BAGHDAD, Aug. 21 — U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have agreed to the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from the country by the end of 2011, and Iraqi officials said they are “very close” to resolving the remaining issues blocking a final accord that governs the future American military presence here.
Iraqi and U.S. officials said several difficult issues remain, including whether U.S. troops will be subject to Iraqi law if accused of committing crimes. But the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to discuss the agreement publicly, said key elements of a timetable for troop withdrawal once resisted by President Bush had been reached.
Rice and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spent nearly three hours here discussing key undecided issues. The accord must be completed and approved by both governments before a United Nations mandate expires at the end of the year.
The question of immunity for U.S. troops and Defense Department personnel from Iraqi legal jurisdiction — demanded by Washington and rejected by Baghdad — remained unresolved. Troop immunity, one U.S. official said, “is the red line for us.” Officials said they were still discussing language that would make the distinction between on- and off-duty activities, with provisions allowing for some measure of Iraqi legal jurisdiction over soldiers accused of committing crimes while off-duty.
But negotiators made progress on a specific timetable outlining the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq, something Maliki is under considerable domestic political pressure to secure. In the past, Rice and other U.S. officials have spoken of an “aspirational time horizon” that would make withdrawals contingent on the continuation of improved security conditions and the capabilities of Iraqi security forces.
Officials on both sides have said they hope to split the difference, setting next year as the goal for Iraqi forces to take the lead in security operations in all 18 provinces, including Baghdad.