ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. In Baghdad today, the U.S. and Iraq are closing in on a security deal that may involve the withdrawal of American troops from Iraqi cities by next June.
The agreement will define the status of U.S. forces in Iraq once the current U.N. mandate runs out at the end of this year. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been working on it during a surprise visit to Baghdad. Today, Rice said the two sides have agreed on a final draft, although it must be approved by both governments.
Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (United States Department of State): The United States, I think, has shown great flexibility. I think the Iraqis have shown great flexibility, and this is an excellent - it will be an excellent agreement when we finally have agreement, and I just want to emphasize we'll have agreement when we have agreement.
SIEGEL: Well, we have NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro on the line from Baghdad. And Lourdes, first tell us: What do we know about this draft agreement?
LOURDES GARCIA NAVARRO: Well, it's a complicated document with lots of provisions. But what we know now is that it does stipulate some sort of scenario for troop withdrawals.
They are looking at the pullout of U.S. combat troops by the end of next June from Iraqi cities. Robert, that would essentially fully reverse the strategy that the U.S. has been adopting under the surge, where small groups of soldiers live in so-called combat outposts among the communities in Iraq. By next June, U.S. troops would essentially withdraw to their bases and act in a support role.
The next step is a possible full pullout by 2011, 2012, we've been told by Iraqi sources close to the negotiations. But of course it will all be based on conditions on the ground, they emphasize. If security deteriorates, and the Iraqis want the U.S. to stay longer, they could.
SIEGEL: Well, as Secretary Rice said memorably, we'll have an agreement when we have an agreement. What happens to move from this draft stage to the actual agreement stage?
NAVARRO: Well, this agreement's been hammered out by the negotiators, and now it basically moves up the line. It's going to be reviewed at the highest levels of the respective governments.
The U.S. has already said that they are happy with what's been hammered out. The question is: What will the Iraqis say? The prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is going to look at it. His security cabinet is going to look at it with the heads of all the respective political parties, and then it supposedly has to be ratified by the parliament. And as we know from past experience, things can get stuck at any stage in that process.
SIEGEL: I'm trying to imagine here, could there be an Iraqi faction or party in parliament that would say, no, we want U.S. troops to stay longer in Iraqi cities or we're against a withdrawal, or would that obviously be a popular move among the Iraqis?
NAVARRO: It's really hard to say. We know nothing's easy here, and especially nothing as controversial as this. It's going to be picked over pretty aggressively, and like I said, there's a lot of different provisions here.
There's the issue of immunity. There's the issue of what kind of driving license will U.S. troops have to have, what kind of visas to get people in and out of the country. It covers all sorts of different things. But we know, for example, that the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr are opposed to any kind of agreement with the United States that's going to keep troops here in principle.
Others will want to make sure that the provisions really respect Iraq's sovereignty. This is an election year in Iraq, too, and no one wants to support something that makes them possibly look weak. We've already been told that some members of the cabinet are unhappy with some of the language. So we'll have to see what happens.
SIEGEL: You mentioned immunity. I assume that would be a very contentious issue. Do U.S. forces based in Iraq, if say they should take an Iraqi life, where would they face justice, from an American court or an Iraqi court? How would that work out? I would assume that would be rather difficult to figure.
NAVARRO: It's been one of the toughest issues to resolve. The United States has been pretty adamant that they do not want American soldiers to have to face trial in an Iraqi court. The Iraqis have been equally adamant that they want to have some accountability for the actions of U.S. troops here.
What seems to have been hammered out, we are being told, is that there will be some kind of joint committee that will review the issue if it comes up. But again, it is still one of the issues that is outstanding, and I really haven't been told anything that clarifies it so far.
SIEGEL: NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro in Baghdad. Lourdes, thank you very much.
NAVARRO: You're welcome.
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