U.S. says still no final deal with Baghdad on troops
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Monday there was no final security pact with Baghdad despite Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's statement that a deal was reached to end foreign military presence by the end of 2011.
"The fact of the matter is the agreement is not completed," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.
Under the proposed agreement, which would extend the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond 2008, Baghdad wants U.S. forces to end patrols of Iraqi towns and villages by the middle of 2009 and for all combat troops to leave Iraq by 2011.
Maliki on Monday said the United States had agreed on 2011 as the end-date for its troops' presence in Iraq. But the U.S. government, which has long been reluctant to set timelines for troop withdrawals, insisted the deal was not done.
"These discussions continue as we have not yet finalized an agreement," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
"We're optimistic that Iraq and the U.S. can reach a mutual agreement on flexible goals for U.S. troops to continue to return on success -- based on conditions on the ground -- and allow Iraqi forces to provide security for a sovereign Iraq," Fratto said in Texas, where President George W. Bush was spending two weeks at his ranch.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the agreement still needed to be approved at various levels of the Iraqi government and by Bush.
Both Wood and Whitman declined to comment on specifics of the agreement, including the 2011 timeframe. But Whitman said the U.S. military wanted to continue shifting security responsibilities to Iraqi forces.
"There is certainly, as we've indicated all along, a strong desire to continue to hand over responsibilities for security to Iraqi security forces," Whitman told reporters.
"We've been on a fairly steady track of doing that, and I think going forward ... that will continue to be a goal of the United States."
The United States currently has 146,000 troops in Iraq.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, David Morgan and Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Bill Trott)
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