Iraq wants U.S. troops deal to expire in three years

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq wants an agreement authorizing the continued presence of U.S. troops on its soil to expire in three years, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Friday.

Washington and Baghdad say they are close to signing the deal, which is required to allow U.S. forces to stay on in Iraq beyond the end of this year when a U.N. Security Council mandate ends.

A draft of the agreement is being circulated to Iraqi political leaders for their approval.

Iraqi officials say that, although the draft contains no firm schedule for a U.S. withdrawal, they want the agreement to require U.S. forces to move off of most Iraqi streets by the middle of 2009 and combat troops to go home by the end of 2011.

Dabbagh said Iraq wants to negotiate a firm date by which all U.S. forces must pull out of the country, and wants the agreement allowing them to stay to be valid for only three years.

“The Iraqi government wants this agreement to be valid just for three years,” Dabbagh told Reuters. “The full withdrawal will depend on the situation on the ground and the needs of Iraqis and the decisions of the Iraqi government.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Baghdad unannounced on Thursday to help prod the deal along. She denied that a final agreement had been reached, but said it was close, and any timelines for withdrawal would have to be “feasible”.

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