Iraqi FM: Pact will set time limit on US troop presence

Iraqi gov't formally requests final UN extension of a mandate for US-led forces.

Hoshyar Zebari 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Hoshyar Zebari 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Iraq's foreign minister said Monday that the government has formally requested a final UN extension of a mandate for US-led forces, and he insisted a new security pact with the Americans will set a time limit on the US troop presence in Iraq. US President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a "declaration of principles" on Nov. 26 that set the foundation for a potential long-term US troop presence in Iraq and confirmed that Washington and Baghdad will hash out an "enduring" relationship. The agreement will replace the present UN mandate regulating the presence of the US-led forces in Iraq. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said a letter had been sent to the UN formally requesting UN authorization for the US-led presence in Iraq. "We left an underline that the Iraqi government hoped that this would be the last extension of the mandate," he said, adding the negotiations for a new pact with the Americans would be "the most important that Iraq has ever entered." He said the deadline for reaching an agreement was July. "There will be negotiations about the conduct of these (US) troops and their rights, privileges and also questions of command and control," Zebari said at a news conference. He also insisted there would be limits set on the US presence, addressing concerns among neighboring nations and others that the United States would establish permanent bases in the country. "Next year, we will enter important, serious and detailed negotiations with the United States," he said. "We are the ones who will decide on the duration of the agreement." "There will really be no permanent (US military) presence," he said. "The agreement will set a time limit for Iraq's need for this assistance and there will be checks and restrictions related to sovereignty, legal immunities and the mission of these forces and their relations with Iraqi forces." "We must from now prepare and be ready because the negotiations are going to be the most important that Iraq ever entered," Zebari said. "The question of the time element (for the presence of US forces) will be decided during these talks." Zebari said Iraqi security forces were improving, pointing to the improving security situation and US plans to gradually draw down troops by this summer. "These withdrawals show that the Iraqi forces are performing better and are able to fill the vacuum left behind by these departing (US) forces," he said. "Our aim is for our security forces to reach a level of preparedness that leaves us with absolutely no need for foreign forces to remain in the country, but we haven't reached that stage yet."