US, Iraqi negotiators reach agreement on troops presence

October 17th, 2008 - 5:45 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 17 (DPA) US and Iraqi negotiators have reached a tentative agreement outlining the future presence of US troops but it still requires the support of lawmakers in both countries, the Pentagon said Thursday.The United States and Iraq have been negotiating the pact for months to establish a legal basis for maintaining American forces in Iraq once a UN mandate expires at the end of this year.

The deal will still require the approval of each country’s top leaders and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is seeking a support from parliament.

“There is a draft that includes language that has been agreed upon by Iraqi and US negotiators, but is, of course, still subject to the normal political process in both of our nations,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

Morrell did not provide details of the agreement, including how sticking points between both sides were resolved, pending final approval on the so-called Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, a standard deal Washington works out with countries who host the US military.

US and Iraqi negotiators disagreed over issues of how long the US military can hold prisoners without charging them, whether the Iraqi government should be informed in advance of operations, and whether US soldiers should be subject to US or Iraqi criminal law.

Al-Maliki had also insisted on a deadline for the withdrawal of US forces - another contentious issue. President George W Bush has refused to set what he considers arbitrary withdrawal dates and maintains any pullouts should be based on success in achieving security in the country.

Al-Maliki and Bush over the summer agreed to establish time-based goals for removing US troops but the White House insists that timeline is not binding. US media has reported the deal involves a 2011 withdrawal date.

“These are goals that we have agreed to that will only be followed if the conditions on the ground provide for it,” Morrell said, acknowledging that there are “aspirational timelines” included in the draft agreement.

The Bush administration had sought a deal before the end of July on a bilateral agreement with Iraq to replace the UN mandates enacted after the 2003 invasion.

A failure to reach a deal could force Washington and Baghdad to once again request a mandate from the Security Council - a step both sides are trying to avoid. Morrell would not discuss which options could be taken up if a final deal is not reached.

“If for some reason that were not to happen, obviously, we’d have to figure out the way ahead. We could not operate in Iraq without legal authority to do so,” he said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met with President Jalal Talabani and vice presidents Tariq al-Hashimi and Adil Abdel Mahdi on Wednesday to discuss the draft, the Iraqi government said.

Morrell said US Defence Secretary Robert Gates supports the agreement and intends to brief congressional lawmakers in the coming days.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Maliki and, Talabani, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Thursday.

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