Iraq and the United States have agreed that a planned security pact will require all U.S. troops to leave by the end of 2011, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Monday, while Washington said no final deal had been reached.
"There is an agreement actually reached, reached between the two parties on a fixed date, which is the end of 2011, to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil," Maliki said in a speech to tribal leaders in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.
"Yes, there is major progress on the issue of the negotiations on the security deal," Maliki said.
The Iraqi government had proposed in bilateral talks that U.S. troops end patrols of Iraqi towns and villages by the middle of next year, and that U.S. combat troops leave Iraq by 2011, under a pact that will govern their presence after 2008.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said there had been a draft agreement but that it needed to "go through a number of levers in the Iraqi political system before we actually have an agreement from the Iraqi side".
"Until we have a deal, we don't have a deal," he said.
He declined to comment on the 2011 withdrawal date.
The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has sought to avoid fixed timetables, but Maliki's Shiite-led government has been increasingly assertive in seeking assurances surrounding the exit of the approximately 144,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a visit to Baghdad last week that a deal was close, but not yet final.
The pact is needed to replace a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 which has formed the legal basis for the American troop presence ever since, but expires at the end of this year.
Iraqi officials say a draft agreement was completed last week and must now be circulated to political leaders for approval before it can be submitted to parliament next month.
Respecting Iraq's sovereignty
Maliki said no agreement would be signed that did not respect Iraqi sovereignty, and said any deal would need to include a "specific date, not an open one" for withdrawal.
"An open time limit is not acceptable in any security deal that governs the presence of the international forces," he said.
Maliki also said no foreigners would be given full legal immunity. Washington is seeking to avoid allowing its soldiers to be tried in Iraqi courts.
In many countries where the United States has bases, treaties allow the forces to be governed by U.S. military law rather than placed under local jurisdiction.
"We will not accept to put the lives of our sons on the line by guaranteeing absolute immunity for anybody, whether Iraqis or foreigners," Maliki said. "The sanctity of Iraqi blood should be respected."
Maliki also said an agreement had been reached that would prohibit U.S. military operations "without the approval of the Iraqi government and American forces".
But he said negotiations on the security pact continued on other sensitive issues. "Unless these can be revised, it will be difficult for this treaty to be signed," he said.