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Voinovich: Let next president seal Iraq deal



Lauren Victoria Burke / AP Enlarge

U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio) yesterday released a letter he wrote asking President Bush not to try to negotiate a new agreement with Iraq that legally commits the next president to defending Iraq against internal and foreign aggressors.

Mr. Voinovich, who has called for more focus on ending the U.S. presence in Iraq, said he knows an agreement is needed to provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to be in Iraq after the U.N. mandate expires Dec. 31.

But he said any agreement committing the United States to providing security in Iraq against future internal and external aggression will need congressional approval, which is not likely to be given before Mr. Bush's term ends.

He said the President should consider inking an interim agreement.

"We need to hand over more control to the Iraqi people, so that we can bring our own troops home and restore the health of our military," Mr. Voinovich wrote.

"I am concerned that this agreement does not support that goal."

Mr. Voinovich's call for ending the U.S. combat role in Iraq puts him at odds with Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who supports retaining U.S. combat forces until the Iraqi government is stabilized, and with no deadline for full withdrawal.

The Democratic presumptive presidential nominee, Barack Obama, has called for withdrawal of all U.S. forces within 16 months and has vowed to end the war in 2009.

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to oust Saddam Hussein and still has about 150,000 troops in the country.

Iraqi officials said yesterday that they are committed to meeting a deadline for a long-term security pact with the United States.

An Iraqi government statement said Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari had discussed with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington on Tuesday "the need to conclude" the long-term strategic framework agreement.

That came just days after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said talks on the security pact were at a stalemate because of U.S. demands that encroached on Iraq's sovereignty.

One U.S. demand, however, has been taken off the table, according to a senior U.S. military official in Washington.

That official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Bush Administration is no longer seeking legal immunity for private contractors working in Iraq.

Such immunity presented a troubling prospect for many Iraqis who see the contractors as a security force that operates with little accountability.

The talks have sparked heated debate both in Iraq and the United States, where Democratic lawmakers fear any agreement could lock the military into a long-term presence in Iraq and bind the hands of the next U.S. president.

Information from Reuters was used in this report.

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