U.S. Counters Iraqi Changes to SOFA Deal

The United States has formally responded to Iraq's proposals for changes to a draft deal that will govern American forces in Iraq and that sets a date for their withdrawal -- agreeing to some suggestions, but balking at an Iraqi bid for more criminal jurisdiction over U.S. troops, sources say.

"It's now the Iraqis' turn for them to move the document through their internal political process," State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood said.

The two sides thought they had a deal several weeks ago, but Iraq's cabinet rejected the draft and proposed changes, infuriating the American negotiators, according to U.S. officials.

"We've discussed this agreement with the Iraqis over a period of time. And we've responded in good faith to a number of their concerns," Wood said today.

"The process has, on our side, has been concluded," he added -- though sources told ABC News his remarks do not represent an ultimatum.

Time, however, is running short. The so-called Status of Forces Agreement is to replace a United Nations mandate that authorizes the U.S. troops' presence in Iraq.

The U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year. If the SOFA is not completed soon, the United States will have to abandon that plan and seek an extension of the U.N. mandate, something both sides have said they do not want.

Spokesmen for the White House, State Department and Pentagon refused to disclose the content of the draft deal or the U.S. response to the proposed changes.

"We have addressed the issues in a way that respects the sovereignty on both sides," Wood told reporters.

But U.S. officials tell ABC News that the U.S. accepted several Iraqi proposals, rejected another and proposed a compromise on yet another.

Among the accepted proposals, the Iraqis will be allowed to screen U.S. military mail sent to Iraq. The United States also agreed to change the name of the deal to "Agreement on Complete U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq," according to a U.S. official.

The United States rejected an Iraqi proposal to expand Iraqi jurisdiction over U.S. troops accused of a crime.

The extent to which the Iraqis wanted to expand that authority is unclear, but the initial deal agreed to weeks ago placed U.S. troops on duty, and on American bases, under U.S. legal authority, while U.S. troops who committed heinous crimes off duty could be subject to Iraqi law under certain circumstances.

The United States is wary of subjecting U.S. troops to a fledgling Iraqi judicial system and considers the matter a deal breaker in negotiations.

The United States countered one of Iraq's proposals for clearer language, stating that all U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq by the end of 2011. The new proposed language remains unclear, but U.S. officials say that the language has been clarified while maintaining some caveats.

Original language contained no wording about a conditions-based withdrawal in 2011, according to a copy of the original deal obtained by ABC News. It did, however, say that U.S. troops would draw back from Iraqi towns and villages by mid-2009 if conditions on the ground permitted.

Even if the Iraqi government accepts the American changes, the deal still faces a steep battle in the Iraqi parliament, where it faces significant opposition.

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