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Opposition mounts to US-Iraq security deal

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080530/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq Opposition mounts to US-Iraq security deal By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 17
    Message 1 of 1 , May 30, 2008
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080530/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq

      Opposition mounts to US-Iraq security deal

      By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 17
      minutes ago

      BAGHDAD - Tens of thousands rallied in several cities
      Friday against a proposed U.S.-Iraqi security
      agreement, raising doubts that negotiators can meet a
      July target to finalize a pact to keep U.S. troops in
      Iraq after the current U.N. mandate expires.

      Although U.S. officials insist they are not seeking
      permanent bases, suspicion runs deep among many Iraqis
      that the Americans want to keep at least some troops
      in the country for many years.

      "We denounce the government's intentions to sign a
      long-term agreement with the occupying forces," Asaad
      al-Nassiri, a sheik loyal to anti-American cleric
      Muqtada al-Sadr, said during a sermon in Kufa. "Our
      army will be under their control in this agreement,
      and this will lead to them having permanent bases in
      Iraq."

      President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
      signed a statement last December on the future of
      U.S.-Iraqi relations, saying they planned to finalize
      a new security agreement by July 31 — in time for
      Iraq's parliament to approve the deal before a U.N.
      mandate expires at the end of the year.

      U.S. and Iraqi officials began negotiations in March
      on a blueprint for the long-term security agreement
      and a second deal, to establish the legal basis for
      U.S. troops to remain in the country after the U.N.
      mandate runs out.

      Rallies in Baghdad and several other Iraqi cities
      followed Friday prayer services and were the first in
      wake of a call by al-Sadr for weekly protests against
      the deal, even though few details of the talks have
      been released.

      Most of the protesters appeared to be followers of
      al-Sadr, the hardline Shiite cleric and militia leader
      whose Mahdi Army battled American and Iraqi troops in
      Baghdad's Sadr City district until a truce this month
      ended nearly seven weeks of fighting.

      But opposition to the agreement appears to be growing
      beyond the Sadrist movement.

      A militant Sunni clerical group, the Association of
      Muslim Scholars, denounced the "ring of secrecy"
      surrounding the talks and said the proposed deal would
      pave the way for "military, economic and cultural
      domination" by the Americans.

      On Thursday, the head of the country's biggest
      mainstream Shiite party, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, said
      some unspecified points under negotiation "violate
      Iraq's national sovereignty," adding that a "national
      consensus" was emerging against the proposed
      agreement.

      Al-Hakim is al-Sadr's main rival in the majority
      Shiite community and maintains close ties to the
      country's main Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali
      al-Sistani. Aides to the powerful ayatollah say he
      also has reservations about the deal.

      Some congressional Democrats are also insisting that
      Congress should authorize any agreement that would
      obligate the United States to defend Iraq.

      Before the Friday protests, al-Sadr's office in
      Baghdad issued a statement branding the negotiations
      as "a project of humiliation" aimed at turning Iraq
      "into a small stooge of the United States."

      U.S. officials have declined to comment on the talks
      until the draft is completed.

      Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said two weeks
      ago that "we are making progress" although other Iraqi
      officials acknowledged there were many unresolved
      issues, including how many Americans would remain and
      what they would do. American soldiers now enjoy full
      immunity from the Iraqi legal system.

      The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because
      they were not supposed to talk about the negotiations.

      Rallies against the security deal occurred as the U.S.
      military was seeking to contain the public relations
      damage caused by reports that an American Marine
      handed out coins promoting Christianity to Sunni
      Muslims in the former insurgent stronghold of
      Fallujah.

      Sunni officials and residents said a Marine
      distributed about 10 coins at a checkpoint controlling
      access to the city, the scene of one of the fiercest
      battles of the war.

      One side asked: "Where will you spend eternity?"

      The other contained a verse from the New Testament:
      "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only
      begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should
      not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16."

      Mohammed Hassan Abdullah said he witnessed the coins
      being handed out on Tuesday as he was waiting at the
      Halabsa checkpoint, although he didn't receive one
      himself.

      The U.S. military responded quickly to the incident,
      first reported by McClatchy Newspapers, removing a
      Marine from duty pending an investigation. Military
      regulations forbid proselytizing any religion.

      "Indications are this was an isolated incident — an
      individual Marine acting on his own accord passing out
      coins," Lt. Col. Chris Hughes, a spokesman for U.S.
      forces in western Iraq, said in an e-mailed statement.

      Distribution of the coins was the second perceived
      insult to Islam by American service members this
      month. A U.S. Army sniper was sent out of the country
      after using a Quran, Islam's holy book, for target
      practice in a predominantly Sunni area west of
      Baghdad.

      "This event did not happen by chance, but it was
      planned and done intentionally," Sheik Abdul-Rahman
      al-Zubaie, an influential tribal leader in Fallujah,
      said of the coins. "The Sunni population cannot accept
      and endure such a thing. I might not be able to
      control people's reactions if such incidents keep
      happening."

      __

      Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub and AP staff
      in Fallujah contributed to this report.
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