrying out joint military operations approved by Iraqis — a subtle but significant change to the draft that U.S. authorities may find unacceptable.
Iraqi officials have said the changes must be made in the draft agreement before it can be approved by parliament in time for the Dec. 31 expiration of a U.N. Security Council mandate under which coalition troops operate in Iraq.
Without an agreement or a new U.N. mandate, the U.S. military would have to suspend all operations in Iraq after that.
"We are waiting for a response from the U.S. negotiators on how much they can accommodate," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told CNN. "I think both sides here have reached the moment of truth. The time window is closing, and a decision has to be made as soon as possible."
But the Bush administration's hope to secure the deal while in office was fading with the new Iraqi demands, despite White House assurances that an agreement was still possible.
Al-Maliki, meanwhile, met with a leading Shiite politician late Thursday to discuss the deal. Government television quoted the prime minister as describing the agreement as a framework for the pullout of U.S. forces and the regulation of "their activities within the rest of the time they're here."
"We don't call it a security pact but an agreement to withdraw the troops and organize their activities during the period of their presence in Iraq," al-Maliki was quoted as saying.
U.S. officials in Washington refused to discuss possible alternatives to securing a deal, saying they were still reviewing Iraq's proposed amendments that were received Wednesday.
But officials bristled at suggestions the negotiations could be reopened and said the U.S. was not yet considering asking the Security Council to extend the U.N. mandate.
"Once we have something to say on it, we will," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington. "But for the moment, we're just taking our time in reviewing it to make sure that we've got a good sense of what it is the Iraqis have put forward."
Privately, however, U.S. officials were growing pessimistic about chances for a deal. Failure to seal a deal with Iraqi politicians who owe their position to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion would be a huge embarrassment to President Bush, whose administration was largely defined by the war.
In Baghdad, U.S. military officials have urged the Iraqis to consider what could happen here if the U.S. suspended military operations, warning that the security gains won by the blood of American and Iraqi soldiers would be at risk.
Violence is down sharply after the Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq and the routing of Shiite militias in Baghdad and southern Iraq last spring.
But U.S. and other coalition forces also provide considerable help to Iraqi ministries in infrastructure and quality of life projects that would have to stop — along with control of the airspace and protection of Iraq's oil export facilities in the Persian Gulf.
"There's really no area that we as a coalition ... operate in that is not governed by legal authority," the U.S. military spokesman, Brig. Gen. David Perkins, told reporters.
He said the American military presence enables other international organizations, including the United Nations, and private groups to do their jobs.
"These things are all interrelated," Perkins said. "You pull one pillar out, you seriously degrade the efforts of others."