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Friday, August 22, 2008

U.S., Iraq agree on withdrawal timeline

BAGHDAD — The United States has agreed to a schedule to withdraw many of its troops from Iraq by June 2009 provided that Iraq achieves specified security benchmarks.

Officials said Iraq and the United States have reached agreement on a troop withdrawal timetable, Middle East Newsline reported. Under a preliminary agreement, they said, the U.S. military would remove all units from Iraqi towns over the next 10 months.

"We have agreed that some goals, some aspirational timetables for how that might unfold, are well worth having in such an agreement," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. "The U.S. has gone very far in this agreement. It is a very advanced agreement."

Ms. Rice and her Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, announced the accord at a news conference after their meeting in Baghdad on Aug. 21. The two officials stressed that the extent of a U.S. withdrawal would depend on Iraqi security achievements.

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"U.S. negotiators indeed showed a great deal of flexibility and understanding," Zebari said. "There are clear articles that say that Iraq will not be used as a launching pad for any aggressive acts against neighboring countries, and we already did clarify this."

Officials said the draft accord contained two target dates. The first target was June 30, 2009, when the U.S. military would withdraw from Iraqi cities and villages. The second target was for a full U.S. withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2011.

Few details on the agreement, which would be examined by the Iraqi parliament, were released. Congress was not expected to vote on the accord.

Officials acknowledged that several issues remain unresolved and would be discussed over the next few months. A key dispute was whether U.S. soldiers accused of breaking the law would be granted immunity by Iraq.

Another unresolved issue was the extent of any U.S. military advisory presence after a troop withdrawal, officials said. About 144,000 American soldiers, more than 90 percent of them combat soldiers, remain in Iraq.

"This agreement determines the principle provisions, requirements, to regulate the temporary presence and the time horizon, the mission of the U.S. forces," Zebari said. "We are very close. We have a text, but not the final agreement. Everything has been addressed."

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