The Iraqi government reacted sharply Friday to published allegations that the U.S. spied on Iraq's prime minister, warning that future ties with the United States could be in jeopardy if the report is true.
The allegations appear in a new book, The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008, by journalist Bob Woodward, who writes that the United States spied extensively on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his staff and other government officials.
The report emerged as the two governments are in delicate negotiations over the future of American troops in Iraq. Those talks have already extended past their July 31 deadline and have drawn sharp criticism from Iraqis who want an end to the U.S. presence.
Critics may well use the allegation to step up pressure on the government not to sign a deal or hold out for the most favorable terms.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Baghdad will raise the allegations with the U.S. and ask for an explanation. But if true, he warned, it shows a lack of trust.
"It reflects also that the institutions in the United States are used to spy on their friends and their enemies in the same way," al-Dabbagh said in a statement.
"If it is true, it casts a shadow on the future relations with such institutions," al-Dabbagh added, referring to the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.
In Washington, the White House declined to comment directly on the allegations. Instead, spokeswoman Dana Perino said official channels of communication between the two governments happen daily.
"We have a good idea of what Prime Minister Maliki is thinking because he tells us, very frankly and very candidly, as often as we can," Perino said.
The security agreement which Washington and Baghdad are negotiating will determine the future status of the U.S. military in Iraq after the current U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.
Officials from both sides say a draft agreement would see American troops leave Iraqi cities as soon as June 30. The Iraqis want all forces out by the end of 2011.
Other key issues remain unresolved, including the issue of legal jurisdiction over Americans in Iraq, as the Iraqi forces assume greater responsibility.
Bush has long resisted a timetable for pulling troops out of Iraq, even under heavy pressure from a nation distressed by American deaths and discouraged by the length of the war, which began in 2003.
There is also grumbling about the security agreement among other Iraqi factions.
A spokesman for the largest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament warned Friday against the U.S. pulling its troops out of the cities too early.
Sunnis are particularly concerned that they don't trust the mostly Shiite army and police. They also fear Shiite militias and Iran, the predominantly Shiite neighbor, would wield too much sway in Iraq's mostly Shiite government after the Americans leave.
"There are political forces who welcome the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, but there are also fears from other forces of the possibility that militias and al-qaeda might activate again and ... some neighboring countries would snatch this opportunity to dominate their presence in the Iraqi arena," Salim Abdullah al-Jubouri, spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, told the U.S.-funded Radio Sawa.
Anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's followers, meanwhile, fear the deal will bind the U.S. and Iraq in a long-term security relationship, instead of restoring Iraqi sovereignty.
Clerics at Friday prayers in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City and the southern city of Kufa denounced the agreement.
"The suspicious agreement is a permanent occupation of Iraq," read a banner held by one worshipper during a march in Kufa.
Woodward's book, which is set to be released Monday, also describes Bush as detached, tentative and slow to react to the escalating violence in Iraq, The Washington Post reported on its Web site Thursday night.
The book is the fourth by Woodward, an associate editor at The Washington Post, to examine the inner debates of the Bush Administration and its handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.