TEHRAN (FNA)- Iraq’s prime minister slammed America’s top military commander in the country in remarks aired Friday, saying he “risked his position” when he said Iran sought to bribe lawmakers to vote against a US-Iraq security agreement.
Gen. Ray Odierno made the comments in an interview published Monday in the Washington Post, though he said he did not have definitive proof of the bribes.
“The American commander has risked his position when he spoke in this tone and has regrettably complicated relations,” Nouri al-Maliki told a group of visiting Kuwaiti journalists in an interview shown on Iraq’s state television.
“The man is known to be good and kind, but how can he speak like this about a baseless case? What has been said is truly regrettable,” al-Maliki said.
Odierno, who last month succeeded Gen. David Petraeus as the overall commander of US and allied forces in Iraq, told the Post that US intelligence reports suggested that Iran has attempted to bribe Iraqi lawmakers to derail the agreement, which is needed for US troops to stay in Iraq after their UN mandate expires Dec. 31.
He said he had no definitive proof of the bribes, but that “there are many intelligence reports” that suggest Iranians are “coming in to pay off people to vote against it.”
Al-Maliki’s comments and a statement by his government issued late Wednesday branding Odierno’s comments “inappropriate” suggest that the Iraqis may want an official apology.
Meantime, Iraqi Government Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement on Thursday that “the Iraqi government expresses its deep concern after statements attributed to General Ray Odierno.”
Dabbagh described Odierno’s remarks as “inappropriate,” asking about the motives of the top US General for such claims.
“These kinds of remarks are likely to tarnish the good relations between Iraq and coalition forces,” he added.
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.
If ratified by the Iraqi government, the Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) would also grant US forces in Iraq immunity from prosecution.
It also gives the occupation forces a free rein to stage military operations wherever and whenever they deem necessary, without consulting the Iraqi government.
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 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.
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.
Meanwhile, Iraqi state-owned newspaper al-Sabah said Thursday that Iraqi political leaders reviewed on Wednesday the final draft of the agreement without taking decisions, leaving the door open for other political parties to take part in the debate over the controversial security deal.