AMMAN (AFP) — Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Friday that negotiations with the United States on a long-term security pact were deadlocked because of concern the deal infringes Iraqi sovereignty.
"We have reached an impasse, because when we opened these negotiations we did not realise that the US demands would so deeply affect Iraqi sovereignty and this is something we can never accept," he told Jordanian newspaper editors, according to a journalist present at the meeting.
"We cannot allow US forces to have the right to jail Iraqis or assume, alone, the responsibility of fighting against terrorism," Maliki said on the final day of a two-day visit to Amman.
There has been strong criticism in Iraq and in neighbouring Iran over the negotiations for a deal to cover the foreign military presence in Iraq when a UN mandate expires at the end of the year.
But Maliki later said: "These negotiations will continue until we find common ground that is acceptable for the Iraqi side and the other party."
One of the staunchest opponents of US military presence in Iraq, radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, said in a statement on Friday he plans to form a new armed group to fight American forces.
US President George W. Bush and Maliki agreed in principle last November to sign a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) by the end of July.
But Maliki insisted: "All the Iraqi people agree that any agreement that undermines Iraqi sovereignty should not be signed... We realise that our demands are rejected by the American side and that their demands are rejected by the Iraqi side."
Bush said on Wednesday he recognised there were rifts with Baghdad but stressed that they would iron out the snags.
"I think we'll end up with a strategic agreement with Iraq. There's all kinds of noise in their system and our system," he said.
In February, Bush said the United States would seek a military presence in Iraq for "years" but pledged Washington would not establish permanent bases.
The Bush administration has said any deal would be similar to more than 80 such pacts Washington has with other nations, governing the scope of US operations and providing protection for its soldiers.
It says the pact will not specify troop levels, establish permanent bases in Iraq or tie the next president's hands.
The Iraqi government said earlier this month it had a "different vision" from Washington over the deployment of American troops beyond 2008 and vowed not to compromise national sovereignty.
Iraqi lawmaker Mahmud Othman said on Friday that Washington appeared to be flexible but there were some sticking points, especially the immunity being offered to American soldiers and private security guards.
"Americans are open to lift the immunity as far as the foreign security contractors are concerned but not for their soldiers," said Othman, a Kurd.
The immunity issue has been hotly debated since the killing of 17 Iraqis by guards from the Blackwater security company in Baghdad last year.
Othman said the Iraqis also wanted the United States to offer long term protection to Iraq from any "foreign invasion", adding the particular demand is seen upsetting Washington's arch-foe Tehran.
But he complained that Washington remained silent on the timetable for withdrawal of its troops, saying: "This is wrong."
More than five years after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, there are still around 150,000 US troops in the war-torn country after Bush ordered a "surge" of five extra brigades to combat escalating violence.
These brigades are now being withdrawn, with the final due home in July but the number of soldiers still in Iraq remains above the pre-surge level of close to 130,000.
The top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, has said he expects to recommend further cuts before he moves on to head US Central Command in September, because of improved security.
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