Two days after Barack Obama's election as president, Iraqi officials continued to insist on a withdrawal date for U.S. troops regardless of conditions on the ground, and maintained their demand that American forces be subject to Iraqi legal jurisdiction in some instances.
In an interview Thursday, government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said an effort to reach a so-called status of forces agreement that would sanction the U.S. military presence in Iraq beyond 2008 would collapse if no deal is reached by month's end. But a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said U.S. officials had presented Iraq's government with a "final text."
American soldiers should be prosecuted in the Iraqi court system if they commit grave offenses outside their bases, unless they are on a joint mission with Iraqi troops, Dabbagh said. American combat troops should cease operating unilaterally by June, he said, and the status of forces agreement should specify that the vast majority of U.S. troops leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
"Iraqis would like to know and see a fixed date," he said. "U.S. troops should be secluded to known camps. The Americans would be called whenever there is a need. Their movement would be limited."
In August, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki demanded a firm withdrawal date. Obama has called for combat troops to be out within 16 months, but he has reserved some flexibility in his position.
The Bush administration has resisted firm withdrawal timelines and said any pullout should be subject to security conditions at the time.
U.S. officials on Thursday responded in writing to proposed amendments Iraqi Cabinet members made to a draft of the agreement after many Iraqi lawmakers expressed misgivings about the language on withdrawal dates and the types of instances under which American soldiers would be subject to Iraqi law.
U.S. officials are unlikely to cede ground on the issue of legal jurisdiction because Pentagon officials feel strongly that misconduct by soldiers ought to be handled by military prosecutors, and Iraq's judicial system is widely perceived to be rudimentary and at times arbitrary.
U.S. and Iraqi officials did not describe the content of the response American negotiators submitted Thursday.
"We have gotten back to them with a final text," said Susan Ziadeh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
"We've responded positively in order to move the process forward in a way that respects the sovereignty of both sides."