NYT : Iraqi Officials Still Insisting on Timetable to Withdraw

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Iraqi Officials Still Insisting on Timetable to Withdraw


BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials continued to insist Tuesday that a timetable for the withdrawal of coalition troops must be included in any security agreement with the United States.

Meanwhile, in western Anbar Province, 22 bodies were found at a Ramadi elementary school that was undergoing construction, 20 of them buried in the playing fields, apparently over a lengthy period, the local police said.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser, said the government would reject any security agreement that did not include a schedule for the departure of foreign troops.

“We will not accept a memorandum of understanding without having timeline horizons for the cessation of combat operations as well as the departure of all the combat brigades,” Mr. Rubaie said in a telephone interview. However, he declined to offer specifics on a timeline, suggesting that the Iraqi government itself was not yet sure how quickly it wanted the United States to withdraw.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Rubaie was in the holy city of Najaf meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most senior Shiite religious leader. The ayatollah has not expressed an opinion on the specifics of the negotiations, emphasizing only that Iraq must protect its sovereignty.

Mr. Rubaie’s remarks came a day after Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki confirmed that his government was considering a short-term pact with the United States that would extend the presence of American troops but also include a timetable for withdrawal.

The insistence on withdrawal is a popular position for many Shiites, and has been championed by one of Mr. Maliki’s chief rivals, the rebel Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. With provincial elections expected before the end of the year, Mr. Maliki is said to be eager to demonstrate his independence from the United States while undercutting Mr. Sadr.

The Bush administration has consistently opposed a timetable, arguing that it would only embolden insurgents. Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, reiterated that argument on Tuesday in Japan, where President Bush was attending the Group of 8 summit meeting.

“Negotiations and discussions are ongoing every day,” Mr. Johndroe said. “It is important to understand that these are not talks on a hard date for a withdrawal, but are discussions on a security horizon that reflect the Iraqis’ increasing capacity, as well as improved conditions on the ground that should allow for a further reduction of U.S. forces.”

In Ramadi, at an elementary school that was being renovated, an excavator uncovered 20 corpses buried in the volleyball and soccer fields, said Tariq Yousif, a provincial police commander. Two bodies were also discovered in cisterns at the school.

Local mosques are asking families with missing relatives to come to the school to try to identify the bodies. One woman recognized the body of her husband, who was an imam at the nearby Gailani Mosque and a professor at a local Islamic college.

At noon on Sunday, a senior adviser at the Ministry of Justice was shot as he was driving on a Baghdad highway, and a woman who worked for Iraqi Airways was killed by a gunman on a city bridge, according to the Ministry of the Interior.

Riyadh Muhammad and Abeer Mohammed contributed reporting from Baghdad, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Ramadi.