U.S., Iraq Near Pact On Troop Withdrawal
The U.S. and Iraq closed in Thursday on a security deal that may involve the withdrawal of American troops from Iraqi cities by next June.
The agreement is set to define the status of U.S. forces in Iraq once the current U.N. mandate runs out at the end of this year.
In a surprise visit to Baghdad, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the two sides have agreed on a final draft, which must still be approved by both governments.
"The United States, I think, has shown great flexibility. I think the Iraqis have shown great flexibility," Rice said. "And this ... will be an excellent agreement when we finally have agreement."
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, who is in Baghdad, said the draft is a complicated document with several provisions. She says it stipulates a scenario for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the end of next June from Iraqi cities.
"That would essentially fully reverse the strategy that the U.S. has been adopting under the surge, where small groups of soldiers live in so-called combat outposts among the communities in Iraq," she told Robert Siegel. "By next June, U.S. troops would essentially withdraw to their bases and act in a support role."
Garcia-Navarro cites Iraqi sources close to the negotiations as saying the next step — security conditions permitting — is a possible full U.S. withdrawal by 2011 to 2012.
"If security deteriorates and the Iraqis want the U.S. to stay longer, they could," she said.
The agreement now will need to be reviewed at the highest levels of both governments.
"The U.S. has already said that they are happy with what's been hammered out, so approval by President Bush is pretty much a given, it seems," Garcia-Navarro said. "The question is: What will the Iraqis say?"
The agreement will be examined by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his security cabinet and the heads of all the political parties. It then has to be ratified by Iraq's parliament.
"We know from past experience, things can get stuck at any stage in that process," Garcia-Navarro said.
This being an election year in Iraq, no one wants to support something that makes them possibly look weak, Garcia-Navarro said. Already, concern is being raised about several provisions of the draft, including immunity for U.S. troops.
"The United States has been pretty adamant that they do not want American soldiers to have to face trial in an Iraqi court," she said. "The Iraqis have been equally adamant that they want to have some accountability for the actions of U.S. troops here.
"What seems to have been hammered out, we are being told, is that there will be some kind of joint committee that will review the issue if it comes up. But, again, it is still one of the issues that is outstanding."
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