Iran judiciary chief lauds US-Iraqi security pact

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran took a surprisingly positive stance Monday on the Iraq-U.S. security pact after months of harshly denouncing the deal, which would keep American troops in Iraq for three more years.

Some hard-liners continued to lash out at the agreement, but comments in the state media and from one of the clerical state's most powerful figures signaled Tehran may be taking the view that no matter what it dislikes in the deal, it will eventually mean the departure of the Americans.

"The Iraqi government has done very well regarding this," the Web site of Iran's state television quoted judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi as saying. "We hope the outcome of (the deal) will be in favor of Islam and Iraqi sovereignty."

The Iraqi Cabinet overwhelmingly approved the pact Sunday. It now must be approved by the parliament.

Under the agreement, U.S. troops must leave Iraqi cities by June and all the country by 2012. Iraqi authorities also will assume extensive power over the operations and movements of American forces.

Iran and Syria, which view the American presence as a threat to their security and regional influence, have said an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would be best. Iraq sought to allay their fears, amending the pact to include a ban on cross-border attacks staged from Iraq.

Shahroudi is very close to Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his comments reflect thinking of conservatives within the ruling system, but not all hard-liners or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iranian state media also toned down opposition to the agreement.

"It is a deal about withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq," state television said in a commentary Monday, calling it "a victory" for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.

Iran's parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, offered only mild objections to the pact - contrary to the strong opposition he voiced in the past. He urged the Iraqi parliament to withhold approval until the U.S. makes further changes in Iraq's favor, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The Americans "sought to turn Iraq through this pact into a U.S. province, but Iraqi clerics, government and people resisted for eight months and brought changes to it seven times ... The Iraqi people and parliament must know that there is still room for resistance," Larijani was quoted as saying.

Syria, however, continued to criticize the deal.

"We shouldn't give occupiers any reward or prize ... On the contrary, they (the U.S.) should apologize for the damage they have caused (in Iraq)," Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal told The Associated Press.

Bilal said Syria has warned Iraq's government about the consequences of the agreement.

"We have told our brothers in Iraq that turning Iraq into a U.S. base to launch aggression on neighboring countries would be a big tragedy," he said.

It was an apparent reference to last month's U.S. military raid inside Syria near the Iraq border. U.S. officials said the raid targeted a top militant in Iraq's insurgency, but Syria claims it killed eight civilians.

Some hard-liners in Iran also maintained their harsh criticism of the pact.

One lawmaker, Ali Aghazadeh, said the deal provided legitimacy to what he called the American occupation of Iraq.

"This is a shaky agreement. The U.S. will seek to extend their stay in Iraq," he said.