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Iraq wants withdrawal timetable

BAGHDAD - Iraq's prime minister said Monday his country wants some type of timetable for a withdrawal of American troops included in the deal the two countries are negotiating.

It was the first time Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has explicitly and publicly called for a withdrawal timetable - an idea opposed by President Bush.

He offered no details. But his national security adviser, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, told The Associated Press that the government is proposing a timetable conditioned on the ability of Iraqi forces to provide security.

In Washington, the State Department declined to comment on the ongoing negotiations and said officials in Washington were not yet entirely sure what al-Maliki had said.

'This falls in the category of ongoing negotiations, and I'm not going to talk about every single development, every single development in the negotiations,' spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

Al-Maliki said in a meeting with Arab diplomats in Abu Dhabi that his country also has proposed a short-term interim memorandum of agreement rather than the more formal status of forces agreement the two sides have been negotiating.

The memorandum 'now on the table' includes a formula for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, he said.

'The goal is to end the presence (of foreign troops),' al-Maliki said.

Some type of agreement is needed to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after a U.N. mandate expires at year's end. But many Iraqi lawmakers had criticized the government's attempt to negotiate a formal status of forces agreement, worried that U.S. demands would threaten the country's sovereignty.

U.S. officials have said little publicly about the negotiations. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not comment directly on the specifics when asked about it on a trip to Baghdad.

'We'd all like to see U.S. troops get out of here at some point in time,' Mullen said. 'However, from a military perspective I need the laws and the regulations and the agreements from the government of Iraq in order to continue operations beyond the 31st of December of this year.'

With the latest moves, Iraq's government appeared to be trying to blunt opposition in parliament to any deal.

Al-Maliki also could be trying to avoid parliament altogether. He has promised in the past to submit a formal agreement with the U.S. to the legislative body.

But his spokesman indicated Monday that the government might feel no need to get approval from parliament for a shorter-term interim deal.

'It is up to the Cabinet whether to approve it or sign on it, without going back to the parliament,' said spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.