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U.S. and Iraqis are near deal on pullout

Iraqi and U.S. negotiators have completed a draft security agreement that would see American troops leave Iraqi cities as soon as June 30, Iraqi and American officials said Wednesday.

In Washington, a senior military official said the deal is acceptable to the U.S. side, subject to formal approval by President Bush. It also requires final acceptance by Iraqi leaders, and some members of Iraq's Cabinet oppose some provisions.

Also completed is a companion draft document, known as a strategic framework agreement, spelling out in broad terms the political, security and economic relationships between Iraq and the U.S., the senior military official said. The official discussed the draft accords on condition that he not be identified by name because the deals have not been publicly announced and are not final.

In addition to spelling out that U.S. troops would move out of Iraqi cities by next summer, the Iraqi government has pushed for a specific date – most likely the end of 2011 – by which all U.S. forces would depart the country. In the meantime, the U.S. troops would be positioned on bases in other parts of the country to make them less visible while positioned to assist Iraqi forces as needed.

U.S. officials have resisted committing firmly to a specific date for a final pullout, insisting that it would be wiser to set a target linked to the attainment of certain agreed-upon goals. These goals would reflect not only security improvements but also progress on the political and economic fronts.

It was not clear Wednesday how that has been settled in the draft security accord, which the two governments are referring to as a memorandum of understanding. The draft agreement must be approved by the Iraqi parliament, which is in recess until early next month.

The senior U.S. military official said the draft is consistent with U.S. objectives, which include setting a “time horizon” rather than a firm date for the future withdrawal of U.S. forces. An Iraqi official who was involved in the protracted negotiations said the latest draft was completed last week and sent to the two governments.

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