|Supporters of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr burned American flags yesterday in Baghdad during a protest against the security deal. Sadr's bloc in Parliament will vote against the pact. (Karim Kadim/Associated Press)|
Clerics warn against US security pact
Maliki studying latest revisions to agreement
BAGHDAD - Shi'ite clerics warned the government yesterday not to sign a security pact that would keep US troops in Iraq until 2012, as the prime minister studied what US officials described as the final draft of the agreement.
Parliament must approve the agreement by year's end when the United Nations mandate expires. Failure to approve the agreement or get the UN Security Council to issue a new mandate would force the United States to suspend operations in the country.
Last month, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Cabinet proposed amendments to the pact, including a demand for expanded Iraqi legal authority over US soldiers and the removal of language that could allow US troops to stay past 2012.
Iraq also asked for an explicit ban on the use of Iraqi soil for attacks against the country's neighbors, such as last month's US raid in Syria, and authority to search all US military shipments into and out of Iraq.
Washington sent its response to the proposals Thursday and said the next move belongs to Baghdad.
Details of the US response have not been released, but two senior Iraqi officials said the United States accepted some proposals and rejected others. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to discuss the agreement with media.
Nevertheless, several influential Shi'ite clerics criticized the agreement during sermons yesterday, the main Muslim day of worship, arguing that the deal serves US interests more than those of Iraq.
"We renew our total refusal of the security agreement and again we demand Parliament and government not to sign it," Sheik Assad al-Nasiri told worshippers in Kufa, 100 miles south of the capital.
In Baghdad's Shi'ite slum of Sadr City, Sheik Sattar al-Battat maintained the deal infringes on Iraqi sovereignty, and would threaten other countries in the region.
Both preachers are followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, a cleric who has long opposed the American military presence. Sadr controls 30 of the 275 seats in Parliament, and his bloc has announced it will vote against the agreement.
But criticism also came from Sadralddin al-Qubanji, a member of the largest Shi'ite party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. The party has not taken a position on the agreement, and its support is critical if the agreement is to pass.
"We are not happy with this agreement, which is binding to one side that is Iraq and not binding to the other side that is the United States," Qubanji said.
In Lebanon, the country's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who has a wide following among Iraqi Shi'ites, also warned against the deal.