Iraq talks tough with partner US on foreign troop deployment

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Washington, July 10 : Iraq is talking tough with the United States, which is keen on formally authorizing an unlimited American troop presence in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and his aides are now openly demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops, at least on paper.

However, no one in Iraq realistically expects to throw out the Americans anytime soon, and few in Iraq believe that it would be safe to do so immediately.

But the Maliki Government, emboldened by several recent military successes, is eager to assert its sovereignty.

The Iraqi demands have put U.S. President George W. Bush in a politically awkward spot, reports the New York Times.

Bush is explicitly opposed to any binding timetables - either from the Iraqis or from the war's critics here at home - but he also pledged less than a month ago to abide by the will of Iraq's leaders.

Senior American commanders now say that Iraq is taking on more responsibility for security after years of halting and uncertain progress.

Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, who until recently oversaw the training of Iraqi forces, told Congress on Wednesday that Iraq's ground forces could be fully functional as soon as the middle of next year.

Officials and analysts say Iraq is far less willing than it once might have been to accept every American demand in negotiations now under way to establish the legal status of foreign troops in Iraq after the end of this year.

On Monday, Maliki suggested that Iraq might prefer a less sweeping, shorter-term agreement than the long-term one he and Mr. Bush signed off on last November, when his government was nowhere near as stable or assertive as it is today.

The failure to reach a robust agreement would be a rebuke to Bush in his waning months in office just as his strategy to send thousands of extra troops to Iraq beginning last year - the "surge," as it became known - is bearing fruit. That could force the administration to compromise even more.

ANI

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