- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2007

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq wants the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate of the 160,000-strong U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq only through the end of 2008, then replace it with a long-term bilateral security agreement, Foreign Ministry officials said yesterday.

Aides to Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the mandate extension for the U.S.-led coalition, due to be discussed at the end of this year, would be “the last extension for these forces.”

Iraq would then seek a long-term, bilateral security agreement with the United States like the ones Washington has with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Egypt, he said.

“Iraq needs a new resolution to determine the shape of the relationship between the two countries and how to cooperate with the U.S. forces,” said Labid Abawi, a deputy foreign minister.

In other developments yesterday, the court-martial that cleared a U.S. Army sniper of two counts of murder sentenced him to five months in prison, reduced his rank to private and ordered his pay withheld for planting evidence in the deaths of two Iraqi civilians.

Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval, 22, of Laredo, Texas, was acquitted Friday of murder charges in the April and May deaths of two unidentified men.

One of his colleagues, Sgt. Evan Vela, said the sniper team was following orders when it shot the men during two separate incidents near Iskandariyah, a volatile Sunni-dominated area 30 miles south of Baghdad. Sgt. Vela and Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley will be tried separately.

Sectarian violence, meanwhile, claimed at least 40 more lives across Iraq, with a flurry of attacks around the northern city of Mosul where bombs, gunmen and mortar fire killed 14.

Two U.S. soldiers were killed by gunfire, one in Diyala province north of Baghdad and one in a southern district of the capital.

Mr. Zebari first disclosed the plan on the U.N. resolution in an interview with the London-based Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that was published yesterday.

A resolution adopted unanimously by the U.N. Security Council on June 8, 2004, said the U.S.-led multinational force would remain in Iraq at the request of the interim government that was about to assume control of the country from the United States and Britain.

The resolution, drafted by the United States, authorizes a review of the mandate at the request of the Iraqi government every six months. It was extended last for one year on Dec. 31 and expires at end of this year.

“We will ask the council to extend the mandate for another year … then our negotiations with the Security Council will be kicked off,” Mr. Zebari was quoted as saying.

“We will ask the council to include an article that allows Iraq to enter into negotiations with the United States to reach long-term security agreements to meet Iraq’s security needs bilaterally,” Mr. Zebari added.

He said the bilateral agreement would “not set a timetable [for withdrawal of U.S. forces] … but could include an article [that] calls for decreasing their numbers.”

In June, Iraqi legislators led by followers of a radical anti-American Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr passed a resolution requiring the government to seek parliamentary approval before asking the United Nations to extend the U.S. mandate.

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