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Iraq says date for pull-out by US is agreed
The Financial Times
By Amit R. Paley in Baghdad and Daniel Dombey in,Washington
August 26, 2008

The US has agreed to withdraw all troops from Iraq by 2011, Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, said yesterday.

But his comments, which go to the heart of the controversy over the US's presence in Iraq, were not confirmed by Washington. US officials indicate that any withdrawal date will be "aspirational" - that is, subject to conditions.

US and Iraqi officials said last week that negotiators had reached an agreement to withdraw American combat troops from Iraqi cities by next year, and pull out the rest by 2011 if the security situation is stable enough.

"There is an agreement actually reached, reached between the two parties on a fixed date, which is the end of 2011, to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil," said Mr Maliki yesterday, speaking at a gathering of tribal leaders in the heavily fortified Green Zone.

But in other comments, Mr Maliki appeared to acknowledge he was not so much describing the draft text as setting out his remaining goals for the agreement.

Mr Maliki's remarks suggest Baghdad is pushing for further concessions from the Bush administration. He demanded the withdrawal of all troops - not only combat forces - and added the agreement had to be "based on a specific time deadline for the withdrawal of foreign forces so that the time period shall not remain open".

By contrast, the US is reluctant to go public with the current state of the negotiations before clearing the remaining hurdles on the Iraqi side.

The topic is highly sensitive in the debate between Barack Obama, the US Democratic presidential candidate, who wants the US to withdraw its combat forces over 16 months, and John McCain, his Republican rival, who says the US first has to achieve victory.

Robert Wood, a US State Department spokesman, refused to discuss the specifics of the deal but noted that it still had to be approved by various levels of the Iraqi government. "There's still a lot of work to be done," he said. "Until we have a final agreement, an agreement that has been approved, we don't have an agreement."

Mr Maliki said the treaty would go to the Iraqi parliament for its approval and that alterations had to be made to the draft text to ensure its passage.

"Unless they change, it will be difficult to have the agreement approved," he said. "There is still disagreement between both sides."

He said one of the sticking points in talks was whether US troops and private contractors would be granted immunity from Iraqi law.

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