How Close Are Iraq and the U.S. to Reaching a Forces Agreement?

London, Asharq Al-Awsat -- Informed Iraq and American sources say that Iraqi and American negotiating teams have succeeded in reaching an official draft of the agreement on the American forces' status in Iraq, and that what remains is reaching a political agreement on it.

Though the details of some points have not yet been resolved, such as the status of Iraqi detainees in American jails, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari expressed his optimism in statements to Asharq Al-Awsat , saying that most of the pending issues about the American forces staying were resolved. He added that "any American movement inside Iraq will be bound by Iraqi consultation and approval" by next year when the UN's mandate for the multinational forces expires. These were the most important points that the Iraqi negotiating team insisted on.

The Times of London cited Zebari as saying that the American combat forces would withdraw from Iraq within three years. The Iraqi foreign minister explained to Asharq Al-Awsat that the "agreement is not finished yet" and refrained from setting a final date for the forces' withdrawal. Press reports usually refer to "combat troops" when talking about withdrawal and an American official who asked to remain unidentified stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that there are "various timetables for the various forces," that is, combat troops and those providing logistic support and training the Iraqi forces.

Sources acquainted with the negotiations process in Baghdad pointed out that the technical aspect of the negotiations is almost complete and only few points remain concerning the detainees and setting a timetable for the forces' withdrawal. The two teams decided the strategic framework for relations, which is a semi-declaration of the basic principles of the agreement and definition of the two countries' relations within the political, economic, and cultural framework.

They also reached a draft agreement on the American forces' status. The American official explained that "no agreement will be signed without the other" and added "we will not rush the signing of the agreements. The important thing is that they are suitable for both sides."

The Times cited Zebari as saying that the American soldiers would withdraw from all Iraqi cities by next summer and that all American combat troops would withdraw from Iraq. But the American official stressed that "setting any timetable takes into consideration the actual situations on the ground. Setting any timetable depends on the development and course of events." He added that the status of the detainees in American jails and the possibility of moving them to jails under Iraqi or joint control "is still under discussion."

The agreement will be submitted to the political leadership and then parliament before being adopted officially. It is not expected to be submitted to the political leadership yet, since President Jalal Talabani is in the United States and Parliament Speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani is in the hospital in Jordan. Iraqi and American officials are seeking to reach a political agreement on the draft before the Iraqi parliament returns from its summer recess in September and present it to parliament for discussion and ratification. Iraqi and American sources stressed that the agreement would have "time specified" for a review within one or two years from signing it. This means that the next American president who is expected to be elected at the end of this year will have the freedom to take the decision which suits his policy in Iraq.

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