US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama vowed on Monday to pull out the bulk of US forces from Iraq by mid -2010 -- but insisted on keeping "a residual force" to fight remnants of Al-Qaeda in the country for an unspecified amount of time.
And in a blow to current efforts by the administration of President George W Bush, he also promised not to seek permanent US military bases in Iraq, if he is elected president in November.
"As I've said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in," Obama wrote in The New York Times.
He added that the United States could safely redeploy its combat brigades inside Iraq at a pace that would remove them from the country in 16 months after his taking office in January of 2009 in case he wins the presidential election.
"That would be the summer of 2010 - two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began," Obama pointed out. "After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces."
The Democratic White House hopeful, who has practically assured his party's presidential nomination, said he would consult with commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government as his strategy is being implemented -- and make unspecified "tactical adjustments" if needed.
He pointed out that US troops would be redeployed from secure areas of Iraq first and volatile regions later.
Obama also promised to pursue a diplomatic offensive with every nation in the region on behalf of Iraq's stability and commit two billion dollars to a new international effort to support Iraq's refugees.
He welcomed a call by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for the removal of US troops from Iraq, arguing that efforts by Iraqi leaders to take responsibility for their own country should be encouraged.
The candidate, who has been under criticism recently for allegedly wavering on Iraq, also argued that he would not hold the US military nor the country's resources and foreign policy "hostage to a misguided desire to maintain permanent bases in Iraq."
The comment came as the Bush administration and the Maliki government were trying to strike a status-of-forces agreement that would allow for a long-term US military presence in Iraq.
Such an accord is seen as crucial because a UN mandate allowing the US military presence in the country expires at the end of the year.