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President Bush has long maintained that if the Iraqi government wants the U.S. to leave Iraq, then the U.S. would do just that, as he said in May 2007:
"We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. Itís their governmentís choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave."
Today, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki suggested having a timetable for the withdrawal of coalition troops. ďThe direction we are taking is to have a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or to have a timetable for their withdrawal,Ē Malikiís office quoted him as saying.
But the administration has rebuffed Malikiís request for a timeline. Asked about the prime ministerís comments today, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman hedged on whether the administration would follow the Iraqi governmentís request, criticizing timelines as ďartificialď:
WHITMAN: [I]t is dependent on conditions on the ground. Ö But timelines tend to be artificial in nature. In a situation where things are as dynamic as they are in Iraq, I would just tell you, itís usually best to look at these things based on conditions on the ground.
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BAGHDAD - Iraq will not accept any security agreement with the United States unless it includes dates for the withdrawal of foreign forces, the government's national security adviser said on Tuesday.
The comments by Mowaffaq al-Rubaie underscore the U.S.-backed government's hardening stance toward a deal with Washington that will provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to operate when a U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.
On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared to catch Washington off-guard by suggesting for the first time that a timetable be set for the departure of U.S. forces under the deal being negotiated, which he called a memorandum of understanding.