WASHINGTON - US and Iraqi negotiators have abandoned efforts to conclude a comprehensive agreement governing the long-term status of US troops in Iraq before the end of the Bush presidency, according to senior US officials, effectively leaving talks over an extended US military presence there to the next administration.
In place of the formal status-of-forces agreement negotiators had hoped to complete by July 31, the two governments are working on a "bridge" document, more limited in time and scope, that would allow basic US military operations to continue beyond the expiration of a UN mandate at the end of the year.
The failure of months of negotiations over the more detailed accord - blamed on both the Iraqi refusal to accept US terms and the complexity of the task - deals a blow to the Bush administration's plans to leave in place a formal military architecture in Iraq that could last for years.
Although President Bush has repeatedly rejected calls for a troop withdrawal timeline, "we are talking about dates," acknowledged one US official close to the negotiations. Iraqi political leaders "are all telling us the same thing. They need something like this in there. . . . Iraqis want to know that foreign troops are not going to be here forever."