Wed, Dec 31, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Britain keen to finalize Iraq troop deal: ministry

AFP , BAGHDAD

Britain’s defense ministry said yesterday it was keen to finalize a deal that would make legal its military presence in Iraq and prevent a halt to its operations when a UN mandate expires this week.

“There is no pressure per se but there is a keenness to sign otherwise we would need to have a pause [in operations] as effectively there would be no legal framework,” a ministry spokesman in London said, asking not to be named.

Iraq’s presidency council approved on Sunday a parliamentary resolution allowing the presence of non-US foreign troops in the country after the expiry of a UN mandate at midnight today.

The resolution, which was approved by the Iraqi parliament last week, allows the government to negotiate bilateral agreements with other countries that will give their troops a legal basis to stay in Iraq for several more months.

Britain, which has about 4,100 troops based mainly near the southern port city of Basra, has yet to sign an agreement although officials say a final version is on the table.

“The agreement was agreed and then approved and ratified by Iraq’s Council of Ministers and the Presidency Council and during [British] Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s visit to Iraq” earlier this month, the spokesman said.

A spokesman for the British Army in Basra said the deal would need to be formally signed before it takes effect.

Britain is expected to complete its mission in Basra in May before withdrawing its forces in late July.

The US, which has 146,000 soldiers in Iraq, last month signed an agreement with Baghdad which allows its combat forces to remain in the country until the end of 2011.

Deals will also need to be signed between Iraq and Australia, Estonia, Romania and NATO, which each have small numbers of troops stationed in Iraq.

El Salvador announced earlier this month that it would withdraw its 200 soldiers at the end of this year, although the El Salvadorian minister of defense visited Iraq on Sunday to discuss an extension at the request of the Iraqis.

A military spokesman for the Salvadorian military said yesterday no agreement had been signed yet.

“[It] is very possible that a Salvadorian delegation will come to Iraq some time in January to work on a bilateral agreement to continue providing support with staff officers, advisers and reconstruction administrators,” Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Ruiz said.

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