World and Nation

Iraq’s al-Maliki Pushes for U.S. Troop Withdrawal Date

Days after top Iraqi and U.S. officials suggested that a draft of the security pact between the countries was close, Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki toughened his language, reiterating earlier Iraqi demands for a fixed date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

“It is not possible for any agreement to conclude unless it is on the basis of full sovereignty and the national interest, and that no foreign soldiers remain in Iraqi soil after a defined time ceiling,” al-Maliki said in a speech to Shiite tribal leaders in Baghdad’s Green Zone.

The Bush administration has consistently emphasized that the agreement — needed to legalize the presence of U.S. forces after the U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year — is still in draft form.

“These discussions continue, as we have not yet finalized an agreement,” a White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, said Monday. “We’re optimistic that Iraq and the U.S. can reach a mutual agreement on flexible goals for U.S. troops to continue to return on success, based on conditions on the ground, and allow Iraqi forces to provide security for a sovereign Iraq.”

Though al-Maliki seemed to be referring to all foreign troops in his statements, Iraqi negotiators have said recently that an agreed-upon 2011 date is for combat forces only, and that “training and support” forces could remain after that if invited by the Iraqi government. On Monday, a senior Iraqi official said he understood that even a departure date for combat troops would be “conditions driven.”

But the prime minister is under intense political pressure to take a hard line against the Americans, even as his government engages in negotiations. Graffiti can be seen on the walls in Shiite districts of Baghdad saying, “Iraq for sale: See Maliki.”

Al-Maliki also said that there were other parts of the security pact on which the sides had yet to agree. Those points of dispute, he said, include Iraqi approval of U.S. military operations and the scenarios under which U.S. soldiers will be granted immunity.

“There are some articles on which we are stopped,” he said. “Unless these articles are changed, it will be hard for this agreement to pass.”

Iraq is prepared to grant immunity to U.S. soldiers who are on bases or are conducting military operations, the Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a telephone interview, but insists that they be subject to Iraqi law in any other circumstances.

Hadi al-Ameri, an Iraqi lawmaker, said immunity was “the most complicated issue remaining.”

Al-Dabbagh said there was also disagreement over whether Iraqi detainees could remain in U.S. custody. Iraq has been demanding that anyone detained by U.S. forces be turned over to the Iraqi authorities within 24 hours.

On Monday morning, a U.S. soldier was shot in Adhamiya, a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad that was once a breeding ground for insurgents but has since become safer. The soldier was transferred to a military facility, where he died of his wounds, the military said in a statement.