U.S., Iraq close to agreement on timetable for troop withdrawal

U.S., Iraq close to agreement on timetable for troop withdrawal

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Thursday the two countries have agreed that timetables should be set for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the battle-scarred country. (UPDATED)

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Appearing together at a news conference, Rice and Zebari mutually asserted that a final agreement between Washington and Baghdad on a withdrawal plan and accompanying strategic framework pact is close to fruition - but not there yet.

"We have agreed that some goals, some aspirational timetables for how that might unfold, are well worth having in such an agreement," Rice told reporters after meeting with Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The two sides had come together on a draft agreement earlier this week and Rice made an unannounced visit to Baghdad to press officials there to complete the accord.


"This decision (agreement) is a sovereign one and Iran and other neighboring countries have the right to ask for clarifications. ... There are clear articles (that) say that Iraq will not be used as a launching pad for any aggressive acts against neighboring countries and we already did clarify this," Zebari said when asked about fears expressed by neighboring countries over such a pact.


A key part of the U.S.-Iraqi draft agreement envisions the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq’s cities by next June 30.


The long-awaited agreement will allow U.S. forces to stay in Iraq beyond the end of this year, when a U.N. Security Council mandate enacted after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 expires.


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Replacing the U.N. mandate with a formal U.S.-Iraqi pact is seen as a milestone in Iraq's emergence as a sovereign state, giving Baghdad direct say over the presence of foreign troops on its soil for the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein.


But the deal's terms are politically sensitive in both countries, with Maliki determined to show that the 144,000 U.S. troops will not stay longer than needed, and U.S. President George W. Bush keen to avoid a firm schedule for them to leave.



Iraqi officials have said they would like to see U.S. forces cease routine patrols on Iraqi streets by the middle of next year and withdraw all combat troops by 2010 or 2011. But it is not clear how explicit such language would be in the agreement.


Iraq's chief negotiator Mohammed al-Haj Hamoud told Reuters on Wednesday a draft of the agreement was complete and would be presented to Iraqi political leaders to approve and send to parliament. He said the draft did not include withdrawal dates.


A commitment to withdraw combat troops in 2010 would resemble the plan offered by U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who wants them out by mid-2010.


The Bush administration and Republican candidate John McCain say troop reductions are likely but they do not want to commit to a firm timetable. The administration began speaking in July of "time horizons" and "aspirational goals" for withdrawal.


Other issues that need to be sorted out include immunity for U.S. troops from Iraqi law and the status of prisoners held by American forces. U.S. forces hold some 21,000 prisoners in Iraq they deem dangerous but have not charged with any crime.


Rice said she would also discuss Iraq's failure to enact an election law to allow provincial polls due on Oct. 1 to take place on time.


The election law was held up in parliament because of a dispute between Kurds and other groups over how to run the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, despite strong U.S. pressure for Iraqi politicians to reach a deal.

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