Deal would set troop time limit
BAGHDAD, – Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Monday that a new security agreement with the United States would set a time limit on the presence of American troops, adding that the government’s eventual goal is to do without any foreign forces on its soil.
“We left an underline that the Iraqi government hoped that this will be the last extension of the mandate,” Zebari told reporters, referring to a one-year extension of the U.N. authorization for the U.S.-led forces in Iraq.
President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last month signed a declaration of principles to guide the negotiations toward the security pact that will take effect once the U.N. mandate ends. The principles did not clarify how long U.S. forces would remain in the country or what mission they would pursue.
Zebari also announced a new round of talks between the United States and Iran on Dec. 18 to discuss Iraq’s security.
The foreign minister also said that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have asked to reopen their diplomatic missions in Baghdad, the Reuters news service reported. The United States has repeatedly urged Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia to reopen its embassy as a sign of support for the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
In central Baghdad on Monday, mortar shells pummeled an Interior Ministry prison, killing five inmates and wounding 25, the U.S. military said, but local police said seven inmates were killed and 23 wounded.
In a separate incident, a blaze broke out at an oil refinery in Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood. Thick plumes of black smoke could be seen from miles away. Although the U.S. military described the fire as an industrial accident, Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Mosawi, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, told state-run television that a rocket had struck the refinery.
Also Monday, the top U.S. commander in the western province of al-Anbar predicted that security gains there will endure because of “blood feuds” between local tribes and the Sunni insurgent group Al-Qaida in Iraq.
But it will take another 19 months before Iraqi forces in al-Anbar can be completely self-reliant in their operations, said Maj. Gen. W.E. Gaskin, who commands about 35,000 U.S. troops in al-Anbar.
A U.S. soldier was killed by a suicide car bomb Monday in Salahuddin province, the military reported.