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Page last updated at 14:47 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 15:47 UK

Impasse in US-Iraqi forces talks

Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki
Maliki may be signalling that a deal on US forces is some way off

Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki has said that talks with the US on a long-term agreement allowing US forces to remain in Iraq have "reached an impasse".

Speaking in the Jordanian capital, Amman, Mr Maliki said the American demands infringed Iraqi sovereignty.

With the UN mandate for US forces to be in Iraq expiring at the end of 2008, the White House wants a deal by July.

The deadlock came as Mehdi Army leader Moqtada Sadr said only a select group of the militia should fight US forces.

We have reached an impasse... we did not realise that the US demands would so deeply affect Iraqi sovereignty
Nouri Maliki

In an apparent attempt to reassert control over the militia, the radical Shia cleric said only a limited number of the estimated 60,000-strong group should be authorised to battle US troops in Iraq.

Mr Sadr agreed to a truce after fighting erupted in Basra and Baghdad when the government launched a security crackdown against his militiamen in March.

But continued attacks blamed on Mehdi Army gunmen against Iraqi security forces have raised questions about how much control the cleric really exerts over the group.

Meanwhile, BBC Baghdad correspondent Nick Witchell says the disagreement between Mr Maliki and US negotiators goes to the heart of the immensely sensitive issue of who is actually in charge in the country: the Americans or the Iraqis.

The Americans are trying to negotiate a new Status of Forces agreement with the Iraqis.

'Rejected totally'

But the Iraqi government regards many of the American demands as infringements of Iraqi sovereignty.

"We have reached an impasse, because when we opened these negotiations we did not realise that the US demands would so deeply affect Iraqi sovereignty and this is something we can never accept," Mr Maliki said.

"We cannot allow US forces to have the right to jail Iraqis or assume, alone, the responsibility of fighting against terrorism," he said.

The Americans want to maintain military bases and, it is reported, to keep control of Iraqi airspace.

They also want immunity from prosecution for their own forces and for US contractors, a proposal which Mr Maliki said Iraq "rejected totally".

Mirembe Nantongo, a spokeswoman for the US embassy in Baghdad, said: "We remain hopeful, as do our Iraqi government partners, regarding a successful conclusion to these negotiations."

More than five years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, there are 150,000 US troops based in the country.




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