By Mohammed Abbas
BAGHDAD, July 8 (Reuters) - Iraq’s parliament will insist on vetting any security pact the government agrees with the United States and will likely veto the document if American troops are immune from Iraqi law, a senior lawmaker said on Tuesday.
Baghdad and Washington are negotiating the legal basis for U.S. troops to operate in Iraq when a U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year. The United States has accepted some key Iraqi demands, but it would be virtually unthinkable for it to allow U.S. soldiers to be subject to Iraqi law.
Deputy speaker of parliament Khalid al-Attiya, however, sees parliament insisting on the point.
"The immunity that renders U.S. troops completely outside of Iraqi jurisdiction and law, I do not think Iraq’s parliament will agree on this," he told Reuters in an interview.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Monday said the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq could be governed by a memorandum of understanding. He also raised for the first time the prospect of setting a timetable for their withdrawal.
Maliki’s preference for a memorandum of understanding, which could be an attempt to bypass parliament, contrasts with earlier talks all aiming for a formal Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
Washington has SOFA pacts with many countries, and they typically exempt U.S. troops from facing trial or prison abroad.
Iraq’s government has said a SOFA would be presented to parliament, where it could face lengthy debate by lawmakers wary of any deal perceived to infringe on Iraq’s sovereignty.
Attiya, an independent lawmaker and a senior member of the ruling Shi’ite Alliance, said a memorandum of understanding should also be put before a parliamentary vote.
"Without doubt, if the two sides reach an agreement, this is between two countries, and according to the Iraqi constitution a national agreement must be agreed by parliament by a majority of two thirds," he said.
Iraq said last week that Washington was showing flexibility on some issues, which officials said included dropping a demand for immunity for private contractors working for the U.S. government.
Control of military operations and airspace are also other points of contention, along with the detention of Iraqi prisoners. Officials say planned U.S. military operations will be vetted by joint committees.
The status of U.S. troops in Iraq is particularly sensitive given the animosity between the United States and Iraq’s neighbour Iran, which considers the U.S. an occupying power in Iraq and is wary of U.S. troops so close to its border.
Iraq has insisted it not be used as a base from which to attack its neighbours.
Washington has security pacts with numerous countries, including Japan, where in March thousands protested against crimes committed by U.S. troops, and called for greater Japanese legal jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers. (Editing by Dean Yates and Douglas Hamilton)