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Iraq rejects US claims of Iran trying to bribe Iraqis
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The Iraqi government rejected claims made by a senior U.S. troops commander that Iran is trying to bribe Iraqi lawmakers to undermine a pending U.S.-Iraq security deal.

In an interview with the Washington Post on Monday, General Ray Odierno, top commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, accused Iran of publicly and covertly working on undermining the Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq.

"Clearly, this is one they're having a 'full court press' on to try to ensure there's never any bilateral agreement between the United States and Iraq," the paper quoted Odierno as saying.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement obtained by Xinhua on Thursday that "the Iraqi government expresses its deep concern after statements attributed to General Ray Odierno."

Dabbagh described Odierno's remarks as "inappropriate," asking about the motives of the top U.S. general for such claims.

"These kinds of remarks are likely to tarnish the good relations between Iraq and coalition forces," he added.

However, Odierno acknowledged that he had no definitive proof of the bribes, saying that Iranian officials are "coming in to pay bribes for people to vote against the SOFA," the paper reported.

Iraq and United States had planned to sign SOFA that would allow U.S. forces to remain in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires at the end of this year.

Meanwhile, Iraqi state-owned newspaper al-Sabah said Thursday that Iraqi political leaders reviewed on Wednesday the final draft of the agreement without taking decisions, leaving the door open for other political parties to take part in the debate over the controversial security deal.

The newspaper also quoted Dabbagh as saying that the final deal expects that U.S. troops would leave Iraqi cities by the end of June and withdraw from the country entirely by Dec. 31, 2011, unless the Baghdad government asks some of them to stay for training or security support.

Dabbagh also said that the American troops could face trial before Iraqi courts for major crimes committed off duty.

However, it is a long way for the draft to be approved by the Iraqi side as the agreement would be reviewed by three political bodies: the Political Council for National Security, the cabinet and the Parliament.

The Political Council for National Security, which comprises the Iraqi presidency, the prime minister and the Parliament's presidency and leaders of parliamentary political blocs, would hold a meeting on Friday to review the security agreement, Dabbagh added.

(Xinhua News Agency October 17, 2008)

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