Bloomberg : U.S. Rejects Iraqi Demand for Timetable on Troop Withdrawal

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

U.S. Rejects Iraqi Demand for Timetable on Troop Withdrawal

By Ed Johnson and Camilla Hall | (Bloomberg) | July 9, 2008

The U.S. government rejected calls by Iraq to set a timetable for withdrawing troops from the country and said the planned reduction in force levels will be dictated by conditions on the ground.

The U.S. and Iraq are negotiating an agreement that will lay the legal boundaries for the operation of coalition forces after their United Nations mandate expires at the end of December.

"We want to withdraw, we will withdraw," State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos told reporters in Washington yesterday. "However, that decision will be conditions-based."

About 150,000 U.S. soldiers remain in the country, down from a peak of 165,000 at the end of 2007. The last of the five combat brigades sent to the country last year by President George W. Bush as part of a so-called surge to improve security is preparing to come home this month.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki wants to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops as part of the security pact, scheduled to be agreed on by the end of July.

Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie said yesterday the country is seeking a "timeline" for the duration of U.S. fighting operations in the country.

"We are making progress and are committed to departing, as evidenced by the fact that we have transferred over half of the country's provinces to provisional Iraqi control," said Gallegos, according to a transcript. "We're looking at conditions, not calendars here."

The pull back is set in the context of November's U.S. presidential election. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has made opposition to the Iraq war and a promise to bring home more troops a key plank of his platform. Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, backed the troop surge and says Bush's strategy is working.

The U.S. has conceded to Iraqi demands to lift immunity for private contractors in the country. Iraq has said that it won't accept permanent U.S. bases and won't be used as a staging ground for attacks on neighboring countries.