Gates briefs Congress on Iraq security agreement

Proposed pact would have U.S. out of country by 2011


WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates began briefing key lawmakers Thursday on a new security agreement between the United States and Iraq which would keep American troops in the country past Dec. 31.

The proposed Status of Forces Agreement, which still must be approved by officials from both countries, calls for U.S. forces to pull out of Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009 and out of the country by the end of 2011, unless another arrangement is made.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Gates made phone calls to key leaders on the House and Senate Armed Services committees to fulfill his pledge "to consult with them on this document before it is finalized."

The discussions were meant to provide lawmakers an update of what the draft agreement includes, but lawmakers have not been given the text of the draft agreement because it is "still a work in progress," he said.

However, Friday, the Associated Press obtained excerpts of the agreement from Iraqi officials.

Earlier in the week, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., expressed concern over reports that the agreement would allow U.S. troops to be tried in Iraqi courts for crimes committed off base and when not on missions.

He noted that Iraq still does not have a judicial system "proven to be fair and protective of the rights of individuals." But he also emphasized he would not make any decisions on supporting or opposing the plan until after his staff had a chance to review the proposal.

Gates on Friday tried to allay any concerns that the Status of Forces Agreement being negotiated with Iraq could allow U.S. troops to be tried in Iraqi courts.

"I think there is not reason to be concerned," Gates told reporters, noting that former U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus and current commander Gen. Raymond Odierno have been "deeply involved" with the negotiations, working with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

"I can tell you that Adm. [Mike] Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Petraeus, Gen. Odierno and I are all satisfied that our men and women in uniform serving in Iraq are well-protected," Gates said.

Iraqi negotiators were scheduled to present details to government officials on Friday, and State Department and congressional leaders scheduled a briefing Friday morning to discuss the agreement.