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Tuesday, July 8, 2008 - Page updated at 09:51 AM

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Iraq leader wants U.S. withdrawal schedule

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proposed Monday that negotiators include a timetable for the departure of U.S. troops in any agreement...

BAGHDAD — Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proposed Monday that negotiators include a timetable for the departure of U.S. troops in any agreement to continue the American presence in Iraq beyond the end of 2008.

He also publicly confirmed Monday that his government was leaning toward concluding a short-term security pact with the United States instead of a broader agreement that would last for years.

It was the first time al-Maliki has explicitly and publicly called for a withdrawal timetable — an idea opposed by President Bush.

He offered no details. But his national-security adviser, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, told The Associated Press that the government is proposing a timetable conditioned on the ability of Iraqi forces to provide security.

The legal authority for U.S. troops in Iraq is now provided by a U.N. mandate that expires at the end of the year. Iraq and the United States have been negotiating details of a broad new agreement that would formalize the security relationship, but with elections nearing in both countries and opposition likely from the Iraqi Parliament, Iraqi leaders seem to be opting for a more narrow and short-term bilateral pact.

Al-Maliki comments came during an official visit to the United Arab Emirates and were aimed at deflecting domestic fears that the deal would impinge on Iraqi sovereignty and clear the way for permanent U.S. bases.

Al-Maliki also recognizes that U.S. opinion has turned against the war and believes his country should not wait for a U.S. decision to pull out troops, according to lawmakers from his Islamic Dawa Party.

Bush and al-Maliki have set a target date of July 31 to hammer out a blueprint for U.S.-Iraqi relations after the U.N. mandate expires.

"The current orientation [of the talks] is to reach a memorandum of understanding either to withdraw the forces or to set a timetable for their withdrawal," al-Maliki's office quoted him as saying in response to questions from Arab ambassadors in Abu Dhabi.

Many Iraqis, including members of al-Maliki's government, view a deal that allows for a long-term American military presence as a surrender of sovereignty. Setting a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops could ease those fears.

Compiled from Los Angeles Times, Associated Press and

New York Times reports

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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