Iraq: No Withdrawal Timetable, No Deal

U.S. Army Sgt. John Orem, right, and Staff Sgt. Eric Atkinson, left, from 4th Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment search a home in Sa'ada, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Baghdad in Iraq's volatile Diyala province on Monday, July 7, 2008. Iraqi and U.S. Army troops fanned out in search of weapons and suspected militia members.
AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo
Iraq's national security adviser said Tuesday his country will not accept any security deal with the United States unless it contains specific dates for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces.

The comments by Mouwaffak al-Rubaie were the strongest yet by an Iraqi official about the deal now under negotiation with U.S. officials. It came a day after Iraq's prime minister first said publicly that he expects the pending troop deal with the United States to have some type of timetable for withdrawal.

U.S. President George W. Bush has said he opposes a timetable. The White House said Monday it did not believe al-Maliki was proposing a rigid timeline for U.S. troop withdrawals.

U.S. officials had no immediate comment Tuesday on al-Rubaie's words.

Al-Rubaie spoke to reporters after briefing Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf on the progress of the government's security efforts, and the talks.

"Our stance in the negotiations underway with the American side will be strong ... We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that doesn't have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq," al-Rubaie sid.

Some type of agreement between the United States and Iraq is needed to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after a U.N. mandate expires at year's end.

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."

On Monday, Mullen sounded more optimistic, saying, "From all I see, the security conditions are holding, the level of violence is down; we're down to a level that we haven't seen in over four years."

Iraq's government has felt increasingly confident in recent weeks about its authority and the country's improved stability, and Iraqi officials have sharpened their public stance in the negotiations considerably in just the last few days.

Violence in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level in four years. The change has been driven by the 2007 buildup of American forces, the Sunni tribal revolt against al Qaeda in Iraq and crackdowns against Shiite militias and Sunni extremists.

In other developments:

  • Worried about increasing insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, the U.S. military says it is sending extra air power there by shifting an aircraft carrier away from the Iraq war. Defense officials said Tuesday that the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln was moved out of the Persian Gulf and to the Gulf of Oman, shortening the time that the carrier's strike planes must fly to support combat in Afghanistan.
  • The U.S. military says a roadside bomb has killed four contractors and injured eight others in northern Iraq. The military says in a statement that the bomb struck a convoy carrying the contractors near the northern city of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. The statement did not say whether the contractors were Iraqis or foreigners.
  • A bomb near a dress shop in Baqouba killed one woman Monday and wounded 14 other people, police said. Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, and the surrounding Diyala province remain one of the country's most violent regions.
  • Also Monday, gunmen killed a member of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party in Tal Afar, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, said police, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.