Pact to Allow U.S. Troops Until 2011 Sent to Iraqi Politicians

Iraq would have the right to prosecute American troops and Pentagon contractors accused of major, premeditated crimes committed outside U.S. bases and when they were not on duty, under a draft security pact governing military operations here, Iraqi officials said Wednesday.

The draft also calls for U.S. troops to leave Iraqi cities by the end of June and withdraw from Iraq entirely by Dec. 31, 2011, unless the Baghdad government asks them to stay. The draft must be ratified by the Iraqi parliament before the current U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year.

But the most contentious portion of the agreement is a compromise formula over who has the right to prosecute American troops and contractors for crimes allegedly committed on Iraqi soil.

The U.S. had demanded exclusive jurisdiction. But the Iraqis insisted on a role in trying Americans as an affirmation of sovereignty.

Under the compromise, the U.S. would have the right to try troops and contractors for alleged offenses committed on U.S. bases or during military missions, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to release the information.

But Iraq would have the primary right to try U.S. military personnel and Pentagon contractors for major, premeditated crimes allegedly committed outside American bases and when they were not on an authorized mission, the officials said.

In case American troops are arrested for such offenses, they would be transferred to U.S. custody but made available to Iraqi authorities for questioning and trial, the officials said.

Most of the estimated 147,000 U.S. troops here rarely leave their bases except on authorized missions, so it was unclear whether many of them would face trial before an Iraqi court.

However, the Iraqis have been enraged by a number of cases, including the 2006 rape-slaying of a 14-year-old girl and the murder of her family in Mahmoudiya south of Baghdad.

Four U.S. soldiers pleaded guilty or were convicted in military courts in the Mahmoudiya case. A former soldier, Steven Dale Green, was arrested in the case and is expected to stand trial in April.

The 22-year-old from Midland, Texas, faces a possible death sentence if convicted on 16 charges that include premeditated murder and aggravated sexual assault.

In Washington, the State Department confirmed that a draft agreement had been finalized but refused to discuss any details and said it was too early to tell if it would be eventually be approved.

"There is a text that people are looking at," spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. But, he added: "Nothing is done until everything is done. Everything isn't done. The Iraqis are still talking among themselves. We are still talking to the Iraqis."

Bush administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the evolving diplomacy on the so-called Status of Forces Agreement, said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top Bush aides will soon to begin briefing key members of Congress on the draft.

They said the draft may draw objections from U.S. lawmakers, whose support is not legally required but is considered essential to the eventual success of any deal, according to the officials.

However, the negotiating teams have decided they cannot improve on the proposal and have sent it to higher-ups for a political decision as time runs out on both the Bush administration and the U.N. mandate.

Without an agreement soon, the officials said Tuesday that the two sides will have to begin look more seriously at alternatives that include extending the U.N. authority, which is fraught with complications.

A military official said top Pentagon leaders are not entirely happy with the legal immunity compromise as written in the draft. Officials have said repeatedly, however, that the administration "can live with" the proposed deal.