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Iraq Agrees To Long-Term U.S. Presence

President Bush on Monday signed a deal setting the foundation for a potential long-term U.S. troop presence in Iraq, with details to be negotiated over matters that have defined the war debate at home - how many U.S. forces will stay in the country, and for how long.

The agreement between Mr. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki confirms that the United States and Iraq will hash out an "enduring" relationship in military, economic and political terms.

CBS News' Pete Gow in Baghdad reports the proposals are to offer the U.S. a continued military presence in Iraq, as well as favorable business interests (such as investment opportunities for American companies), in return for guarantees to Iraq's future security.

Lieutenant General Douglas Lute told White House reporters the shape and size of any long-term military presence will be determined in negotiations planned for next year. CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer reports that, according to Lute, today's agreement sets the agenda for those talks, with a completion goal of July 2008, when the U.S. intends to finish withdrawing the five combat brigades sent in 2007 as part of the current troop "surge."

"What U.S. troops are doing, how many troops are required to do that, are bases required, which partners will join them - all these things are on the negotiating table," said Lute, President Bush's adviser on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The proposal underlines how the United States and Iraq are exploring what their relationship might look like once the U.S. significantly draws down its troop presence. It comes as a Democratic Congress - unsuccessfully, so far - prods Mr. Bush to withdraw troops faster than he wants.

The "declaration of principles" was discussed in a secret meeting of Iraq's Parliament today, Gow reports, and was later signed by President Bush and al-Maliki during a secure video conference Monday morning.

Al-Maliki, in a televised address, said his government would ask the United Nations to renew the mandate for the multinational force for one final time with its authorization to end in 2008.

The U.S.-Iraq agreement will replace the present U.N. mandate regulating the presence of the U.S.-led forces in Iraq. Al-Maliki said the agreement provides for U.S. support for the "democratic regime in Iraq against domestic and external dangers."

It also would help the Iraqi government thwart any attempt to suspend or repeal a constitution drafted with U.S. help and adopted in a nationwide vote in 2005. That appeared to be a reference to any attempt to remove the government by violence or in a coup.

Al-Maliki said the renewal of the multinational forces' mandate was conditional on the repeal of what he called restrictions on Iraqi sovereignty introduced in 1990 by the U.N. Security Council to punish Iraq for invading neighboring Kuwait.

The new agreement would not signal an end to the U.S. mission here. But it could change the rules under which U.S. soldiers operate and give the Iraqis a greater role in determining their mission.

Two senior Iraqi officials familiar with the issue say Iraq's government will embrace a long-term U.S. troop presence in return for U.S. security guarantees as part of a strategic partnership. The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the subject is sensitive, said U.S. military and diplomatic representatives appeared generally favorable, subject to negotiations on the details, which include preferential treatment for American investments.

Preferential treatment for U.S. investors could provide a huge windfall if Iraq can achieve enough stability to exploit its vast oil resources. Such a deal would also enable the United States to maintain leverage against Iranian expansion at a time of growing fears about Tehran's nuclear aspirations.

The framework Mr. Bush approved outlines broad principles, such as that both countries will support Iraq's economic institutions, and help its government train Iraqi security forces to provide stability for all Iraqis. Lute said "all major national leaders of the existing Iraqi government" have committed to it.

"The basic message here should be clear: Iraq is increasingly able to stand on its own; that's very good news, but it won't have to stand alone," said Lute, who rarely holds televised briefings.

He said it is too soon to tell what the "shape and size" of the U.S. military commitment will look like, including military bases.

The Iraqi officials said that under the proposed formula, Iraq would get full responsibility for internal security and U.S. troops would relocate to bases outside the cities. Iraqi officials foresee a long-term presence of about 50,000 U.S. troops, down from the current figure of more than 160,000.

In other developments:

  • Shiite legislators on Monday denounced a draft bill to ease curbs on ex-Saddam Hussein loyalists in government services, dampening hopes of progress for the U.S.-backed legislation aimed at promoting national reconciliation.
  • Masked gunmen stormed the family home of a pro-Baath journalist and killed 11 of his relatives, colleagues said Monday. Dhia al-Kawaz, editor of the Jordan-based Asawat al-Iraq news agency, was in Jordan when his sisters, their husbands and children were reportedly killed in Baghdad. According to the news agency's Web site, witnesses said more than five masked gunmen broke into the home and opened fire, then planted a bomb inside. "Sectarian militias killed 11 family members of Dhia al-Kawaz," the agency's statement said, apparently referring to Shiite death squads that frequently target minority Sunnis and their supporters.
  • At least two people - a civilian and a policeman - were killed Monday in separate drive-by shootings by gunmen on motorcycles in the predominantly Shiite city of Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, police said.
  • Iraq's most influential Shiite politician said Sunday that the U.S had not backed up claims that Iran is fueling sectarian violence, underscoring a wide gap on the issue between Washington and the Shiite-led Baghdad government. The Americans have long accused the Iranians of arming and training Shiite militias. "These are only accusations raised by the multinational forces and I think these accusations need more proof," Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council, told reporters.
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