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Bush, Maliki Discuss Exit Plan

August 23, 2008

By Richard Lardner Associated Press

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spoke Friday by secure video as work on a plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by 2011 continued.

“There are still discussions ongoing,” said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe. “It’s not done until it’s done. And the discussions are really ongoing. And ongoing and ongoing. But hopefully drawing to a conclusion.”

Bush is vacationing at his ranch in Texas.

The deal being discussed by U.S. and Iraqi negotiators sets a course for American combat troops to pull out of major Iraqi cities by next June, with a broader exit two years later from the long and costly war that began in March 2003.

The dates could be adjusted if security and political progress in Iraq deteriorate.

There are about 140,000 U.S. forces in Iraq, according to United States Central Command, and more than 4,100 American troops have been killed there.

Johndroe would not discuss specifics of the plan being negotiated, including the dates when U.S. troops might begin to leave. The president has previously resisted a timetable for their departure.

“There are a lot of details that have to be worked out,” Johndroe said.

Increased security in Iraq, which the Bush administration said is due to the so-called surge of U.S. forces more than a year ago, created the conditions for the troop withdrawal negotiations to take place, Johndroe said.

The talks take place as Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama regularly trade shots over progress in Iraq and argue over who is better suited to be commander in chief when Bush leaves office in January.

Obama, the Democratic nominee in waiting, wants all U.S. forces out of Iraq within 16 months of his taking office, saying they are needed in Afghanistan. Violence in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan has increased due to a resurgent Taliban and political instability in Pakistan.

“I am glad that the administration has finally shifted to accepting a timetable for the removal of our combat troops from Iraq,” Obama said in a statement released Friday.

“Senator McCain has stubbornly focused on maintaining an indefinite U.S presence in Iraq, but events have made his bluster and record increasingly out of touch with reality,” Obama said.

Obama opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. And he’s said the surge of troops has not led to the political reconciliation needed to ensure the country will remain secure once all U.S. troops are gone.

McCain, the Republican candidate, supported the president’s January 2007 decision to add 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Those additional troops have returned home.

McCain has also said the security situation in Iraq should dictate any pullout schedule. And he’s criticized Obama for not only opposing the surge but also trying to block the funding that would have allowed the increase.

(c) 2008 Deseret News (Salt Lake City). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.




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