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Iraqis want date for U.S. troop exit

Iraqi soliders celebrate the capture of suspected insurgents in Tal Afar on Tuesday. Story on page A9. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Iraqi soliders celebrate the capture of suspected insurgents in Tal Afar on Tuesday. Story on page A9. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Nancy A. Youssef Knight Ridder

BAGHDAD, Iraq – In an attempt to lay the legal groundwork for asking the United States to withdraw its troops, an Iraqi National Assembly committee released a report Tuesday that said the presence of the American military prevents Iraq from becoming fully sovereign.

The 18-member National Sovereignty Committee, made up of legislators chosen in national elections in January, said the only way Iraq could achieve sovereignty was for multinational forces to leave. The report called for setting a timetable for the troops to go home and referred to them as “occupation forces,” a first.

The report is the second time in four months that National Assembly members have expressed frustration with the continued American military presence. In June, one-third of the 275 assembly members signed a petition asking the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal.

It wasn’t clear what impact the new report would have. Iraqi government officials have said they oppose a U.S. withdrawal or setting a timetable, a position that President Jalal Talabani repeated Tuesday in Washington.

“We will set no timetable for withdrawal. A timetable will help the terrorists,” said Talabani, who’s a Kurd.

Most of the committee members are members of the Shiite Muslim political coalition that dominated January’s parliamentary elections, though it was impossible to know how widespread their view is among government supporters.

Assembly members were silent after Jawad al-Malikit, the committee’s chairman and a member of the powerful Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, completed reading the four-page report.

Later, members of the committee said they’d compiled the report to create a legal channel that would make their country independent. “It’s normal to ask for our full sovereignty. It should have happened right after the elections because the government is legal,” al-Malikit said.

Hassan al-Rubai, another committee member, said he was grateful to the United States for removing Saddam Hussein from power. But he added: “We want the United States to make us feel they came here to liberate us, not occupy us.”

The report also asks the United Nations to issue a resolution declaring Iraq a sovereign country and the government to repeal an order enacted by the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority that gives foreign nationals here immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

It also called for the government to have control over its intelligence operations, palaces and prisons. American forces so far have refused to grant Iraqis access to many intelligence operations, to allow them to occupy several palaces that Saddam built and to let them operate several prisons.

The real measure of the report is how leaders of the Iraqi government, other National Assembly members and the people react to it in the next few days, said Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a national-security research center.

“It’s posturing,” Cordesman said. “The question is: What kind of clout does the political posture have?”

The United States returned sovereignty to Iraqis in June 2004, when L. Paul Bremer, then the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, signed a resolution and dissolved the CPA.

But many National Assembly members and average Iraqis have said it’s impossible to feel sovereign when troops are running through their streets and foreigners direct the actions of the Defense and Interior ministries.

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