Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the first time talked of approaching the U.N. for an extension of the mandate.
WASHINGTON - An agreement to extend the U.S. military mandate in Iraq beyond this year -- near completion only a month ago -- has stalled over objections by Iraqi leaders and could be in danger of unraveling, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials.
The disagreements threaten a capstone of President Bush's Iraq policy during his remaining months in office. Bush has already offered significant concessions to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the negotiations, including his willingness to accept a specific date for withdrawing U.S. forces: the end of 2011.
The major remaining point of contention involves immunity. The United States maintains that its troops and military contractors should have the same protections they have in other countries where they are based.
Baghdad, on the other hand, insists that they be subject to the country's criminal justice system for any crime committed outside of a military operation, the officials said.
In a TV interview this week, Al-Maliki cited the hypothetical example of an Iraqi killed by an American soldier in a marketplace, saying that a case like that should fall "to Iraqi courts immediately."
"This," he said of the U.S position, "they reject."
The U.N. mandate authorizing U.S. forces in Iraq expires Dec. 31. In a sign of urgency, the administration will send its chief negotiators back to Baghdad in the coming days to try to complete an agreement that officials had originally planned to finish in July.
However, Al-Maliki, for the first time, raised the possibility of seeking an extension to the U.N. mandate at the General Assembly. But, he said, that had become complicated because of U.S.-Russian tensions over the conflict in Georgia.
Michael E. O'Hanlon, an analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington, said that Al-Maliki's objections reflected a combination of factors. He cited Iraqi nationalism, Al-Maliki's own domestic political necessities and a desire to await the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, on the assumption that the next president could offer different terms.
NEW YORK TIMES