US and Iraq 'close to agreement' over troop withdrawal date
Friday, 22 August 2008

Meet to discuss 'aspirational timetables'

Agencies

The US and Iraq have agreed on the need for timetables for a withdrawal of American troops, Condoleezza Rice said today although the two have yet to finalise a deal that has been the subject of protracted negotiations.

The US secretary of state, who was making an unannounced trip to Baghdad, told a press conference that she had held fruitful talks with the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and that a final agreement was near that would "solidify the significant gains" in security in Iraq over the last year.
 
"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 Iraqi officials.
 
The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, who appeared with Rice at the press conference, said Iraq's neighbours need not be concerned about the agreement.
 
"This decision is a sovereign one and Iran and other neighbouring 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 neighbouring countries and we already did clarify this."
 
A key part of the US-Iraqi draft agreement envisions the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq's cities by next June 30.
 
Earlier, Rice had downplayed reports that an agreement had been reached on a plan that Iraq has been pushing for that will pave the way for American troops to go home. Ahead of the trip, US officials said more fine-tuning was needed on a schedule for withdrawals, immunity from prosecution for US forces and the handling of Iraqi prisoners.
 
Zebari conceded that officials had hoped to conclude the US-Iraq security pact earlier but internal political factors had prevented this.
 
"This agreement determines the principal provisions, requirements, to regulate the temporary presence and the time horizon, the mission of the US forces," he said. "Really, we are very, very close to closing this agreement and as we said from the beginning, there is no hidden agenda here."
 
Iraq says it would like the agreement to include dates for US forces to withdraw from the country, with the US ceasing routine patrols on Iraqi streets by the middle of next year, and withdrawing combat troops by 2010 or 2011. Withdrawal in two years' time would be in line with proposals by the US Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, who wants American troops out by mid-2010.
 
The Bush administration and John McCain, the Republican candidate, do not want to commit to firm withdrawal dates, preferring vaguer terms such as "time horizons" and "aspirational goals" for a pullout. The US, which still has about 140,000 US troops in Iraq, insists that it would be wiser to set a target linked to the attainment of certain objectives that would reflect not only security improvements but also progress on the political and economic fronts.
 
Other issues that need to be sorted out include immunity for US troops from Iraqi law and the status of prisoners held by American forces. The US holds some 21,000 prisoners in Iraq who it considers dangerous but have not been charged with any crime.
 
Rice said she would also discuss Iraq's failure to enact an election law to allow provincial polls due on October 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 American pressure for Iraqi politicians to reach a deal.
 
A US-Iraq security agreement deal will allow US forces to stay in Iraq beyond the end of this year, when a UN security council mandate expires. The mandate for an international presence was enacted after the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

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