by RAY FLEMING
DURING her visit to Baghdad yesterday Condoleezza Rice was less optimistic about reaching agreement with the Iraq government on the future of US forces in that country than a lot of the speculation in the US press. “We will have an agreement when we have an agreement,“ she told the media after a meeting with the Iraq Foreign Minister, Hoshiyar Zabari, and added “So all those press stories can be disregarded until we have an agreement.” The press stories had been predicting that US troops would stop street patrols by June next year and begin to leave in 2010-11. But there are a number of other difficult issues to be settled, including long-term immunity for US forces and contractors and the status of some 20'000 Iraqi prisoners still held by America. The Iraq government is pushing for a “time horizon” on withdrawal similar to that forecast by the US press. But Dr Rice had presumably also met with General David Petraeus, US commander in Iraq, who was notably cautious in an interview in the New York Times yesterday. While agreeing that there had been “substantial gains” recently he warned: “Don't take any of this to imply that we think we're anywhere near finished, it's not durable yet. It's not self-sustaining.” He has often said before that the progress is “fragile”. All this uncertainty will feed confusingly into the Democrat's and Republican's conventions over the next two weeks and the campaigns that will follow on immediately afterwards.

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