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Rice arrives as Iraq security deal nears

BAGHDAD — Iraq and the United States pushed close to a deal Thursday setting a course for American combat troops to pull out of Iraqi cities by June, on the way to broader withdrawal from the long and costly war by 2011.

"All the issues have been addressed," said Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who arrived in Baghdad on Thursday morning on a previously undisclosed visit, would not release details on the text and sought to curb speculation about its contents. "We have agreed that some goals, some aspirational timetables for how that might unfold are well worth having in such an agreement," she said.

Subject to final approval by the top Iraqi leadership, the exit date for U.S. troops would be December 2011, although the Americans insist on linking that target to additional security and political progress.

President Bush has long resisted a timetable for pulling out, even under heavy pressure from a nation distressed by American deaths and discouraged by the length of the war that began in 2003. But that has softened in recent weeks.

In one key part of the draft agreement, private U.S. contractors would be subject to Iraqi law, unlike at present, but the American side held firm in its insistence that U.S. troops would remain subject exclusively to U.S. legal jurisdiction, officials said.

Immunity remains the main point of contention between the two sides in finalizing the agreement. The Iraqis are reluctant to allow U.S. military contractors to have free rein when outside U.S. bases and without any Iraqi legal authority over them, according to a senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Associated Press.

The next step is consideration by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his executive council today.

Rice arrives as Iraq security deal nears 08/21/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 1:35pm]
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