Washington (AFP) Nov 6, 2008
The US military has decided to reduce its total combat force in Iraq by a brigade to 14 brigades sooner than anticipated because of improved security conditions, the Pentagon said Thursday.
The 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, which is based in northwest Baghdad, will begin withdrawing this month two months ahead of schedule, Pentagon officials said.
The division's 3rd Brigade also is coming out this month and will not be replaced, which will shrink the size of the US force to 14 combat brigades, they said.
The military command in Iraq said the moves were possible because of reduced violence.
There are still 152,000 US troops in Iraq, only about 10,000 fewer than at the peak of a 30,000 troop surge earlier this year that halted the country's slide into civil war.
Pentagon officials attribute the high troop numbers to overlapping force rotations, but said they were expected to settle at a lower level by early next year.
The moves come as US and Iraqi officials are trying to conclude an agreement that will set forth a timetable for a withdrawal of all combat troops by the end of 2011.
The so-called status of forces agreement will also provide a legal basis for the US military presence beyond the end of this year, when a UN mandate runs out.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the US side had accepted some changes to a draft agreement proposed by the Iraqis, but would not say what they were.
earlier related report
The US administration has agreed to remove a clause which could have allowed its troops to remain in Iraq after the end of 2011, Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie said on Al-Arabiya television.
"They have accepted this change and the foreign military presence will end at the end of 2011," he said.
Rubaie said Iraq proposed "110 changes" to American negotiators of the proposed status of forces agreement (SOFA) and "they came today with their responses."
"They accepted many, many of our requests and (rejected) some points. We are going to read what they accepted and respond to them," he said.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said: "We have responded very positively to many of their concerns."
"There have been some changes that have been made," so "it's now up to them to work it through the Iraqi political system," he said.
A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said "there may be requests for clarifications (from the Iraqis) but as far as we're concerned that process of negotiating has come to an end."
Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood added that "there was a letter from President (George W.) Bush to Prime Minister (Nuri al-) Maliki with our final text," but he did not give any details.
Neither Wood nor Whitman would say what specific changes to the draft status of forces agreement were accepted by the US side.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh earlier told state television that Washington had on Thursday replied to demands by Baghdad that some clauses of the pact be amended by making changes of its own.
The Iraqi government would now review these suggestions.
"These modifications now need a meeting with the American side to reach a joint understanding," Dabbagh said.
"The atmosphere is positive; the Iraqi side needs more time to give the main political entities time to review the proposed US remarks and modifications," he said.
But according to US-financed Al-Hurra television, the United States has responded only to some of the changes Baghdad wants made. It did not elaborate.
A series of issues has repeatedly delayed the pact that both sides had originally aimed to sign by July 31 this year.
Foremost among the many points of contention in the arrangement was the issue of immunity for US troops and jurisdiction over them.
Washington has already agreed to allow Iraq to prosecute American troops and civilians if they commit a serious crime outside the base when off duty.
But Iraq reportedly also wants to be able prosecute them for crimes committed on their bases.
According to the Baghdad edition of the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, the United States has agreed to just three of the five latest proposed changes by Iraq.
Quoting unnamed sources, it said Washington has dropped a clause that would have authorised Baghdad and Washington to seek an extension for retaining troops in the cities beyond 2009 and in the country beyond 2011.
The report said Washington has also agreed to allow Iraqis to inspect incoming and outgoing American postal mail, and was also ready to make some changes in the language of the texts.
Both sides must agree on the pact before the UN mandate allowing foreign soldiers to operate in Iraq expires on December 31, 2008.
A failure to agree on the current draft would raise a new set of thorny problems for both Washington and Baghdad, starting with the need to request a new mandate from the UN Security Council.
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Iran army warns US forces to steer clear of borders
Tehran (AFP) Nov 5, 2008
Tehran's military on Wednesday urged US forces to steer clear of Iran's borders with neighbouring Iraq and warned it would respond "to any invasion," the official IRNA news agency reported.
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