Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Maliki demands 'specifc deadline' for U.S. troop pullout

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By Leila Fadel

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki said Monday there would be no security agreement between the United States and Iraq without an unconditional timetable for withdrawal — a direct challenge to the Bush administration, which insists that the timing for troop departure would be based on conditions on the ground.

"No pact or an agreement should be set without being based on full sovereignty, national common interests, and no foreign soldier should remain on Iraqi land, and there should be a specific deadline and it should not be open," Maliki told a meeting of tribal Sheikhs in Baghdad.

Maliki said that the United States and Iraq had agreed that all foreign troops would be off Iraqi soil by the end of 2011. "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," Maliki said.

But the White House disputed Maliki's statement and made clear the two countries are still at odds over the terms of a U.S. withdrawal.

"Any decisions on troops will be based on conditions on the ground in Iraq," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said in Crawford, Tex., where President Bush is vacationing. "That has always been our position. It continues to be our position."

Fratto denied Maliki's assertion that an agreement has been reached mandating that all foreign forces be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

"An agreement has not been signed," he said. "There is no agreement until there's an agreement signed. There are discussions that continue in Baghdad."

Maliki also said the dispute has not been resolved over immunity for U.S. troops and contractors when they are off their bases. He said this was one of the most divisive issues under negotiation.

"We can't neglect our sons by giving an open immunity for anyone whether he is Iraqi or a foreigner," he said

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Baghdad last week in an effort to push the process forward. Her long meeting with Maliki ended with no concrete solution, his advisor told McClatchy.

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