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Iraq to curb US troop movement

BAGHDAD: Iraq said yesterday it would not grant US troops freedom of movement for military operations in a new agreement being negotiated on extending the presence of American troops on its soil.

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said the US wanted its forces to operate without any restrictions, but this was not acceptable to Iraq.

The US is negotiating an agreement with Iraq aimed at giving a legal basis for troops to stay in Iraq after December 31, when their UN mandate expires.

"What I can confirm now is that there will not be freedom of movement for American (forces) in Iraq," Salih told Arabiya television.

But Western diplomats say it was unlikely the Americans would agree to any deal that would require them to seek permission from the Iraqi government for every military operation.

The negotiations are the subject of heated debate both in US and Iraq, where thousands have answered anti-American cleric Moqtada Al Sadr's call for weekly protests after Friday prayers.

In Baghdad's Sadr City, protesters torched a US flag, while at a mosque in Kufa, thousands of protestors erupted into an impromptu demonstration, chanting "No, America, no! Iraq will not be an American colony!"

However, cleric Sadralddin Al Qubanji, in the city of Najaf, said the agreement could be acceptable, but only if included a date for US troops withdrawal.

Meanwhile, two suspected Shi'ite militia leaders surrendered yesterday when US forces raided their homes south of Baghdad.

One of the men is suspected of ordering attacks on US troops, directing the kidnapping of Iraqis and smuggling Iranian weapons and Katyusha rockets into Iraq. The other suspect tried to flee by wading through an irrigation canal, before turning himself over to US soldiers.

The US said the men were members of Iranian-backed "special groups".

The arrests and demonstrations came on the eve of Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki's trip to Iran.

In incidents of violence, a woman suicide bomber blew herself up at a police station northeast of Ramadi, 100km west of Baghdad, killing one policeman and wounding four others.

Coalition forces captured 10 wanted men and detained 22 others in operations targeting Al Qaeda in Baghdad, Mosul and the Tigris River valley.

Gunmen kidnapped an off-duty police officer on a road near Tikrit, while gunmen killed three policemen and wounded two others at a police checkpoint in Dour, 150km north of Baghdad, police said.

The US military yesterday said its soldiers killed four suspects and captured more than 57 others in raids earlier in the week in Baghdad and across northern Iraq.

And a US Marine sniper has been charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the shootings deaths of two civilians in Iraq.

Separately, the Kurdish Peshmerga security force briefly took over the Khurmala oil field and sent away employees working there, underlining rivalry between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government over territory and rights to Iraq's huge oil reserves. However, the Iraqi Oil Ministry took the employees back to the field and they resumed working.



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