BAGHDAD – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Monday that an agreement on the future of U.S. forces in Iraq must include a firm withdrawal date and that Iraq wants the troops out of the country by the end of 2011.
It was the first time al-Maliki explicitly had demanded a fixed deadline for the departure of all U.S. troops from Iraq. His words appeared to rule out the presence of any U.S. military advisers, special forces or air support after the withdrawal date.
The current draft of the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement outlines a conditional timeline of 2011 for U.S. combat troops to be out of Iraq. However, it leaves open the door for the U.S. military to stay on in a noncombat role.
The hardened position came after last week’s visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during which she met with al-Maliki in hopes of clearing obstacles in the way of an agreement.
Officials familiar with the talks say the prime minister remains undecided about whether he wants a deal.
After the meeting, the agreement was supposed to be reviewed by al-Maliki, Iraq’s three-member presidency council and Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani. However, the group has yet to convene to review the text.
Speaking before a gathering of Shiite Muslim tribesmen, al-Maliki said negotiations with U.S. officials were ongoing, but he made clear that he was opposed to a timeline based on conditions on the ground. He said the only agreement acceptable to Iraq was one that guaranteed “full sovereignty.”
“There is … agreement between the two sides that there will not be any foreign soldiers in Iraq after 2011,” he said. In July, al-Maliki had said he thought the end of 2010 was the right time frame for the departure of U.S. troops, with the possibility of slight changes.
In Crawford, Texas, White House spokesman Tony Fratto responded to questions about al-Maliki’s statement by saying: “Any decisions on troops will be based on the conditions on the ground in Iraq. That has always been our position. It continues to be our position.
“There is no agreement until there’s an agreement signed,” he added. “There are discussions that continue in Baghdad.”