Iraqi President to Visit Iran in Days

A03444649.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- Iraqi President Jalal Talabani will visit Tehran in the next few days to discuss bilateral cooperation with Iranian officials.

Talabani, who is scheduled to pay the sixth visit to the Islamic republic since becoming president, will met with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other senior officials.

The agenda of the visit would most likely center on a draft US-Iraqi security pact, which critics in Iraq fear will extend American military, economic and political domination of the country.

The agreement, which has been under negotiation for most of this year, would replace the UN mandate and must be ratified by the Iraqi parliament.

The deal between Baghdad and Washington was to have been signed in July, but was delayed mainly due to the lack of agreement on a deadline for the troop withdrawal and the controversial issue of immunity for US troops and foreign contractors.

The agreement will allow US forces to remain in Iraq beyond the end of this year, when a UN Security Council mandate is due to expire. There are currently 146,000 US troops deployed in Iraq.

The controversial agreement has drawn fierce criticism from many Iraqi officials, lawyers, religious, political figures and people across the country.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered religious leader in Iraq, has also rejected the security agreement with the US, saying such a deal will undermine the country’s sovereignty.

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.

With time running out, a US negotiating team led by top State Department adviser David Satterfield returned this week to Iraq to continue talks.

The security pact also faces strong criticism from members of al-Maliki’s own coalition. Two Iraqi officials familiar with the negotiations have warned 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.

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.

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