Iraq demands "very clear" US troop timeline

FM makes strongest public statement on the issue


Iraq insists the United States provide a "very clear timeline" for withdrawing its troops as part of an agreement allowing them to stay on beyond this year, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Sunday.

Asked if Iraq would accept a document that did not include dates for a withdrawal, Zebari told Reuters: "No, no. Definitely there has to be a very clear timeline."

Zebari said the agreement, including the timeline, was "very close" and would probably be presented to the Iraqi parliament in early September.

It was the strongest public assertion yet that Iraq is demanding a fixed timetable.

U.S. President George W. Bush has long resisted setting a firm schedule for pulling troops out of Iraq, although last month the White House began speaking of a general "time horizon" and "aspirational goals" to withdraw.

Zebari would not be drawn on the precise dates that Iraqi negeotiators are seeking for withdrawal, saying the document was not yet final. Iraqi officials have said they would like to see all combat troops out by Oct. 2010.

An agreement that included that date would require the Bush administration effectively to accept a timeline almost identical to the one proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who opposed the 2003 invasion.