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U.S. and Iraq near a 'bridge' deal on status of U.S. troops

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Although the US has indicated that it would be willing to consider dropping the immunity enjoyed by private security contractors as a concession to Iraqis, it's not clear yet how this would work in practice since firms like Aegis, Blackwater, and others are now an integral component of US military and intelligence operations in Iraq.

On the other hand, the government of Prime Minister Maliki is eager to demonstrate its nationalist credentials to Iraqis and prove that any deal with the Americans replacing their current UN-sanctioned mandate, which expires on Dec. 31, will contradict what some of Maliki's political enemies are saying and bring Iraq a more robust sovereignty.

This was underscored last week when Maliki during a landmark visit to the United Arab Emirates asserted that any agreement would have to include either a timetable for withdrawal or full withdrawal of US forces.

His remarks were later echoed by several of his Shiite aides. "The Iraqi negotiators enjoy the trust of their people and can crush the unrealistic ambitions of the Americans in this agreement," boasted Hassan al-Snaid, one of Maliki's senior partisans, on state-owned Iraqiya TV.

The US official concedes that Washington may have overplayed its hand with some of its opening positions in March, which he says gave opponents of the treaty, particularly Iran, ammunition to "poison" the talks.

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