BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has agreed to support a contentious security agreement with the United States and plans to urge his Cabinet to back the recently revised pact, two senior Shiite officials said Friday.
The move would mark a huge step toward ratifying a deal that sets out conditions for U.S. military conduct in Iraq as well as a timeline for their withdrawal from the country by the end of 2011, but which has encountered strong hostility from several Iraqi political parties and factions.
Until now, al-Maliki had declined to openly back the new security agreement. Close advisers said the prime minister changed his position after U.S. officials accepted two key conditions: the removal of any language from the text that might allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraqi cities past June 2009, and the specification that U.S. military personnel must request permission from the Iraqi government to search homes.
Al-Maliki has reluctantly accepted that he could not expect any guarantee that a U.S. soldier suspected of wrongdoing while on a mission would be tried in an Iraqi court, said Sami al-Askari, a prominent Shiite lawmaker and an al-Maliki confidant.
“We don’t expect to have a perfect agreement,” al-Askari said in an interview. “But he can now go to the people and politicians and say, ‘Look, this is far better for Iraq to accept this, than going to the other options.’ It is not perfect … but it is better than the extension” of the United Nations Security Council mandate that authorizes the American military presence in Iraq until the end of the year.
In late October, a senior Bush administration official said that al-Maliki had started moving toward the administration’s position.