"Today, we are looking at the necessity of terminating the foreign presence on Iraqi lands and restoring full sovereignty," Maliki told a group of Arab ambassadors on Iraqi TV, according to a Reuters report.
"One of the two basic topics is either to have a memorandum of understanding for the departure of forces or a memorandum of understanding to set a timetable for the presence of the forces, so that we know [their presence] will end in a specific time."
The unusually strong language puts Maliki on the opposite side of President Bush and General David Petraeus but in tune with presumptive presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and the Iraqi parliament. The Crypt reported last month that a majority of Iraqi lawmakers want troop withdrawals tied to the security agreement, which is necessary because the United Nations resolution authorizing the occupation expires at the end of the year.
If the Iraqi government does officially ask the United Sates to establish a timeline for withdrawal, both President Bush and congressional Republicans have said they would abide by the request.
The administration, however, opposes inclusion of the timeline into the security agreement. “With respect to timetables I would say the same thing I would with respect to the security situation: it really is dependent on conditions on the ground,” Department of Defense spokesman Bryan Whitman said at a press conference. “This government has made very clear that we have no long-term desires to have forces permanently stationed in Iraq. We hope to have a strong bi-lateral relationship with the GOI and a military-to-military program that's appropriate into the future. Timelines tend to be artificial in nature and in a situation where things are as dynamic as they are in Iraq I would tell you that it's usually best to look at these things as they are on the ground.”
NOTE: This post has been updated to include the DoD response and Maliki's specific comments.