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Iraq criticizes U.S. commander for bribe comments

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi government criticized the top U.S. commander in Iraq on Wednesday for accusing Iran of trying to bribe Iraqi politicians.

“The Iraqi government expressed its concern about comments attributed to General Raymond Odierno, leader of coalition forces, which include an inappropriate reference toward elected members of parliament,” the government said in a statement.

“This type of comment harms healthy relations with coalition forces.”

Earlier this week, Odierno said in a newspaper interview that Washington believed Iranian agents were trying to bribe Iraqi lawmakers to oppose a security pact governing the U.S. troop presence in Iraq after the end of this year.

Odierno told the Washington Post he thought Iran was using contacts with Iraqi politicians “to attempt to influence the outcome of the potential vote in the council of representatives.”

“We get reports of people coming in to pay off people to vote against it. Whether it’s true or not I have no specific proof, but there are many intelligence reports that say that activity is going on,” he said.

A spokesman for Odierno, who took over last month from General David Petraeus as commander of the 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, confirmed the comments.

The U.S. military responded to the Iraqi statement, saying that Odierno’s comment “in no war infers that any Iraqi government officials accepted bribes.”

U.S. and Iraqi officials have been locked in negotiations for months on the pact, but talks now appear close to complete.

Washington has long accused Iran of undermining Iraqi security by training and equipping militants, charges which Tehran denies.

Iran has spoken out publicly against the security pact, which it fears could give its arch-enemy a long-term presence just across its western border. U.S. and Iraqi officials deny the pact will give Washington a permanent presence.

Senior Iraqi officials are reviewing a final draft of the agreement, which will later be submitted for approval to parliament, the government said on Wednesday.

Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Missy Ryan, editing by Mark Trevelyan

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