Sadrists Protest New US-Iraq Pullout Deal

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BAGHDAD — Several thousand supporters of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr protested Friday against an emerging U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, saying it would turn Iraq into a U.S. colony.

The march in the southern city of Kufa came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad to discuss the deal, which includes a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Under a draft agreement, American combat troops would pull out of major Iraqi cities by next June and leave Iraq by 2011, according to Iraqi officials familiar with the document.

The schedule could be modified if the two governments agree, and the pact has not been approved by either the Iraqi Cabinet or the parliament, which has the final decision.

Al-Sadr, who lives in Iran but retains significant political clout in Iraq, strongly opposes the U.S. military presence. Al-Sadr and other critics fear that the pullout deal will bind the U.S. and Iraq in a long-term security relationship, instead of restoring Iraqi sovereignty.

In Kufa, about 2,000 Sadrists marched after Friday noon prayers, chanting, "No to America," and raising pictures of al-Sadr. They held up banners reading "The dubious agreement means a permanent colonization of Iraq" and "Iraq is not a U.S. colony."

An aide to al-Sadr, Sheik Dia al-Shawki, told the worshippers that the emerging deal goes against the will of the Iraqi people.

In Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite slum and al-Sadr's stronghold in Baghdad, preacher Sayyid al-Battat criticized what he said was an ambiguous agreement "that the Iraqi people know nothing about."

A key point of contention has been the issue of jurisdiction over Americans in Iraq, as the Iraqi forces assume greater responsibility.

The draft agreement says that private U.S. contractors would be subject to Iraqi law, unlike at present, but American negotiators held firm on U.S. troops remaining under U.S. jurisdiction.

Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Hamoud Bidan provided more details Friday, telling CNN that jurisdiction would be determined by a joint legal committee in cases of U.S. citizens who commit major crimes against Iraqi civilians.

The deputy minister also reiterated that June 30 is the deadline for a troop withdrawal from Iraqi cities.

In other developments Friday, Iraqi forces carried out an arrest raid in Sadr City. The forces moved in as worshippers headed to a local mosque for dawn prayers, said Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for al-Sadr's office in the area. Soldiers shot and killed one of al-Sadr's guards when he tried to escape arrest, al-Moussawi said. Another guard was arrested, he said.

Army officials had no immediate comment.

The Iraqi army won control of Sadr City in May, after weeks of battles with al-Sadr's now largely disbanded militia.

Also Friday, a court spokesman said an Iraqi court imposed the death sentence in absentia on a former Sunni culture minister for his role in an attack on a Sunni politician that killed his two sons.

The Baghdad criminal court imposed the sentence Wednesday on Asad Kamal al-Hashimi after convicting him of the Feb. 5, 2005, attack, according to a spokesman for the Iraqi Higher Judicial Council, Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar.

Al-Hashimi has been a fugitive since he was accused of planning the ambush against secular Sunni politician Mithal al-Alusi. Al-Alusi was wounded and his sons were killed in the western Baghdad attack.

Al-Hashimi has one month to file an appeal.