Iraqi Cabinet Approves Security Pact with US

Published on
by
the Associated Press

Iraqi Cabinet Approves Security Pact with US

by
Qassim Abdul-Zahra

A humvee filled with US Marines on a combat patrol through the desert near Al Asad in 2006. Iraq's cabinet has defied fiery opposition from Shiite hardliners and approved a wide-ranging military pact that includes a timetable for the withdrawal of all US troops by the end of 2011. (AFP/File/Lance Cpl. James B. Hoke)

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq's Cabinet on Sunday
approved a security pact with the United States that will allow
American forces to stay in Iraq for three years after their U.N.
mandate expires at the end of the year.

The
decision followed months of difficult negotiations and, pending
parliamentary approval, will remove a major point of contention between
the two allies. Parliament's deputy speaker, Khalid al-Attiyah, said he
expected the 275-member legislature to begin debating the document this
week and vote on it by Nov. 24.

The U.S.
government agreed last week to an Iraqi request to amend the draft. The
amendment removed what al-Attiyah said was ambiguous language that
could allow U.S. forces not to adhere to a timeline for their
withdrawal from Iraqi cities by the end of June and from the entire
country by Jan. 1, 2012.

The Shiite, Kurdish
and Sunni parties making up Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government
dominate parliament, so there is a good chance that the legislature
will approve the security pact.

The final
draft of the agreement is designed to meet Iraqi concerns over its
sovereignty and its security needs as it continues to grapple with a
diminished but persistent insurgency.

It
provides for the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011
and gives Iraq the right to try U.S. soldiers and defense contractors
in the case of serious crimes committed off-duty and off-base. It also
prohibits the U.S. from using Iraqi territory to attack Iraq's
neighbors, like Syria and Iran.

Government
spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said all but one of the 28 Cabinet ministers
who attended Sunday's meeting, in addition to al-Maliki, voted for the
pact in a show of hands.

"The government
wanted to make sure that the draft of the agreement safeguards the
interests of Iraq and its people, with clear and complete timetables,"
Iraqi government spokesman al-Dabbagh said after the Cabinet's session.
"It is not the ideal solution for the Iraqi side or the American side,
but conditions on the ground dictated it."

The
Cabinet has 37 members and it was not immediately clear why some
ministers stayed away. Several of them were believed to be traveling
abroad.

"This is an important and positive step," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Adam Ereli.

Violence
continues to plague parts of Iraq despite a dramatic improvement in
security over the past year, and the attacks underscore the notion that
Iraq's nascent security forces still need U.S. backing.

Hours
after the Cabinet approved the security pact, seven people died and
seven others were wounded in a suicide car bombing at a police
checkpoint in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, according to
police Col. Ahmed Khalifa, chief of Jalula police station. The dead
included one police officer.

The U.S.
military said the attack in Jalula occurred at a police station and
that four police and six civilians died. There was no immediate
explanation for the discrepancy, nor any indication that the attack was
linked to the Cabinet vote.

And earlier
Sunday, a roadside bomb in a Sunni enclave of Baghdad killed three
people and wounded seven at a checkpoint belonging to U.S.-backed
fighters, according to police and hospital officials who spoke on
condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the
media.

Two of those killed were members of
the local Awakening Council, or Sahwa, one of several names used to
refer to the Sunni insurgents and tribesmen who revolted against
al-Qaida in Iraq. Sahwa fighters have been targeted by al-Qaida
militants since they changed sides in late 2006, with scores of their
leaders assassinated and their checkpoints and headquarters bombed.

Proponents
of the security pact with the Americans, including al-Maliki's interior
and defense ministers, say a continued U.S. military presence is needed
until Iraq's security forces can take charge of security in the
war-devastated nation.

Parliament is due to
go into recess at the end of the month or in early December because of
the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, when scores of lawmakers travel to
Saudi Arabia to perform the annual pilgrimage. Speaker Mahmoud
al-Mashhadani canceled all leave for lawmakers and suspended foreign
and out-of-town visits to ensure that the house secures a quorum for
the security pact vote, al-Attiyah told a news conference.

"I'm
optimistic that this agreement will be passed through the Council of
Representatives (parliament)," spokesman al-Dabbagh told AP Television
News. But he added: "You cannot guarantee 100 percent approval of
anything."

Neighboring Iran has bitterly
opposed the pact on grounds that it enshrines the U.S. military
presence in Iraq and threatens its security and regional influence.

However,
Iranian state television took a more nuanced position in a commentary
Sunday after it became clear that emboldened Iraqi leaders were going
their own way on the pact.

"This is a victory
for the al-Maliki government, which was able to apply its own
viewpoints," it said in a possible reference to American concessions.

Shiite
Iran maintains close relations with many of Iraq's Shiite parties,
whose ministers voted in favor of the pact Sunday in what may be a
signal that they are willing to balance their ties with the Americans
and their longtime supporters in Tehran.

Followers of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr protested Sunday's vote.

"This
agreement hands Iraq over (to the United States) on a golden platter
and for an indefinite period," said Ahmed al-Massoudi, spokesman for
the 30-seat Sadrist bloc in parliament.

Al-Sadr,
whose militiamen fought U.S. forces in three uprisings since 2003, has
threatened to resume attacks on U.S. forces if they don't immediately
begin to withdraw from Iraq.

 

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