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No secret deal on pact with Iraq, U.S. says

WASHINGTON, June 5 (Reuters) - U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said on Thursday there would be no secret deals in a long-term pact under negotiation with Iraq, and Washington did not want permanent bases in the country it invaded in 2003.

Crocker, in Washington for consultations with the Bush administration, said any long-term strategic framework agreement with Iraq would respect the country's sovereignty.

"There aren't going to be any secret provisions, attachments, protocols or whatever. This will be a transparent process," Crocker told a news briefing.

The issue has become highly charged in Washington and Baghdad. Iraqi lawmakers said on Wednesday they would reject any long-term security deal if it were not linked to a requirement that U.S. forces leave.

Member of the U.S. Congress say the agreement could tie the hands of the next administration by locking America into a long-term military presence in Iraq. They also say that any arrangement must have the consent of U.S. lawmakers.

The proposed agreement defines long-term bilateral ties and has a separate "status of forces" deal that outlines rules and protections governing U.S. military activity in Iraq.

'FLATLY UNTRUE'

Crocker rejected suggestions Washington wanted a permanent military presence in Iraq and that it was negotiating for dozens of long-term bases across the country.

"We are not seeking permanent military bases in Iraq. That is just flatly untrue. Nor are we seeking to control Iraqi air space. That is another enduring myth," he said.

He said Iraq was working hard to develop its own air traffic control capacity and as this happened, the United States would hand over increased responsibility.

Crocker said a military presence would be needed beyond this year. There are about 151,000 U.S. forces in Iraq.

Like the many other status of forces deals that Washington has with other countries, Crocker said the Iraqi arrangement would have a review provision.

"I am very comfortable saying to you, to the Iraqis and to anyone who asks that we are not seeking permanent bases, either explicitly or implicitly by just intending to stay there indefinitely," he added.

U.S. forces operate in Iraq under a U.N. mandate that expires at the end of 2008. Baghdad does not want that mandate extended, so the two governments have agreed to set guidelines to enable U.S. forces to remain beyond the end of this year.

Crocker said a tentative date of end-July had been set to wrap up negotiations on the long-term pact -- well before the next U.S. president is elected on Nov. 4.

"My focus on this is more on getting it done right than getting it done quick," he added.

Yet another controversial element has been legal immunity for U.S. contractors working in Iraq, which the Iraqi government strongly opposes.

Crocker declined to be pressed on this issue except to say: "The question of jurisdiction and immunity will be part of any negotiations on this." (Reporting by Sue Pleming; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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