Page last updated at 16:00 GMT, Monday, 20 October 2008 17:00 UK

US presses Baghdad on troop deal

From left: US commander Gen Ray Odierno, US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in talks on 17 October in Baghdad
Ambassador Crocker (centre) said Iraqi sovereignty would be assured

The US has insisted that Iraq will regain its sovereignty under a security pact which would see American troops staying another three years.

US Ambassador Ryan Crocker was defending the draft agreement, which is being resisted by the Shia bloc that dominates the government.

Iraq's Political Council for National Security has been discussing the draft for a second day.

The liability of troops and contractors to prosecution is a major obstacle.

The Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa) was due to be concluded by the end of July but negotiations between Baghdad and Washington stalled over the issue of sovereignty.

People stand around the minibus hit by a bomb in Baghdad on 20 October
Iraq saw at least one lethal bomb attack on Monday

"It is an important agreement that fully restores Iraq's sovereignty while allowing US forces to continue for a temporary time to assist Iraqi security forces," Mr Crocker, the US ambassador to Baghdad, said in a speech in the city.

If the Sofa is not signed by the end of the year, Iraq and its Western allies may have to seek a fresh extension of the UN mandate allowing foreign troops to remain.

The US and Iraqi governments said earlier that the pact was final and could not be amended - only accepted or rejected by the Iraqi parliament.

In another development, a bomb killed two people and injured seven aboard a commuter minibus in Baghdad's mainly Shia district of Mashtal, officials said.

'Disturbing' alternatives

The security council is composed of the president, the two vice-presidents, the speaker of parliament and leaders of the political factions.

According to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's office, only the main Kurdish groups - President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) - had endorsed the draft without any reservations as of Sunday evening.

KDP leader Massoud Barzani urged fellow Iraqi politicians to embrace the latest draft of the security pact.

"The alternatives... would be disturbing," he said.

"It would mean either the continuation of the current situation when an American officer has the power to arrest all ministers, or the US would leave Iraq and give up its commitment to our country."

The draft Sofa has been strongly opposed by the faction led by radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, who brought thousands of supporters onto the streets of Baghdad on Saturday in protest.

Immunity for US military personnel and contractors is thought to be one of the key sticking points, the BBC's Jim Muir reports from in Baghdad.

The pact is said to grant Iraqi judicial authorities limited ability to try US troops and contractors for major crimes committed off-duty or off-base - and only then if a joint US-Iraqi committee agrees.

The current UN mandate for US-led coalition forces expires at the end of this year. About 144,000 of the 152,000 foreign troops deployed there are US military personnel.

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Reuters Iraqi minister: troops deal unlikely before US vote - 18 hrs ago
Reuters Iraqi minister: Troops deal unlikely before U.S. vote - 21 hrs ago
Reuters FACTBOX-Iraq's security pact with the United States - 26 hrs ago
Turkish Press Shiite bloc holds off OK to US-Iraq pact - 40 hrs ago
Lebanon Daily Star Top Iraqi leaders expected to discuss controversial draft US security pact - 41 hrs ago

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