Rice holds talks in Baghdad

Iraqi and American officials agree a draft proposal calling for US troops to withdraw from Iraq as early as next July.
The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice holds a news conference during a Nato foreign ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, on Aug 19.
The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice holds a news conference during a Nato foreign ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, on Aug 19.

BAGHDAD // Iraqi and American officials today agreed a draft proposal that calls for US troops to withdraw from Iraq's cities as early as next July. In addition, the Iraqi government has pushed for a specific date - most likely the end of 2011 - by which all US forces would depart the country. In the meantime, the US troops would be positioned on bases in other parts of the country to make them less visible while still being able to assist Iraqi forces as needed. A senior US military official in Washington said the deal is acceptable to the US side, subject to formal approval by President George Bush. It also requires approval by Iraqi leaders, and some members of Iraq's cabinet oppose some provisions. A draft agreement that extends the legal basis for US troops to remain in Iraq beyond the end of this year has also been agreed. 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 US, the senior military official said. There are now about 140,000 US troops in Iraq. US officials have resisted committing firmly to a specific date for a final pullout, insisting that it would be wiser to set a target linked to the attainment of certain agreed-upon goals. These goals would reflect not only security improvements but also progress on the political and economic fronts. Appearing together at a news conference, Ms Rice and Hoshyar Zebari also mutually asserted that a final agreement between Washington and Baghdad on a broad document spelling out the nature of any future US troop presence and Washington-Baghdad relations is close to fruition. "We have agreed that some goals, some aspirational timetables for how that might unfold, are well worth having in such an agreement," Ms 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 Ms Rice made an unannounced visit to Baghdad to press officials there to complete the accord. Mr Zebari, referring about fears expressed by neighboring countries over such a pact, said: "This decision 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." Mr Zebari said, "This agreement determines the principle provisions, requirements, to regulate the temporary presence and the time horizon, the mission of the US forces." On the plane to Baghdad, Ms Rice said: "The negotiators have taken this very, very far. But there is no reason to believe that there is an agreement yet. There are still issues concerning exactly how our forces operate." Her comments dampened speculation that agreement might be reached while she is in Baghdad on a several-hour visit, her first to Iraq since March. She added that the military surge has worked and "we are making progress together in the defeat of Iraq's enemies of all stripes. "We're not sitting here talking about an agreement to try to get out of a bad situation," Rice said, calling the agreement one that "builds on the success we have had in the last year. This agreement is based on success." Mr Zebari conceded that officials had hoped to conclude the pact earlier, but said that "it has taken us more time," citing internal political factors. Followers of the anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr criticized Rice's visit and repeated their opposition to the security agreement. Sadr's followers control 30 of the 275 seats in parliament. Luai Smeisem, the head of the political bureau in the Sadr movement, said, "We as the Sadr movement denounce this dubious visit and such timing. We reaffirm our stance of rejecting the long-term agreement. We demand the Iraqi government, and on the highest levels, not to sign this unjust agreement and we demand the withdrawal of the government as soon as possible." * AP

Published: August 21, 2008 04:00 AM


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