Rice meets al-Maliki during unscheduled Iraq visit (Lead)

August 21st, 2008 - 5:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Baghdad, Aug 21 (DPA) Visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iraqi premier Nuri al-Maliki Thursday began talks that centred around the presence of US troops in the country and the security situation in Iraq’s restive Diyala province.Rice met al-Maliki at the Iraqi cabinet building in the capital immediately after arriving for the unscheduled visit, Iraqi media reported.

She is expected to present further proposals the Iraq-US security deal for the withdrawal of US troops and the lifting of their immunity, which has been the subject of ongoing negotiations between Washington and Baghdad.

Iraq reportedly wants a fixed time for the troop withdrawal.

The head of Iraq’s parliamentary defence committee Hady al-Ameri was quoted in Iraq’s Sabah newspaper Thursday as saying Iraq’s state security council would discuss the draft of the Iraqi-US security agreement at its next meeting.

Lawmakers would then vote on the matter, he said. Iraq’s parliament is currently in recess.

“The Iraqi and American sides have reached agreement on most of the issues, except for a few that are still outstanding,” al-Ameri was quoted as saying.

Iraq’s refusal to allow US troops to remain in Iraq in the long-run was a demand “of the people and not the government,” he said.

Iraq’s al-Araqiya television channel meanwhile said Rice and al-Maliki would also discuss the security problems in Diyala province north of Baghdad, where tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims are high.

Al-Maliki Tuesday ordered an investigation into a crackdown by Iraqi special forces and US forces in Diyala that included a raid on Diyala provincial government headquarters in which the secretary to Diyala’s governor was killed. Several provincial council members were also arrested.

The province is also the scene of a crackdown aimed at flushing out members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Last month, Iraqi forces launched the Baashaer al-Kheir or “promise of good” operation to track down members of the network.

The operation followed the weakening of Al-Qaeda’s former strongholds in the Sunni-dominated province of al-Anbar.

Rice last visited Iraq in late April and praised al-Maliki for his security efforts and his policy to boost national reconciliation.

On Thursday, she flew into Iraq from Poland where she had signed an agreement with her counterpart on setting up a US missile shield on Polish soil.

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