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Iraq says U.S. agrees to pact changes

BAGHDAD, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- U.S. and Iraqi officials may meet soon to discuss Iraqi changes to the draft security deal governing U.S. troops in Iraq, a White House spokeswoman said Monday.

Press secretary Dana Perino's update about the "status in force" draft agreement differs from earlier reports from Iraq that the United States had agreed to most of the the changes. The Iraqi newspaper al-Sabah reported U.S. officials agreed to three of five changes Baghdad sought, but did not yield on changes to wording on immunity for troops accused of crimes in Iraq.

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The U.S. negotiating team, led by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, is finalizing a response to the Iraqi changes and "we expect to be talking with the Iraqis over the next week," Perino said.

"We are focused on getting this agreement done," she said. "I think the Iraqis recognize that it is in their interest, and it's certainly in America's national security interests, for us to finalize it."

Under the original draft, U.S. troops would withdraw from Iraq's main cities by the end of 2009 and from the country by 2011; the Iraqi change would call for U.S. troop withdrawal from the country within 36 months from the agreement's implementation.

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Also under the original draft, Iraqis would have legal jurisdiction over U.S. troops who commit "serious crimes" while off duty.

The status of forces agreement is needed for the continued presence of 154,000 U.S. troops in Iraq after a United Nations mandate authorizing their activities expires Dec. 31.

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