Iraq Wants Changes to U.S Exit Plan

Latest plan contains timeline for withdrawal, but demands no other conditions.

Oct. 21, 2008 — -- The United States has agreed to a firm deadline for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq that does not depend on security conditions on the ground, according to a copy of an agreement reached recently and obtained by ABC News.

Despite the concession from the United States, the Iraqi Cabinet announced today it wants to ask for additional changes to the plan.

President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed off on the Status of Forces in recent weeks, but it is still subject to approval by Iraq's Cabinet and eventually the parliament, where it faces significant opposition.

Iraq's Cabinet met Tuesday and said in a statement afterward that it would seek unspecified amendments to the agreement.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen urged the Iraqis to accept the deal.

"Clearly, we are running out of time," he said on his way to meetings with Russian military leaders in Finland. "It's time for the Iraqis to make a decision."

Mullen also expressed concerns that Iran was pressuring Iraq not to accept the deal, saying that Tehran was "working very hard to ensure this does not pass."

The plan defines the scope of U.S. troop activity in Iraq and provides a legal framework for their presence there once the current U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year. If approved in time, the three-year deal would go into effect Jan. 1, 2009.

U.S. negotiators had pushed for the deal to include language that would make withdrawal dates subject to security conditions on the ground; however, the final text makes no mention of a conditions-based withdrawal.

Instead it stipulates that U.S. combat troops be out of Iraq by the end of 2011 and out of Iraq's cities, towns and villages before July.

According to the text, the only way U.S. combat troops could stay beyond 2011 would be at the invitation of the Iraqi government. It does, however, allow for U.S. military trainers and advisers to stay longer if agreed to by both sides.

The question of how long the United States should stay in Iraq has been a central debate during the presidential campaign.

Barack Obama has pushed for a withdrawal according to a timeline, while his opponent John McCain has argued that any withdrawal should be subject to the security needs in Iraq. As written, though, it would appear that the actual text is closer to Obama's proposal than McCain's.

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators also clashed over whose legal jurisdiction would prosecute U.S. soldiers accused of crimes in Iraq.

According to the text of the deal, a compromise was reached, allowing the United States to try its soldiers for crimes committed on U.S. bases while carrying out official missions. Iraqi courts would have jurisdiction over soldiers who committed crimes while off duty and outside the base.

Iraqi courts would also have primary legal jurisdiction over cases considered to be particularly heinous, though, it would be up to an ambiguously defined joint committee staffed by both countries to decide whether a given crime is sufficiently flagrant.

Several U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern about exposing soldiers to a legal system they consider underdeveloped because Americans may not get a fair trial.

Last week Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called key senators and representatives to urge their support for the deal.

The White House also hosted a briefing on the agreement for relevant Capitol Hill staffers. Though the deal was described in detail during the calls and briefing, the exact text was not shared.

On Friday, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he would reserve judgment on the deal until he could learn more, but expressed concern that American troops could be subjected to Iraqi laws.

"It's critical that our dedicated men and women in uniform service in Iraq have full legal protections and are not subject to criminal prosecution in an Iraqi judicial system that does not meet due process standards," Levin said in a statement.

Levin also supported Bush's embrace of firm timetables for troop withdrawal as "welcome and overdue."

The Bush administration has maintained it would consult with Congress before inking a deal, but insisted it did not need congressional approval before finalizing the agreement.

As written, the agreement would also, for the first time, subject contractors in Iraq to Iraqi law.

Currently contractors operate in a legal gray zone. It is unclear whether U.S. courts have jurisdiction over crimes committed in Iraq and whether contractors are immune to Iraqi prosecution, thanks to a provision signed in the waning days of the American transition government after the U.S.-led invasion.

The agreement defines the American mission in Iraq as temporary help in maintaining security in the country, including the combat of al Qaeda and other terrorist and outlaw groups, as well as remnants of the former regime.

It offers some vague restrictions on the scope of U.S. military operations, requiring there be Iraqi approval before missions are carried out. It also forbids the United States from detaining any Iraqi citizen without permission unless it is on an approved mission. Furthermore it requires the Americans to turn over anyone arrested to Iraqi authorities within 24 hours.

American officials had in the past expressed concern about such a clause because of fears the United States might miss obtaining critical intelligence if it has to turn over terror suspects before gleaning any information from them.

As to whether the United States would be obligated to defend Iraq from foreign invasion, according to the text of the deal such a scenario would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

The agreement does not obligate the United States to defend Iraq, but leaves open the possibility for the United States to employ diplomatic, economic or even military means to assist the Iraqis if agreed to by both countries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.