(RFE/RL) -- Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has gone on national television to assure the Iraqi people that the terms of a newly signed security pact with the United States will not be changed under any circumstances.
The long-awaited accord was signed on November 17 by the Iraqi government and the United States. But it still needs to be approved by the parliament in Iraq.
Speaking on November 18, al-Maliki described the accord as an agreement that requires Washington to withdraw its forces from Iraq by the start of 2011, eight years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime.
"The pact stipulates that U.S. troops are to withdraw from cities and towns by June 30, 2009. And it is a deadline that will not be extended," he said in his first public remarks on the issue in weeks. "It also says that [U.S. troops] should withdraw from Iraqi land, water, and air space by January 1, 2011, which is a deadline that will not be extended."
He denounced domestic critics of the pact, saying opponents of the deal want the Americans to stay just so they can agitate against them.
Al-Maliki stressed that there are no surprises in the accord that would allow U.S. troops to be based permanently in Iraq or use Iraq as a launching point against neighboring countries like Iran or Syria.
"I assure you that there are no secret items or appendices in the pact," he said. "There will be no permanent military bases on Iraqi land, which will never be a passageway or a base for launching an assault against any country."
Al-Maliki also sought to assure Iraqis that the accord would prevent the United States from launching major counterinsurgency operations in Iraq unless the operations are coordinated with Baghdad.
"The pact also implies that there will be no military operations without the agreement of the Iraqi government and full coordination with it, and that there will be no arrests without an Iraqi arrest warrant and without coordination with the Iraqi government," he said.
In Washington, senior U.S. military officials say the Department of Defense is developing plans for the changes that U.S. President-elect Barack Obama wants in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Troops Out Quickly
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that includes plans to get troops quickly out of Iraq so that they can be transferred to Afghanistan to battle Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.
Mullen, once a critic of Obama's plan to pull combat forces from Iraq within 16 months, says the Pentagon has already identified and practiced travel routes out of Iraq along exit routes through Turkey and Jordan.
The governments in those two bordering countries are U.S. allies, and Mullen said they support the withdrawal planning effort.
Mullen acknowledges that troops in the northern city of Mosul are still in a tough fight. But he says commanders are confident they will be able to turn over control of the city Iraqi security forces by next June.
Mullen also says that giving control of Baghdad to Iraqi security forces will be challenging, but doable.
Violence has plunged in the capital city since surge operations were launched in Iraq last year. But there are still frequent, dramatic attacks that often target Iraqi citizens.
Mullen says he still must address logistical challenges in order to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq. He notes that there is a huge amount of equipment and infrastructure now under the U.S. flag in Iraq. He says military planners are looking at what would move and how soon it can be done.
with agency reports