August 21, 2008

U.S., Iraq Deal Taking Shape — Troops Would Leave Cities By June in Draft Plan

By Qassim Abdul-Zahra; Robert Burns

BAGHDAD - Iraqi and U.S. negotiators have completed a draft security agreement that would see U.S. troops leave Iraqi cities as soon as June 30, 2009, Iraqi and American officials said Wednesday.

In addition, the Iraqi government has pushed for a specific date - most likely the end of 2011 - by which all U.S. forces would depart the country. It remains unclear if Washington has agreed to that.

"The improved security in Iraq allows us to have conversations with the Iraqis about setting goals for more American troops to come home and for the Iraqis to take the lead in more combat missions," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "Any dates in an agreement will be based on conditions on the ground because we do not want to lose the hard-fought gains of the surge."

Senior Pentagon officials said the draft is consistent with U.S. objectives, which include setting a "time horizon" rather than a firm date for the future withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The Pentagon officials told The Associated Press the emerging deal is acceptable to the U.S. side, subject to formal approval by President Bush.

It also requires final acceptance by Iraqi leaders, and some members of Iraq's Cabinet oppose some provisions.

Also completed is a companion draft document, known as a strategic framework agreement, spelling out in broad terms the political, security and economic relationships between Iraq and the United States.

The draft agreement addresses issues that are key points of contention in the U.S. presidential election - in particular, the future U.S. troop presence in Iraq. GOP hopeful Sen. John McCain is opposed to setting any timeline for withdrawals; his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, says he would bring all combat troops home from Iraq within 16 months.

An Iraqi official who was involved in the protracted negotiations said the latest draft was completed last week and sent to the two governments.

The Iraqi official said a compromise had been worked out on the contentious issue of whether to provide U.S. troops immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law, but he did not give details.

In Washington, U.S. military officials said the draft agreement reflects the U.S. position that the United States must retain exclusive legal jurisdiction over its troops in Iraq.

While Iraqi negotiators signed off on the draft, another official close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the country's political leadership objected to parts of the text, including the immunity provision.

The Shiite-led government has been pressing for some sort of timeline for the departure of U.S. troops, saying that is essential to win legislators' approval.


The rundown

The security deal would govern the status of the 140,000-strong U.S. military force after the U.N. Security Council mandate for its mission expires at the end of 2008. Some details:

U.S. forces could leave Iraqi cities as soon as June30 .

Iraqis are pushing for a U.S. withdrawal deadline of 2011, but it's unclear if Washington has agreed.

Pentagon officials said the draft maintains U.S. legal jurisdiction over its troops in Iraq.


Originally published by Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert Burns Associated Press .

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