Iraq's prime minister is considering alternatives to a long term security
deal that would define U.S. troops' presence in Iraq beyond 2008. VOA's Suzanne
Presto reports from the northern city of Irbil.
The Iraqi government
and the United States have been negotiating an agreement to keep U.S. troops in
the country after their United Nations mandate expires at the end of this year.
But the negotiations have been contentious. In
mid-June, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the talks had stalled due to
concerns about compromising Iraqi sovereignty.
One week later, Iraqi
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a member of Iraq's negotiating team, said it
would be possible to reach a security deal by the end of this month.
Iraqi government now says it is looking at alternatives to a long-term security
While visiting the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Maliki told Arab
ambassadors his government is considering a Memorandum of Understanding, known
as an M.O.U. He said this could include a timetable for the withdrawal of
foreign forces from Iraq.
Iraqi Government Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh
emphasized that pursuing a Memorandum of Understanding is simply a proposed
idea. He told VOA that nothing has been done on this subject and no M.O.U. has
President Bush has repeatedly said he opposes setting a
timetable to remove U.S. troops from Iraq.
A U.S. Department of Defense spokesman, Bryan
Whitman, reiterated that point. He said decisions about troop levels should be
determined by the security situation in Iraq. He also said the United States has
no desire to have its forces permanently stationed in the
"Timelines tend to be artificial in nature and in a situation
where things are as dynamic as they are in Iraq, I would just tell you that it
is usually best to look at these things based on the conditions on the ground,"
said Bryan Whitman.
Whitman said U.S. and Iraqi officials remain hard at
work to strike a deal to keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond 2008.
working diligently with the Iraqi government to ensure that when the U.N.
mandate expires that there are the appropriate provisions for our forces to be
able to operate," he said.
Whitman added he saw little value in trying
to give progress reports about the status of negotiations, saying it was best to
wait until the agreement is finalized.
U.S. officials, including U.S.
Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, say any security agreement reached will fully
respect Iraqi sovereignty.