Iraqi premier praises Obama’s pullout plan


Hamburg : Speaking to a German magazine, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has praised a plan by US presidential candidate Barack Obama to withdraw US troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office.

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In an interview to appear in its Monday issue, the news magazine Der Spiegel asked him when US troops should leave.

“As far as we are concerned, as soon as possible. The US presidential candidate Barack Obama has spoken of within 16 months. We think that would be the right time frame, with some slight variations,” he said.

Asked if this was a recommendation to US voters to pick the presumptive Democratic nominee Obama rather than the expected Republican nominee John McCain, he said, “Whoever counts on shorter periods in Iraq today is closer to reality.”

“Artificially extending the stay of the US troops would create problems. But I obviously don’t want to give a voting recommendation.”

“Choosing a president is the business of Americans. It’s the business of Iraqis to say what they want done. The people and the government are fairly united about this. There should be a limit on the stay of the coalition forces,” the Iraqi premier said.

Al-Maliki, who was due to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin Tuesday, said he expected an agreement with Washington on troop withdrawal before US President George W. Bush leaves office next January.

“We are going to make a fresh start to these negotiations on a better and clearer basis, because the first draft was not acceptable to us,” he said.

Al-Maliki agreed it had been a “basic problem” that the US had sought immunity from prosecution for any crimes that might have been committed by US soldiers in Iraq.

But the other issues, of how long the troops remained, and with what powers, were “just as important,” he said.

Maliki’s remarks were released by Spiegel just a day after Bush agreed to discuss a “time horizon” for the withdrawal of US forces.

Bush had in the past described a withdrawal timetable as dangerous, but Washington appears to have shifted ground.

The White House said Bush and al-Maliki held a video conference Thursday and agreed that because of improved security, the agreement could include a “general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals such as the resumption of Iraqi security control”.