BAGHDAD — Iraq and the United States are near an agreement on all American combat troops leaving Iraq by October 2010, with the last soldiers out three years after that, two Iraqi officials told the Associated Press on Thursday. U.S. officials, however, insisted no dates had been agreed.
The proposed agreement calls for Americans to hand over parts of Baghdad's Green Zone — where the U.S. Embassy is located — to the Iraqis by the end of 2008. It would also remove U.S. forces from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, according to the two senior officials, both close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and familiar with the negotiations.
The officials, who spoke separately on condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing, said all U.S. combat troops would leave Iraq by October 2010, with the remaining support personnel gone "around 2013." The schedule could be amended if both sides agree — a face-saving escape clause that would extend the presence of U.S. forces if security conditions warrant it.
U.S. acceptance — even tentatively — of a specific timeline would represent a dramatic reversal of American policy in place since the war began in March 2003.
Throughout the conflict, President Bush steadfastly refused to accept any timetable for bringing U.S. troops home. Last month, however, Bush and Maliki agreed to set a "general time horizon" for ending the U.S. mission.
Both Iraqi and American officials agreed that the deal is not final and that a major unresolved issue is the U.S. demand for immunity for U.S. soldiers from prosecution under Iraqi law.
One official said the Iraqis were willing to grant immunity for actions committed on American bases and during combat operations — but not a blanket exemption from Iraqi law.
Cease-fire: Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr will call on his fighters to maintain a cease-fire against U.S. troops but may lift the order if a planned Iraq-U.S. security agreement lacks a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces, a spokesman said. Sadr plans to divide his Mahdi Army militia into a cultural organization and elite fighting cells.
Violence: A roadside bomb killed eight Bedouins, including three women and two children, on a remote desert highway west of Nasiriyah frequently used by U.S. and Iraqi troops, police said. Gunmen also killed a senior member of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, Mahmoud Younis Fathi, and a colleague as they were driving to work in Mosul, according to the group. Also in Mosul, three Iraqi police officers were killed when a booby-trapped cart exploded after they arrived to collect a body left on the street beside it, police said.
Oil: Iraq's Cabinet has approved a multimillion dollar contract to upgrade an oil refinery in Samawah, a senior oil ministry official said. The $81-million contract will be awarded jointly to the U.S.-based Colorado Industrial Construction Services Co. and CH2M HILL's affiliate VECO Co.