New York, Aug 26 : Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has toughened his language, reiterating earlier Iraqi demands for a fixed date for the withdrawal of American troops. "It is not possible for any agreement to conclude unless it is on the basis of full sovereignty and the national interest, and that no foreign soldiers remain in Iraqi soil after a defined time ceiling," Maliki said in a speech to Shiite tribal leaders.
The Bush Administration has consistently emphasized that the agreement needed to legalize the presence of American forces after the United Nations mandate expires at the end of this year, is still in draft form, The New York Times reported.
Maliki seemed to be referring to all foreign troops in his statements; Iraqi negotiators have said recently that an agreed-upon 2011 date is for combat forces only, and that 'training and support' forces could remain after that if invited by the Iraqi government.
On Monday, a senior Iraqi official said he understood that even a departure date for combat troops would be conditions driven.
But the Prime Minister is under intense political pressure to take a hard line against the Americans, even as his government engages in the back-and-forth of negotiations.
Maliki also said that there were other parts of the security pact on which the sides had yet to agree. Those points of dispute, he said, include Iraqi approval of American military operations and the conditions under which American soldiers will be granted immunity.
"There are some articles on which we are stopped. Unless these articles are changed, it will be hard for this agreement to pass," he said.
Iraq is prepared to grant immunity to American soldiers who are on bases or are conducting military operations, the Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a telephone interview, but insists that they be subject to Iraqi law in any other circumstances.