BAGHDAD - The Associated Press
Iraq's prime minister said Monday his country wants some type of timetable for a withdrawal of American troops included in the deal the two countries are negotiating.
It was the first time that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has explicitly and publicly called for a withdrawal timetable - an idea opposed by U.S. President George W. Bush.
He offered no details. But his national security adviser, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, told The Associated Press that the government is proposing a timetable conditioned on the ability of Iraqi forces to provide security.
The White House said it did not believe al-Maliki was proposing a rigid timeline for U.S. troop withdrawals.
"Any agreement would not have any hard timetables for withdrawal, but could include the desire by the U.S. and Iraq to withdraw troops based on conditions on the ground," U.S. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
"I know that Prime Minister al-Maliki has said that he doesn't want a precipitous withdrawal because of the security consequences," Johndroe said in Toyako, Japan, where President Bush is attending the G-8 summit.
Al-Maliki said in a meeting with Arab diplomats in Abu Dhabi that his country also has proposed a short-term interim memorandum of agreement rather than the more formal status of forces agreement the two sides have been negotiating.
The memorandum "now on the table" includes a formula for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, he said.
"The goal is to end the presence (of foreign troops)," al-Maliki said.
Some type of agreement is needed to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after a U.N. mandate expires at year's end. But many Iraqi lawmakers had criticized the government's attempt to negotiate a formal status of forces agreement, worried that U.S. demands would threaten the country's sovereignty.
U.S. officials have said little publicly about the negotiations. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not comment directly on the specifics when asked about it on a trip to Baghdad.
"We'd all like to see U.S. troops get out of here at some point in time," Mullen said. "However, from a military perspective I need the laws and the regulations and the agreements from the government of Iraq in order to continue operations beyond the 31st of December of this year."
With the latest moves, Iraq's government appeared to be trying to blunt opposition in parliament to any deal.
Al-Maliki also could be trying to avoid parliament altogether. He has promised in the past to submit a formal agreement with the U.S. to the legislative body.
But his spokesman indicated Monday that the government might feel no need to get approval from parliament for a shorter-term interim deal.
"It is up to the Cabinet whether to approve it or sign on it, without going back to the parliament," said spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.
Legal experts said the form of the deal was less significant than its substance.
"You could theoretically include everything in a memorandum of understanding that you could in a formal status of forces agreement," said Michael Matheson, an expert on international law at George Washington University Law School.