The future presence of 150 000 US troops in Iraq has been approved by the Iraqi cabinet in a security pact with the US governing, said officials. (photo, from aljazeera.net)
The deal says that US troops will withdraw from the streets of Iraqi towns next year and leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
The decision still needs to go before Iraq’s parliament for a final vote.
The cabinet’s vote has been welcomed by America’s National Security Council, which said that it was “an important and positive step” towards stability and security.
As the UN mandate of US military forces in Iraq expires on 31 December 2008, the pact is necessary to determine their future role.
In October, Iraq sent a new round of suggested changes to the draft Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa) in October, to which the US responded.
The pact is “final” and cannot be amended, has previously said Washington.
With 4 100 troops in Iraq, the UK government is waiting for the US-Iraqi pact to be approved in order to use it as a template for their own bi-lateral deal.
‘Hopeful and confident’
Two bomb attacks, in Baghdad and Diyala province, killed at least 18 people and wounded more on Sunday, while Iraqi cabinet met.
Government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said that the cabinet approved the pact after a two-and-a-half hour meeting.
According to the Associated Press news agency, he added that apart from one of the 28 ministers present, all had voted in favour of the pact.
Mr Dabbagh said that the agreement’s terms include :
– placing US forces in Iraq under the authority of the Iraqi government
– US forces to leave the streets of Iraq’s towns and villages by the middle of 2009
– US forces to hand over their bases to Iraq during the course of 2009
– US forces to lose the authority to raid Iraqi homes without an order from an Iraqi judge and permission of the government.
The US hopes for a successful vote in the Iraqi parliament, said US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe in a statement.
“We remain hopeful and confident we’ll soon have an agreement that serves both the people of Iraq and the United States well and sends a signal to the region and the world that both our governments are committed to a stable, secure and democratic Iraq.”
A compromise was reached on the key issue of Iraqi jurisdiction over US troops and contractors in the country, said the BBC’s Andrew North.
A joint committee in it will decide whether Americans who commit crimes outside US bases should face Iraqi justice.
According to BBC’s correspondant, though in public many Iraqi politicians oppose the deal, they support it in private.
They believe the government will gain more power over US troops and will allow the Iraqi military more time to develop into an effective security force.
Although it is not clear when they will vote on the agreement, it is due to be submitted to Iraq’s parliament later on Sunday.
Then it will have to be ratified by Iraq’s presidential council, before Nuri al-Maliki, the country’s prime minister, can sign the deal with US President George W Bush.
The main Shia and Kurdish alliances in parliament have recently agreed to back the amended pact, thanks to Mr Maliki’s efforts.
Iraq’s prime minister also seems to have persuaded Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country’s most senior Shia cleric, not to oppose the agreement publicly. As he is highly influential in Iraq’s Shia community, any public criticism of the pact by him would probably have stopped it winning parliamentary approval, says BBC’s correspondent.
Iraqi security would be highly damaged the agreement failed to pass, said Iraqi officials.
US officials have said it would mean suspending their operations in Iraq.
Speaking before Sunday’s meeting, Iraq’s lead negotiator, Muwafaq al-Rubaie, said he believed the draft agreement was a “very good text” and he expected it to be approved by parliament as well.
However the pact has drawn fire from hardline nationalists, especially Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraq’s influential Shia cleric. His supporters have called for mass demonstrations in order to oppose any agreement with the US “occupier”.
The reaction to the pact was mixed on the streets of Baghdad.
”We don’t want an agreement with America”, said Rasheed al-Jumali.
“We don’t want an agreement with Israel. We don’t want an agreement with Iran. They [the government] should work towards reinforcing the gallant Iraqi army. We fully and totally reject this security pact.”
But Mun’am al-Abadi backed the government, adding: “The Iraqi government knows its people well. We are oppressed people. If the security agreement benefits us, we accept it completely.”