Iraq eyes U.S. pullout by 2010 amid Obama visit

2008-07-22 06:34:57 GMT       2008-07-22 14:34:57 (Beijing Time)       Xinhua English

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (R) speaks with U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (L) in Baghdad July 21, 2008. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

Iraq's President Jalal Talabani (R) meets with U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (L) in Baghdad July 21, 2008. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama arrives (2nd R) at the office of Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad July 21, 2008. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

U.S. Commander in Iraq General David Petraeus (C) shares a laugh with visiting U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (L) and U.S. senator Chuck Hagel during an aerial tour of Baghdad upon their arrival in Iraq July 21, 2008. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

BAGHDAD, July 21 (Xinhua) -- The Iraqi government said Monday that it hopes the U.S. combat troops would leave by 2010, raising a clear vision of time line after the two countries have agreed on a vague "time horizon."

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh made the remarks as U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is here on a fact-finding tour.

After Obama's meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Dabbagh said Iraq did not set a fixed withdrawal timetable, but hopes the U.S. troops would end its combat role and pull out by 2010.

Maliki told the Illinois senator that Iraq has successfully overcome difficulties and security challenges and achieved victory in the fighting against al-Qaida terrorism group and militias, and is making economic achievements, according to a statement issued by Maliki's office.

Obama said he believed that the Iraqi government will be able to succeed in passing a legislation in the interest of the Iraqi people in the economic fields.

During his meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Obama praised the political progress achieved in Iraq, including the return of Sunni parties to the government, Talabani's office said in a statement.

Obama arrived in Iraq Monday morning from Kuwait after a visit to Afghanistan, the first leg of his Middle East and European tour designed to boost his say in foreign affairs amid a presidential campaign dead heat back in the United States.

The Democratic presidential candidate has promised to withdraw the U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months if elected, and send more troops to Afghanistan where security situation is getting worse.

The U.S. Embassy in Iraq said earlier Monday that he will also meet Coalition leadership and U.S. diplomatic officials as well as constituent service members and civilian staff working in Iraq.

Obama's visit came as Iraq and the United States are on a bumpy track toward concluding a bilateral security pact.

On the back of a dramatic security upturn and under increasing pressure at home ahead of the provincial elections which could be held in October, Maliki's government is taking a stronger stance in the negotiations, including voicing a time limit for the presence of U.S. troops when the UN mandate expires at year's end.

The two sides are also at odds over some other issues like whether Iraqi laws would apply to the U.S. service people and contractors in the future.

U.S. President George W. Bush opposes a specific timetable for pulling out the troops, insisting such a move hinge on situation evolvement on the ground.

In a video conference last week, Bush and Maliki agreed on a "time horizon" for reducing the troops.

Bush sent in five combat brigades last year to quell a growing wave of violence in Iraq. Now, violence here has dropped to a four-year low.

The last batch of reinforced American troops is expected to leave by the end of this month. U.S. military commanders are mulling on further cut of force according to an assessment of the local security situation.

General David Petraeus, U.S. top commander in Iraq, is expected to make his recommendations on future troop levels in a report to the U.S. Congress in September.

Also, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has mentioned a perspective of further drawdown following his recent visit to Iraq.

While noting the security gains are not irreversible, Mullen said on Wednesday that the situation is "unquestionably and remarkably better," and "if these trends continue I expect to be able to recommend to the secretary and the president further troop reductions early this fall."

During his stay in Afghanistan, Obama met with President Hamid Karzai and visited U.S. military bases.

Before coming to Baghdad, Obama visited the southern Iraq city of Basra. The oil-rich region has long been a hotbed of turf war among Shiites, and saw large-scale crackdown operations against militants in March.

In Iraq, the locals were divided over their preference for the next U.S. president.

"I am not really care who will be the next U.S. president, because I think the policy of the U.S. administration would not be affected by a person," said Dhiyaa al-Hadithy, a 38-year-old physician, "However, if you insist, I prefer Obama, because this man supports the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq as soon as possible. Besides, the man is the son of a black Kenyan. Maybe he will feel our suffering because of his cultural background."

Abdul-Hussein al-Kaaby, 47, threw his support behind Obama's Republican presidential campaign rival John McCain.

"I believe that McCain is more reasonable in leading the U.S. policy in Iraq. The man is realistic. They can't just pull out the troops, while our security forces are facing considerable threats from terrorists," said the lawyer.

"We are facing terrorism coming from the region and all over the world, so we still need the world great powers to support us, and Mr. McCain and the Republicans are the right people to provide back-up," he said.

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