Reuters - Baghdad
Iraqi negotiators have proposed a timetable for U.S. withdrawals that would see combat troops leave the country by Oct. 2010, although Washington has not yet agreed to it, a senior Iraqi official said on Friday.
If agreed, the timetable would mean the administration of President George W. Bush effectively adopting a schedule very close to that proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"As of last night that was one of the issues being discussed between the two sides. There is no agreement yet, but this is what the Iraqis are asking for," said the official who is close to the negotiations.
The schedule proposed by Iraqi negotiators would see U.S. forces withdraw from the streets of Iraqi cities by the middle of next year and combat troops return home by October 2010. Some American support units could stay on for another few years.
Washington and Baghdad are negotiating a deal to allow U.S. forces to stay in Iraq beyond the end of this year, when a U.N. mandate expires. There are now 144,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
Bush has long resisted imposing a firm timetable for withdrawals, but has begun speaking of setting "time horizons" as Iraqis have begun making clear that they would like to see a date for the Americans to go home.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, in Beijing accompanying Bush, said no announcement on an agreement was imminent and it was too early to discuss the dates of a pullout.
Sadr links truce to pullout:
Meanwhile influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr would dissolve his Mehdi Army militia if the United States starts withdrawing troops according to a set timetable, a spokesman said.
A ceasefire imposed by Sadr on his militia a year ago has been a major factor in a drop in violence in Iraq to four-year lows. Sadr, whose political movement controls 10 percent of seats in parliament, has long demanded U.S. troops leave Iraq.
"We feel there's a serious intention by the American forces for a withdrawal timetable at the very least," Sadr's spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi said before Friday prayers.
"It should not be considered an end to the Mehdi army, but it's a halfway step to dissolving the Mehdi Army. If the U.S. began to implement a withdrawal timetable we shall complete the path to dissolution," Ubaidi said.
Sadr's Mehdi Army launched two uprisings against U.S. forces in 2004. The cleric backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's rise to power in 2006 but split with him last year over the troop timetable issue.
This year Maliki, a Shiite, launched several largely successful crackdowns against militias including the Mehdi Army.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have now deployed in Sadr's Baghdad stronghold, the Sadr City slum, after weeks of heavy fighting in March and April. Prior to the campaign, government influence in among the slum's 2 million people was virtually nil.
Sadr's spokesman said while the "resistance" would not end until U.S. troops left Iraq, the cleric was ready to take positive steps if Washington moved in the right direction."If we find (this does not happen) and the U.S. forces change their stance over the timetable, we can change direction also," he said. "This will not mean ending the ceasefire, it will depend on what's going on on the ground."