Tens of thousands protest in Baghdad against troop agreement with US as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki slams US Commander General Ray Odierno for suggesting that Iran is bribing members of the Iraqi parliament to vote against the deal.
US-Iraq deal in doubt again
Producer: Carlo Basilone
CARLO BASILONE, TRNN: Tens of thousands of followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rallied in Baghdad’s Sadr City on Saturday in opposition to a US-Iraqi security pact that would extend the presence of US forces in Iraq.
SHEIKH ABDUL-HADI AL-MOHAMMADAWI, AIDE TO MUQADA AL-SADR (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I support every Sunni, every Shiite and every Christian rejecting this agreement. I denounce, condemn, reject and disown anyone who assaults the Sunnis, the Shiites, the Christians in Iraq and Iraq’s minorities.
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BASILONE: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government and the Bush administration hammered out a draft agreement after months of bitter negotiations. A copy of the draft accord obtained by the Associated Press specifies that US troops be withdrawn by the end of 2011 and gives Iraq limited authority to try in court US soldiers and contractors who commit crimes off duty and off base. But al-Maliki said he wanted the Iraqi Parliament to sign off on the deal and would not present it to Parliament unless he had at least two-thirds support. Iraq’s preeminent cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said any accord must have national consensus. On Thursday, the Iraq prime minister slammed the remarks made by top US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, who alleged Iran was trying to bribe lawmakers to vote against the proposed security agreement with the United States. Al-Maliki told the group of Kuwaiti journalists, “The American commander risked his position when he talked about this issue and in this manner. He has regretfully made relations complex. [I don’t know] how he made such a statement, and there is no reality in this subject. The Parliament does not take any bribes, neither from Iran or any other party. This is regretful.” (Associated Press, October 16, 2008.) In a Washington Post interview last Monday, General Odierno, often said to be aggressive and blunt, had said about Iran, “I think they’re utilizing [their] contacts to attempt to influence the outcome of the potential vote in the council of representatives.” Though he said he had no definitive proof of the bribes, he added, “There are many intelligence reports” that imply Iranians are “coming in to pay off people to vote against it.” (The Washington Post, October 13, 2008.) Those intelligence reports have not been made public. The general and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani the following day to try and patch up the situation, and a presidential spokesman said that he understood that Odierno had offered an apology. In Tehran, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman told reporters that Iran would respect the decision and sovereignty of Iraq.
HASAN QASHQAVI, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Our stand is to respect the Iraqi side and their viewpoint as well as respect Iraq’s sovereignty and the intelligence of the Iraqi nation.
BASILONE: In Baghdad, several other Shiite and Sunni clerics who wield considerable influence in shaping public opinion spoke out Friday against the draft. Sheikh Abdul-Sattar Abdul-Jabar told the congregation in Baghdad’s Abu Hanifa Mosque, the most prestigious Sunni shrine in the capital, “The agreement that is supposed to be signed between Iraq and the US is more dangerous than the occupation. It is illegal and the government should not sign it. The government should get the approval of the Iraqi people through a popular referendum.” (Sheikh Abdul-Sattar Abdul-Jabar, Shura Council, Associated Press, October 17, 2008.) Many in Washington also expressed reservations. Representative Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, issued a statement Friday saying, “I am very concerned about reports that US service personnel may not have full immunity under Iraqi law.” (Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), Associated Press, October 17, 2008.) But US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said troops would be well protected under the draft status of forces agreement [SOFA].
ROBERT GATES, US SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: —think that there is not reason to be concerned. I would tell you that General Petraeus and then, subsequently, General Odierno have been deeply involved in the negotiation of the SOFA, working hand-in-glove with Ambassador Crocker.
BASILONE: Other senators in Congress have also expressed concerns, but Bush administration officials have said repeatedly that they don’t intend to submit the deal to Congress for approval.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.