U.S. and Iraq near a 'bridge' deal on status of U.S. troops
By the end of July, they hope to finalize a deal that would map out the role and "time horizon" for US troops in the country.
By the end of July, US and Iraqi officials hope to finalize a deal that would map out the role and length of stay for US troops in the country.
But this is likely to be a temporary "bridge" agreement, including specific goals for terms of US withdrawal from major cities, followed by further talks on a long-term status of forces agreement (SOFA), says a senior US administration official involved in the talks here.
The US shift to a short-term deal follows comments last week by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki suggesting for the first time that a timetable be set for the departure of US troops. On Saturday, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said that "we need a timetable for withdrawal" and that the US should not commit to a long-term occupation of Iraq,
But a key question is whether any deal can be sold to Iraq's political factions in an election year. The Iraqi government is beset by divisions and conflicting agendas with regard to the status of US forces that are playing out both in the media and in private.
There is strong opposition to any deal from the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr as well as from Iran, which exercises large sway over Shiite factions inside and outside the government and objects to any US troop presence in Iraq.
"We are going to a new process.... The conversation [with the Iraqis] is how we package this in a way that meets [Iraq's] political challenge," says the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the politically sensitive nature of the negotiations. "I think we can get there…. At least have it [agreement] in good shape [by end of July]."
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