IRAQ: Deal or no deal?
The ongoing saga of U.S. and Iraqi attempts to hammer out a deal on the future of American forces in Iraq has taken a new twist with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's declaration Monday that he won't accept any plan that does not include a withdrawal date for U.S. soldiers.
Maliki made his comments to a gathering of tribal leaders, and while some of it may have been grandstanding aimed at bolstering support, it was the first time the prime minister had publicly demanded a withdrawal deadline. As for the deadline, Maliki said U.S. and Iraqi negotiators had agreed on the end of 2011.
His comments make clear that Maliki is throwing down the gauntlet as time runs out for some sort of deal to be struck. The United States has insisted it does not want a withdrawal deadline. Any dates for troop departures must be contingent upon security conditions in Iraq being suitable for a handover to Iraqi control, according to the United States.
Maliki made no mention of the withdrawal deadline being dependent on security conditions or on anything else. "Foreign soldiers will stay on the land of Iraq ... only for a limited timeframe and not an open one," he said in his boldest statements yet on the contentious issue.
Iraq's parliament has to approve whatever deal eventually is drafted, and it is expected to take up the issue when it reconvenes after summer break on Sept. 9. It only has until Dec. 31 to approve something, because that's the date the United Nations mandate governing the U.S. presence here expires. If Iraq and the United States can't come up with a new plan that is acceptable to the parliament here, it would effectively leave U.S. forces without a legal reason to be in Iraq.
--Tina Susman in Baghdad
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