Opposition mounts to US-Iraq security deal
Opposition mounts to US-Iraq security deal
By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 17
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub and AP staff
in Fallujah contributed to this report.