Iraq: next few days crucial for security deal with U.S.

By Xinhua,

Baghdad : Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Saturday that Iraqi leaders will make a decision in the coming few days on an agreement concerning the continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Support TwoCircles

“The next few days will be crucial for the Iraqi leaders to make political decision and a judgment on this agreement,” Zebari said during a joint news conference with his visiting Bahraini counterpart.

The Iraqi leaders met on Friday to discuss the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and that they would hold more meetings in the coming days, Zebari said after meeting Khalid Bin Ahmed al-Khalifa.

Zebari said that the agreement is talking about three years and would be subject to annual review, adding that the Iraqi parliament would review the agreement to ratify or reject it.

“There is no hidden agenda. There is no permanent military presence. It is only for three years. The next days are very crucial for Iraqi leaders to decide,” Zebari said.

The United States and Iraq are holding intensified negotiations for months in a bid to uphold an agreement that allows U.S. troops to remain in Iraq after the UN mandate expires by the end of the year.

Though details of the pact have not been made public, officials have previously disclosed an agreement was reached on a timetable for a pullout of all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

At the press conference, Zebari welcomed the visit of the top Bahraini diplomat and said “this is an important visit and it is a message that Arabs should exist and be opened to Iraq.”

For his part, the Bahraini foreign minister said he has conveyed letters of invitations from the King of Bahrain to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to visit Bahrain.

Khalifa also said that he supports that Gulf Arab countries should lift the burden of debts on Iraq.

“We urge the Arab Gulf countries to write off debts on Iraq so that the country would go forward,” Khalifa said.

Earlier in the day, Khalifa arrived in Baghdad on a surprise visit to Iraq and met with top Iraqi leaders. The visit came after the Gulf nation named a new ambassador to Iraq last month.

Three years ago, Bahrain’s top envoy in Iraq was wounded when attackers tried to kidnap him while en route to work in Baghdad.

Several Arab governments named ambassadors to Iraq recently after the United States criticized them for acting slowly on normalizing relations with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

Sunni Arab countries had been reluctant to restore close ties because of ongoing violence there, and have been cool to what is a Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.

Washington repeatedly encouraged its Arab allies to strengthen their ties with Iraq as a way of countering the growing influence of Iran and reinforcing Iraq’s Arab identity.