Maliki Off to Jordan

A03857414.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki left Baghdad on Thursday for an official visit in Jordan.

The Iraqi premier flew to the Jordanian capital, Amman, to discuss a number of security and economic issues with Jordanian officials during the visit.

It is his third visit to the country since he took office two years ago.

Al-Maliki ended a visit to Iran last week, where he sought to expand ties and cooperation with Tehran.

He reportedly told Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran that Iran would not be the victim of any security deal negotiated between Iraq and the US.

The US is in talks with Iraqi officials to get them to sign a provocative security agreement which secures long-term US presence in Iraq.

It also gives the occupation forces a free rein to stage military operations wherever and whenever they deem necessary, without consulting the Iraqi government.

Tehran is concerned that the yet-not-concluded security deal could lead to establishment of permanent US bases in the neighboring country.

The proposed pact is also facing widespread opposition among Iraqi politicians.

Many fear Washington has plans to keep permanent bases, despite a denial of any such plan written into the proposal. Iraqis say the drafts submitted by the Americans thus far would infringe on Iraq’s sovereignty by giving US forces too much freedom to operate.

The security pact also faces strong criticism from members of al-Maliki’s own Shiite-dominated coalition. Two Iraqi officials familiar with the negotiations warned on Sunday that a deal is unlikely to be reached before the end of President Bush’s term in January unless Washington backs off some demands seen as giving American forces too much freedom to operate in Iraq and infringing on Iraqi sovereignty.

Iraq’s parliament must approve the deal, and the two officials said opposition in the legislature was so widespread that it stood no chance of winning approval without significant changes in the US position. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy surrounding the negotiations.

In Washington, the Bush administration moved to blunt criticism that it had not consulted Congress about the accord, saying officials involved in the talks with Iraq had offered to brief the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

A committee aide said the briefing of committee staff would go ahead, but said the briefers were not senior officials. Last week the panel’s chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden, and other senators asked that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates appear before them to answer questions about the proposed accord with Iraq – and that request still stands, the aide said.

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