U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have finished a draft agreement that would see American troops removed from Iraqi cities by June 30, an Iraqi official said today. But the draft has not been approved by the Cabinet and some members have expressed opposition.
The official, who was involved in the protracted negotiations, said the agreement calls for U.S. troops to fully leave the country by the end of 2011.
He said a compromise was reached on the contentious issue of immunity for American troops from prosecution under Iraqi laws, but he did not give details. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to release the information.
Although Iraqi negotiators have signed off on the draft, another official close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the country's political leadership objected to parts of the text, including the immunity provision.
"There are different points of view," he said. "We have given ours. The other side has given theirs."
He would not elaborate and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The agreement would govern the status of the 140,000-strong U.S. military force after the U.N. Security Council mandate for its mission expires at the end of this year.
President Bush had long refused to accept any timetable for bringing U.S. troops home. Last month, however, he and al-Maliki agreed to set a "general time horizon" for ending the U.S. mission.
Bush's shift to a timeline was seen as a move to speed agreement on the security pact.
Iraq's Shiite-led government had held firm for some sort of withdrawal schedule &
a move the Iraqis said was essential to win parliamentary approval. Talks were supposed to have been finished by the end of last month but differences over immunity and other issues blocked a deal.
U.S. officials had reported some progress on the timeline for troop withdrawals but acknowledged the immunity issue presented a huge problem. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were not finished.
As the talks dragged on, American officials said the Bush administration was losing patience with the Iraqis.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and al-Maliki had a long and "very difficult" phone conversation about the situation early this month during which she pressed the Iraqi leader for more flexibility, particularly on immunity, one U.S. senior official said.
"The sovereignty issue is very big for the Iraqis and we understand that. But we are losing patience," the official said at the time, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The process needs to get moving and get moving quickly."
The official could not say how long the call lasted but said it was "not brief" and described it as "tense at times."
Iraq's position in the talks hardened after a series of Iraqi military successes against Shiite and Sunni extremists in Basra, Baghdad, Mosul and other major cities and after the rise in world oil prices flooded the country with petrodollars.
As the government's confidence rose, Iraqi officials believed they were in a strong negotiating position &
especially with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, pledging to remove all combat forces within his first 16 months in office if security conditions allow.
Military may stay in Iraq through 2011