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Iraq To Negotiate On U.S. Troop Presence

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, speaks during a press conference in Baghdad on August 2.

Iraqi political leaders have given the government permission to negotiate with the United States on a possible deal to keep American troops in Iraq to train Iraqi security forces beyond the end of this year, when U.S. troops are scheduled to leave the country.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says, however, that a final agreement is still far from settled, and that the Iraqi government could still insist that the U.S. military withdraw from Iraq by December 31, in line with an agreement reached in 2008.

About 46,000 American troops are currently in Iraq.

The Iraqi foreign minister spoke after a closed-door meeting August 2 of Iraqi politicians, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and after a visit to Baghdad by U.S. Joint Chiefs Of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military officer.

During his visit, Mullen urged Iraqi leaders to quickly make a decision on the future of U.S. troops in the country and to give U.S. forces protection from legal prosecution as part of any agreement to keep them in Iraq beyond the December 31 pullout deadline.

compiled from agency reports