Russia Supports Extended UN Mandate for US in Iraq

A04855944.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov voiced his country’s support for the idea of allowing the US troops to stay in Iraq under an extended United Nations mandate.

There had been speculation that Russia might veto an extension of the current UN resolution because of frustration with American foreign policy in other parts of the world, including Kosovo and Georgia, where Russia also has interests.

“We’ll support Iraq’s request to the UN Security Council if the Iraqi government asks for the mandate of the current international military presence to be extended,” Lavrov said, according to RIA Novosti.

Lavrov made the comments Monday as he traveled from the Armenian capital, Yerevan, to New Delhi. He said Russia was convinced that an immediate and complete pullout of the international military force from Iraqi territory was inadvisable.

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 people, religious leaders and politicians.

Voices against the proposed agreement gathered strength as an influential Iraqi cleric living in Iran issued a Fatwa condemning the security pact.

Ayatollah Kazim al-Hosseini al-Haeri, an Iraqi-born cleric who is now in the Iranian holy city of Qom, called the proposed agreement “haraam,” or prohibited by Islam, and said that approving the deal would be a “sin God won’t forgive.

The UN Security Council resolution that authorizes American troop operations in Iraq expires Dec. 31, and unless the agreement is in place or the council votes to extend the existing resolution, US troops would have no legal basis for operations at the end of the year.

The draft pact currently being negotiated sets a timeline for American troop withdrawals from Iraqi cities by June and a complete withdrawal from the country by Dec. 31, 2011, but leaves room for adjustments in the schedule depending on conditions in the country.

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.

The current draft accord has been described as a final text, and the Americans have indicated that they are not inclined to make more changes.

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