US troops will pull out in three years, says Iraqi Minister

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London, Aug.14 : All US combat troops will leave Iraq within three years, provided the violence remains low, under the terms of a draft agreement with the Iraqi Government.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari also told The Times that the US military would be barred from unilaterally mounting attacks inside Iraq from next year.

In addition, he said that the power of arrest for US soldiers would be curbed by the need to hand over any detainee to a new, US-Iraqi committee.

He said troops would require the green light from this joint command before conducting any operation.

The Pentagon refused to comment last night on the proposals laid out in the draft agreement between Baghdad and Washington that covers the status of US forces beyond 2008.

Britain will strike its own deal with Iraq but, Prime Minister Gordon Brown hopes to withdraw most British troops from Iraq by next summer, reducing the number of soldiers from 4,100 to "a few hundred" by then.

After five months of sometimes heated debate, the technical part of the job - drawing up a legally sound document that contains various compromises and is written in the right language - is over.

Next, Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, Jalal Talabani, the President, and other Iraqi leaders must give their approval - something that could happen this month, although Talabani is in the United States recovering from a knee operation.

The so-called strategic framework, which includes a temporary status-of-forces agreement (Sofa), would then be put before parliament, which returns from a summer break in early September.

Asked if the deal was acceptable to Iraq, Zebari said: "I think we can defend it, yes. I would say that it is the most advanced version of a Sofa ever that the United States has done with any other country . . . because [of] the areas of compromises, of concessions, of understanding."

The strategic framework provides a legal basis for US forces in Iraq after a UN mandate expires at the end of the year - another contentious notion for the many Iraqis who oppose the continuing presence of foreign troops.

President Bush has long resisted setting a firm timetable to pull out the remaining 145,000 US servicemen and women in Iraq but the White House has begun referring to a general "time horizon" and "aspirational goals" in recent weeks.

The draft accord also refers to the prospect of US troops beginning to exit small bases set up inside various cities in Iraq to larger camps outside from next summer - which could be as early as June - depending on the security situation.

The Iraqi Government must also sign a status-of-forces agreement with Britain and all other countries with troops in Iraq. British and Iraqi officials have held discussions on the matter but no negotiations have started.

ANI

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