U.S.-Iraq agreement sets stage for talks on troop levels

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 26, 2007 

BAGHDAD — Iraq and the United States agreed Monday that the U.N.-mandated occupation of Iraq will end in December 2008 and that any U.S. troop presence in the country after that time will be subject to U.S.-Iraq negotiations that are to be completed by next summer.

The agreement likely will be seen as a victory for Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who's been pressing for an end to U.S. supervision of Iraq. In a nationally televised speech, Maliki said the agreement "ends the presence of international troops" in Iraq.

"This is the target we all seek," he said.

In Washington, a spokesman for the National Security Council said that U.S. officials were confident that an agreement would be reached that would continue a U.S. presence in Iraq. "I'm confident the bilateral agreements will be established next year," said NSC spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

But the agreement, which Maliki and President Bush signed during a teleconference, also could impose some limits on how U.S. commanders could use those troops.

Maliki has been a frequent critic of U.S. military actions that have killed civilians and has said on numerous occasions that he believes Iraq doesn't need as many American troops as are now in the country.

Under the current U.N. mandate, U.S. officials have the sole authority to decide how many troops are in Iraq and how they're used. U.S. military law governs the actions of those troops.

The agreement calls for a final, one-year extension of the U.N. mandate, which is to expire this December.

After that, the U.S. troop presence would be set in negotiations to be completed by July 31 — about the same time that five combat brigades sent to Iraq under the Bush administration's "surge" are expected to have been withdrawn.

In 2005, Maliki, then a member of parliament, said the Security Council resolution authorizing the U.S. presence violated Iraqi sovereignty. He's also criticized the U.S. military presence in palaces that formerly belonged to Saddam Hussein and chastised American forces for operating with "impunity" in Iraq.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraqi officials will use the new agreement to set the number of U.S. troops that will remain in the country and their mission. He described the U.S.-Iraq military relationship as "very bumpy over the last three to four years."

Zebari said the new negotiations will provide benefits for both countries.

For Iraq, he said, "it means a clear definition of the relationship and also some security guarantees that the U.S. will protect the political system and constitution until we build our forces and troops.

For the U.S., he said, "it will be a way to do the drawdown and troop reduction and to relieve the pressure back home."

Readers can read the full text of the agreement at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/11/20071126-11.html

A White House fact sheet on the agreement is at

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/11/20071126-1.html

McClatchy Newspapers 2007

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