US-Iraq in Draft Accord on Withdrawal Timetable

The United States and Iraq have agreed on a draft timetable to withdraw troops first from cities and towns by next summer and then from the country as a whole by 2011:

The draft agreement sets 2011 as the goal date by which U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq, according to Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Haj Humood and other people familiar with the matter. In the meantime, American troops will be leaving cities, towns and other population centers by the summer of 2009, living in bases outside of those areas, according to the draft.

Teams of American and Iraqi negotiators spent months haggling over the deal, which represents a remarkable turnaround from just a few months ago, when talk of timetables and deadlines was routinely dismissed by the Bush administration and other Republicans in Washington.

Senior officials in Washington said the talks have concluded. The deal will be presented to the Bush administration and the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for formal approval or rejection.

The agreement will take the place of the Status of Forces accord that expires at the end of this year.

The way US negotiators are talking there is no room for further negotiation on the outline of this agreement, that the Iraqi government must reject or accept what has been negotiated. This is actually good strategy because it will prevent Prime Minister Maliki from playing domestic political games with the agreement. If he wants us gone, fine - just don't keep stringing us along, trying to appear "tough" for his own political purposes.

One part of the deal that the administration was forced to cave on has to do with private contractors now able to be prosecuted by the Iraqi government for crimes against Iraqis. The Blackwater incident in a crowded shopping area where 17 civilians were reportedly killed enraged the Iraqis and there was going to be no deal without some give from the US on this.

As for Iraqis being able to bring US military personnel to trial if they are accused of crimes, that is a different story. No doubt the government will resist including this in the final agreement.

With many details to work out yet, it is unknown just how hard and fast those timetable dates might be. But it seems a foregone conclusion that the agreement represents the  beginning of the end of our military involvement in Iraq - whether the Iraqis are really ready for us to leave or not.