BAGHDAD Iraq's foreign minister told lawmakers Tuesday the U.S. made major concessions in talks on a new security agreement, urging them to approve the deal to keep U.S. troops here after the U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari briefed lawmakers following his visit last month to Washington, where he met with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. His meetings in Washington focused on the ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq on the security agreement and a separate set of rules governing the actions of American soldiers.
Many Iraqi lawmakers have complained that the U.S. demands would infringe on Iraqi sovereignty, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said last month that the talks had reached an impasse.
But Zebari told the legislators that the Americans had made "great concessions to us," including an end to immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law enjoyed by American and other foreign security contractors.
He also said the U.S. was prepared to give up control of Iraqi air space if the Iraqis guarantee that they could protect the country's skies with their limited air force.
Zebari, a Kurd, said the rules governing U.S. troops would last for only one or two years while the separate security agreement would be long-term.
That appeared aimed as satisfying demands of key Shiite and Sunni legislators who had insisted that any agreement contain language that pointed to an eventual U.S. withdrawal.
U.S. officials have declined to discuss details of the negotiations but have expressed hope that they can wrap them up by the end of this month. The Iraqi parliament must sign off on the deal.
Zebari said that if the negotiations fail, the only option would be to ask the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate, and he encouraged legislators to sign off on the final version.
It was unclear how many lawmakers were convinced by Zebari's comments.
But the parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, joked that the Kurds "are obviously for the agreement" and that the Sunnis and the Shiites secretly support it.
That would leave only Shiite followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as opponents "even if the agreement is for the benefit of Iraq," said al-Mashhadani, a Sunni.
If the negotiations finish this month, it is unlikely parliament would begin debate until it reconvenes in August from a one-month summer recess.
Parliament must also approve a new law providing for provincial elections, which are expected by October.
But the U.N, envoy to Iraq, Staffan di Mistura, told parliament leaders Tuesday that there is no time to organize an election by October. He said that if the enabling legislation is not approved by the end of the month, it is unlikely an election could even be held this year.
Provincial elections are considered an important step toward bringing Sunni Arabs into the political process. Many Sunnis boycotted the last provincial election in January 2005, a move that enabled Shiites and Kurds to win a disproportionate share of power.
U.S. officials have been pressing the Iraqis to take advantage of the reduction in violence to enact power-sharing agreements that would cement the security gains since early last year.
Despite improvements, deadly attacks continue.
Police said a truck bomb exploded Tuesday near the home of a Sunni sheik in Qayarra, about 45 miles south of Mosul, killing one person and wounding 25, including the sheik. The blast destroyed three houses and damaged seven others, police said.
Police Brig. Gen. Khalid Abdul-Sattar said the sheik, Abdul-Razaq al-Waqaa, was among local community leaders who had turned against al-Qaida in Iraq.Extremists also killed seven people in a series of attacks Tuesday in Iraq's eastern Diyala province. Local officials fear al-Qaida militants are returning to the province to escape pressure from U.S. and Iraqi forces in the Mosul area.
Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.