FACTBOX - Iraq's thorny security negotiations with U.S.
(Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Monday raised the prospect of setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops as part of negotiations over a new security deal. Following are key facts about the talks:
WHAT IS BEING NEGOTIATED?
The United States is negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to stay in Iraq after December 31, when their U.N. mandate expires. Washington has set a goal of completing talks by the end of July, although Iraqi officials say that might be optimistic. Maliki said a memorandum of understanding could cover terms of the security deal including a possible withdrawal timetable. Such a memorandum may function as an interim deal until a formal SOFA is agreed.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE POINTS OF CONTENTION?
Any withdrawal timetable will likely cause consternation in Washington. The Bush administration argues a timetable would give militants an advantage.
Iraq said last week Washington was showing flexibility on some issues, which officials said included dropping a demand for immunity from prosecution for private contractors working for the U.S. government. Control of military operations and airspace are other points of contention, along with the detention of Iraqi prisoners. Officials say planned U.S. military operations will be vetted by joint committees.
Washington has SOFA pacts with many countries, and they typically exempt U.S. troops from facing trial or prison abroad. Washington is highly unlikely to back down on this.
The United States and Iraqi governments have each said they do not want permanent U.S. bases in Iraq.
WHO IS CRITICISING THE TALKS?
U.S. and Iraqi officials began talks on the agreement in March but the negotiations quickly came under fire from various sides, including Iran, some U.S. Congressmen and anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
U.S. Democrats say President George W. Bush's administration could use the agreements to tie the next president into current Iraq war policies. They have also said the Bush administration has not consulted them on the agreements.
How long U.S. troops remain in Iraq is a key issue in the campaign for the November U.S. presidential election and could figure prominently in upcoming local elections in Iraq. Many Iraqis see the agreement as a surrender of Iraq's sovereignty to an occupying force and fear it could pave the way for a permanent U.S. troop presence. An agreement setting a timetable could help allay those fears.
Neighbouring Iran opposes any deal between Baghdad and Washington extending the presence of U.S. troops, which it sees as a threat to its own security.
WHAT DOES THE U.S. SAY ABOUT THE TALKS?
U.S. officials say they respect Iraqi sovereignty and that Washington is not trying to force anything on Baghdad. They say the agreements will be transparent, have no secret provisions and will be submitted to the Iraqi parliament.
HOW STRONG IS IRAQ'S NEGOTIATING POSITION?
Baghdad's room to manoeuvre could be limited by its dependence on U.S. firepower to secure its borders and tackle armed groups. If it fails to reach agreement with Washington, Iraq could seek a further extension of the U.N. mandate. On the other hand, Maliki's comments about setting a withdrawal timetable show his desire to move away from U.S. protection.
(Compiled by Adrian Croft and Tim Cocks, Editing by Dean Yates)
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