Iraq and the United States are close to a deal on a sensitive security agreement that Iraqi officials said on Wednesday satisfies the nation's desire to be treated as sovereign and independent.
The agreement, under intense scrutiny in both countries, sets the terms for the presence of American troops in Iraq. Negotiations had stalled a month ago largely over the Bush administration's refusal to specify an intention to withdraw troops. While the current version does not specify any exact date, officials said, President Bush's recent acknowledgment that withdrawal was an "aspirational goal" has revived the talks and pushed them closer to completion.
The emerging agreement, officials said, gives Iraqis much of what they want -- most notably the guarantee that there would no longer be foreign troops visible on their land -- and leaves room for them to discreetly ask for an extended American presence should security deteriorate.
"The intention is to maintain full sovereignty for Iraq with close observation of the security situation, which will determine exactly when Iraq will no longer need American forces," said Jalaluddin al-Sagheer, a member of Parliament from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq who is close to the negotiations.
Although security nationwide has improved far more rapidly than expected in the last several months, it could erode quickly, a point that was underscored earlier this week in Kirkuk when a suicide bomber killed 24 people and set off accusations from different ethnic groups that quickly spiraled into a riot.
"The negotiations had gotten to the point that a draft was being circulated," said an American official in Washington who is familiar with the negotiations.
The Americans have been pushing hard for an agreement to be reached in the next two days, said Haider al-Abbadi, a Parliament member close to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, but he said that the Iraqis were not ready and that he was not sure they would be able to come to an agreement by then.