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Iraq, U.S. Move Closer to Troop Pullout Date

BY Admin  August 22, 2008 at 12:30 PM EDT

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

Iraqi officials must still approve the deal, but a draft agreement says U.S. combat troops would begin moving out of major Iraqi cities by June with a broader withdrawal by December 2011.

President Bush has opposed setting a date for withdrawing, though that stance has softened in recent weeks. U.S. officials are still reportedly pushing to link the withdrawal to additional security and political progress.

The reasoning behind the withdrawal is that Iraqi security forces would be ready to handle duties on their own. However, the possibility remained that a U.S. military training role would continue, the Associated Press reported.

The security agreement is needed to replace a U.N. Security Council resolution, which established the legal basis for a U.S. troop presence in Iraq and is set to expire by the end of the year.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to Baghdad on Thursday to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and help move the deal along.

Officials from both countries cautioned that significant hurdles remain, although Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari sounded an optimistic note, telling The New York Times: “We’ve been through this before, but we’ve never been this close.”

One of the lingering points of contention is the question of whether American troops can be tried in Iraqi courts.

In the draft agreement, private U.S. contractors would be subject to Iraqi law, unlike the current situation, but the American side held firm in insisting that U.S. troops would remain under U.S. legal jurisdiction, officials said, according to the AP.

Al-Maliki’s stance on the immunity issue remains unclear, which could be interpreted by the public as endorsing the American position, said Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman, reported the Los Angeles Times.