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US-Iraq status of forces agreement could be delayed past expiration of UN mandate

[JURIST] Disagreements between the United States and Iraq are still blocking a permanent Status of Forces Agreement [CFR materials; JURIST op-ed] regarding the role of American troops in Iraq [JURIST news archive] and could delay a deal past the expiration of the UN mandate for coalition forces in Iraq at the end of the year, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari [BBC profile] indicated Wednesday. Last week, the US agreed to eliminate legal immunity for US contractors [NYT report; JURIST report] from the proposed agreement, and suggested that it might concede US control of Iraqi airspace. The US is still pushing for immunity for US troops from prosecution in Iraqi courts and the right to hold detainees independent of Iraqi review. The two countries had set an informal deadline of July 31 to reach a permanent agreement, but have said they may have to adopt an interim deal to keep US troops in the country legally before the UN mandate authorizing the US troop presence expires in December [UN press release]. The New York Times has more. McClatchy has additional coverage. Voices of Iraq has local coverage.

Earlier this month, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] said some of the provisions the US is seeking would violate Iraqi sovereignty [JURIST report], but US President George Bush downplayed the disagreement, saying he thought the two countries would reach a deal before the deadline. The US has SOFAs [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] with many other countries around the world, and legal immunity for US troops is one of their most sought-after provisions. Immunity is a particularly divisive issue in Iraq, which has previously asked the UN to nullify [JURIST report] the immunity granted to troops under the original mandate [Security Council Resolution 1546] due to past misconduct by US soldiers, including the Haditha killings of Iraqi civilians and the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal [JURIST news archives]. Iraq has also asked the UN to lift the current provision allowing the US to hold prisoners without Iraqi review [JURIST news report].

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