Thursday, October 6, 2011

Iraq Troop Talks Stuck On Issue Of Immunity

The question of whether American troops who stay in Iraq to train Iraqi forces would have immunity from local prosecution is shaping up to be the most contentious issue as the two countries try to hammer out an agreement on whether to keep a small training force here next year.

Iraqi leaders, desperate to assert their sovereignty, say immunity isn't necessary for any American forces who stay in Iraq to train their security forces. But for Americans worried about their soldiers ending up in Iraqi courts, the lack of immunity is a deal-breaker.

"Immunity is the main disputed point. If we do not have agreement on the immunity, there will be no agreement on the number" of trainers, said government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.

Iraqi political leaders met Tuesday night to discuss whether to have American forces stay in Iraq when the 2008 security agreement expires at the end of this year and all American forces are supposed to leave the country. After the meeting they announced that Iraq does need American training help but that the trainers should not have immunity, setting the stage for protracted negotiations.

American officials seemed to be scrambling Wednesday to understand what exactly the Iraqi politicians, who excel at brinkmanship politics, really meant.

The Iraqi statement clearly fell short of what the U.S. had wanted, but the cautious statements in Washington avoided any direct criticism of the Iraqi position. That may be an attempt to buy more time for negotiations.